ENCINITAS — At Coastal Roots Farm in Encinitas, respect for the land and charitable treatment of people are cultivated through Jewish traditions and principles.
Kesha Dorsey Spoor, the farm’s new communications and outreach manager, said, “Every week we focus on intention and on making sure that we’re staying true to our Jewish values.”
The certified-organic farm gives away more than half of its produce for free to people lacking access to fresh food, including Holocaust survivors living in North County who receive weekly in-person deliveries. As a Coastal Roots blog states, the organization strives to “honor the survivors living among us by offering the fresh food they need to live dignified, healthy lives.”
Each month, the farm donates about 3,000 pounds of vegetables and fruits to low-income and food-insecure community members. The food gets distributed at pop-up farm stands at Camp Pendleton and Vista Community Clinic as well as through nonprofit partners like Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Community Resource Center, Jewish Family Service and Kitchens for Good.
Upholding the Jewish value of dignity for all, Coastal Roots Farm adopts a confidential pay-what-you-can system at its on-site produce stand. Customers are handed an iPad showing the suggested price followed by a statement that they can pay any amount, including nothing. The farm stand also accepts Electronic Benefit Transfer cards (food stamps) for payment.
The farm is developing a trail at the edge of its food forest where the public will eventually be able to pick fruit for no charge. This is in alignment with the Jewish mitzvah (or commandment) of peah, translated as “corners of the field.”
The Hebrew Bible instructs landowners to leave the corners and edges of their fields unharvested so that those without land or ample food can gather what they need out of immediate sight and, thus, in privacy. The practice embodies k’vod briut or “the dignity of all creations.”
Coastal Roots Farm was launched in 2014 by the Leichtag Foundation, which aims to “build and foster vibrant Jewish life and advance self-sufficiency in North County,” said Jessica Kort, the foundation’s senior manager of philanthropy and communications.
Although Coastal Roots Farm is its own separate entity and 501(c)(3), Leichtag remains its main funding source. The farm’s 15 acres are part of Leichtag’s land, which was formerly owned by the Ecke family, who had a thriving poinsettia-cultivation business there.
Kort explained, “Coastal Roots was incubated by the Leichtag Foundation when our organization noticed significant community interest in connecting with food and outdoor spaces.”
Leichtag identifies the main goals of the farm as: “to be a source of healthy organic food, model sustainable agriculture best practices, host Jewish rituals and celebrations and serve as a tool for strengthening food security in North County San Diego.”
Since its launch, Coastal Roots has expanded its operations and offerings. This summer, in addition to harvesting strawberries, beets, bell peppers, kale and other seasonally appropriate produce, the farm is producing its first batch of wine. In accordance with the Jewish principle of orlah, or “leaving fruits of young trees,” the vines could not be harvested until this year, the fourth.
In the first three years, the vineyard grapes — as well as the fruits grown on other trees — fell to the ground unpicked and uneaten by humans. Those fallen fruits fertilized the soil and promoted healthy root establishment, according to Kort, who stated that orlah promotes patience and nurturing by trying to initially “focus the trees’ energy towards growing roots instead of producing fruits.”
Practicing orlah is one way that the farm promotes sustainability and responsible stewardship of the land. It also observes the Jewish practice of shmita, which is a cessation of farming in the same soil every seventh year that allows the land to rest. The last shmita, or sabbath year, was in 2014 starting with Rosh Hashanah in September.
Another sustainable element of the farm is its food forest — a way of farming that resembles the structure and function of a forest with its taller and shorter plants as well as ground cover. The layered and balanced ecosystem leads to a heartier crop than planting in rows, Kort explained.
The farm minimizes its water use through drip irrigation and via a system of berms and swales that both impedes water runoff and catches it in ditches. As an organic establishment, the farm finds eco-friendly ways to protect plants, like using snails that eat pests. The snails then become food for the chickens.
Growing healthy food in a sustainable way that is infused by Jewish tradition is the starting point. Making that food available to all community members regardless of income is the next step. Tying the pieces together in a way that educates people requires outreach. That is why the farm engages the community through various programs, Spoor said.
One is the “Rise & Shine on the Farm” volunteer program offered every Tuesday morning for two hours starting at 8 a.m. Tasks vary based on the needs of the farm, but participants may weed, harvest or move mulch — all while receiving instruction from the farmers who teach the reasons behind their practices.
Whether it’s a volunteer program, tour or special event, the point is to immerse the general public in the workings of the farm. Spoor said, “There’s what can be learned and what can be felt.” Being there with one’s feet in the soil is how the public “can connect to the land as we do,” she elaborated.
The produce stand at Coastal Roots Farm (441 Saxony Road) is open on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Thursdays from 2 to 6 p.m. There’s a public farm tour on the second Sunday of every month at 11:30 a.m. To find out about other events and volunteer programs, go to coastalrootsfarm.org.