Seven years ago, on a blistering hot day in Connecticut, I watched as my friend Poppy pulled a carrot straight from the ground, brushed off the mud and munched happily away on it.
It was a memorable moment, not just because she defied all of our collective aversions to mud and dirt, and our institutional addiction to clean, artificially shapen produce, but also because she was enrolled on the Adamah farming programme at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Centre. She was living out her Judaism beyond the traditional confines of the synagogue or community, working the land in strict accordance with Jewish values, as our ancestors had done for generations.
Isabella Freedman was and is a unique organisation, and we returned in 2013 with two small children in tow, once again to embrace the beauty of the farm and the richness it brought to our Judaism and beliefs. We pickled sauerkraut, baked challah, learnt about Judaism and agriculture, and most memorably, took milk from a goat straight into our coffee – the true cappuccino.
It frustrated us that such an organisation had become so popular and successful in the US, but had not been replicated in Europe.
This week, however, on a field near Orpington in Kent, I took a carrot straight from the ground and ate it, and it brought back immediate memories of Poppy’s Connecticut carrot. It was as fresh as they come – beautifully misshapen, firm and sweet. And the sun was shining, too.
But what was most exciting and special about this Kentish carrot was that it was among the first produce harvested from Sadeh Farm, the first UK Jewish farming community of our generation. And this week, Sadeh held its first full retreat; a small but promising microcosm of what happens regularly at Isabella Freedman.
Among a group of people from all generations and walks of life, I shared the science and beauty of baking sourdough – a personal obsession – and we came together for a few hours to learn, farm, bake and laugh. They spent the whole week engaged in farming, brewing, pickling and more, and I hope they left as excited and energised as I was by what Sadeh has the potential to become.
By Joel Clark