Hazon food conference focuses on farm-to-synagogue greening

Hazon food conference focuses on farm-to-synagogue greening

Ian Herztark de-bones and trims a beef chuck to be served at the food conference that took place Aug. 9-13.
Ian Herztark de-bones and trims a beef chuck to be served at the food conference that took place Aug. 9-13.

At the annual Hazon food conference last month, Jewish foodies and environmentalists gathered for blintz-making demonstrations, discussions of Indian-Jewish culinary traditions, and, of course, to sample new innovations in kosher cusine.

But the four-day conference, held at Hazon’s Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center and educational farm in the northwest corner of Connecticut, was not so much about the temporary enjoyment of exemplary kosher cooking as it was about implementing long-term sustainbility programs in Jewish communities across the country. 

The Hazon Seal of Sustainability program, now in its second year, guides a cohort of Jewish organizations through a process of “greening” their operations over the course of a year. At the end of the year, each organization receives the Hazon Seal marking its commitment to sustainability. 

“Hazon’s mission is to create healthy and sustainable communities in the Jewish world and beyond,” said Judith Belasco, acting CEO and chief program officer at Hazon. “They can come together and learn and then go back to their communities and do things differently.”

Seal of Sustainability organizations can receive scholarships for their members to attend the food conference or other Hazon retreats. The food conference also served as an opportunity for participants to share ideas and experiences. Rachel Aronson, who oversees the sustainability program, led a session on lessons learned from the program’s inaugural cohort. Participants chimed in throughout the session with stories from their own work on improving sustainability in their local community organizations. A number of people approached Aronson after the session to discuss bringing the Seal of Sustainability to their own communities.

“It’s this amazing opportunity that brings together people from all across the country who are passionate about sustainability and passionate about food, but then what happens when you go home?” Aronson said. “The Seal of Sustainability is a tool that allows Jewish organizations and the people that come to represent those organizations to take a little bit of the food conference home with them to continue the arc of sustainability.”

The program’s inaugural cohort included nearly two dozen organizations.

B’nai Jeshurun, a large non-denominational synagogue on the Upper West Side, participated in the pilot program last year. The congregation has since begun composting leftover food as part of its Green Kiddush initiative and switched to using more energy efficient LED bulbs. Other organizations have installed solar panels, planted community gardens, and set up chicken coops to provide the community with nest-to-table eggs.

“It really provided us with a foundation and the resources to create some of the change that a lot of members had been wanting,” said Larissa Kohl, B’nai Jeshurun’s tzedek program manager. “It really gave us a means through which we were able to enact some of these policy changes and to start thinking about sustainability.”

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