A Moment for Turning: Soil and Soul

Reader Contribution by Jodi Kushins and Over The Fence Urban Farm
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Marigolds: slowly turning to seed.

As peak harvest for northern growers in North America winds to a close, we confront a range of emotions. Our energy wanes as the shortening daylight hours make themselves clearly apparent. We mourn for the things we didn’t mark off our to-do lists, we look forward to a break from seasonal chores, we plant cover crops, and we begin to make plans for next year.

For Jewish farmers like me, this is also the time we pass from one calendar year to another. This week we celebrate Rosh haShanah and the start of the year 5780. This is a time of deep contemplation, when we reflect on the year past – on our good deeds and the times we missed the mark in living up to our values – and plan for how to do better, to turn over a new leaf. Our term for this is teshuva, often translated as repentance. But it’s not just a matter of asking for forgiveness, teshuva is an active process of “reconnecting and reaffirming one’s commitment to living a healthy and good life.” It’s hard not to see the parallels between this definition (borrowed from Hazon, a leading Jewish organization thinking about and working towards sustainability) and our relationship with the Earth at this time of year. In fact, in response to the ongoing Global Climate Crisis, Hazon has called for 5780 to be a year of Environmental Teshuva.

Identifying as a Jewish farmer wasn’t a label I adopted until recently. I grew up quite religious and I spent a lot of time in my adult life thinking about and engaging with contemporary Jewish innovation and experience. As such, I know Jewish ideals around taking care of the Earth, eating with intention, and building sustainable community were part of the foundation for my farm work. But secular sources like MOTHER EARTH NEWS and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle were my direct inspiration for getting growing. I was Jewish and I was farming, but being a Jewish Farmer wasn’t something I thought of consciously until about two years ago.

In the winter of 2018 my mother told me to check out the cover story of Hadassah magazine. The headline read “My Daughter, The Farmer” and I read with interest about folks throughout the U.S. and Canada leading Jewish farm programs at summer camps and retreat centers, synagogues and on their own. I looked some of them up and started following the Jewish Farmer Network on Facebook. Through that group, I heard about a conference for Jewish farmers and environmental educators. A few months later I found myself touring urban farms in Detroit and hanging out in the Michigan woods engaging with “new to me” ideas about how to connect my Jewish values, environmental ethics, and farm practices.

As a Roman philosopher once said, a rock band quoted in a song, and one of the hosts of the podcast Judaism Unbound often likes to repeat, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” And so it is with farming. We are on a wheel that is constantly turning, with no clear ends or beginnings. While plants die back, they become part of the next generation of the soil. As summer’s tomatoes and squashes disappear, fall greens and roots appear as we set garlic for next year alongside cover crops like daikon that will hold the soil in place for spring planting and feed microorganisms over winter. While our fields might go dormant for a period, the soil breathes on.

This season was a really tough one for Ohio growers. We had excessive rain in the spring followed by what’s been described as a minor to moderate drought this summer and the hottest temperatures on record for the first days of October.  It’s hard not to feel discouraged. But things will change, in one way or another. They always do. Are you ready to start your next season?


Jodi Kushinsowns and operatesOver the Fence Urban Farm, a cooperatively maintained, community-supported agricultural project located in Columbus, Ohio. The farm, founded in 2013, is an experiment in creative placemaking, an outgrowth of Jodi’s training as an artist, teacher, and researcher. Connect with Jodi on FacebookandInstagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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