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RI Archives: Food

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Baba Louie's

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Hotel on North

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Jewish Farmers Find A Field of Dreams in Falls Village

Rural Intelligence FoodYou might call Alex Mulens and Leo McLaughlin the goyish gentleman farmers. The couple (left), who both work as flight attendants for American Airlines and own the Mix on Main antiques shop in Sheffield, MA, have been living in the center of Falls Village, CT, for nearly a decade, turning their modest Sears Roebuck kit colonial into one of the most stylish houses in town. (“Tweaking Tradition” RI, January 28, 2008). Although they live a stone’s throw from the post office, elementary school, and library, they had a three-acre field that provided a buffer on their four-plus-acre property, which gave them a sense of privacy. “We hadn’t mowed it in years,” says McLaughlin. “We didn’t have any plans for it.”

Rural Intelligence FoodBut Shamu Sadeh did. The director of the Adamah farming and environmental program up the road at the the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Sadeh (right) was looking for more arable land near the camp, which is set on 400 acres of mostly mountainous forest that’s impossible to farm. “Most of the land we’ve been using for our farm is in a flood plain and last year we lost half our crops,” says Sadeh. “We needed something that was level and would not flood. And we needed it to be about a mile from the camp because most of our Adamah fellows travel by bicycle.” Sadeh made a search of every piece of open land surrounding the camp, and the best prospect was McLaughlin and Mulens’ field, which is adjacent to the school his son attends. “So I knocked on the door because you can do that in a place like Falls Village, and asked them if they would consider lending their land to us.”

Rural Intelligence FoodTo Sadeh’s delight, the men agreed without condition. “We love Falls Village, and we loved the idea of having working farmland in town and in our backyard,” says Mulens. “We were also promised an unlimited supply of vegetables. We make scrambled eggs [left] with their delicious goat cheese, and they brought us strawberry preserves from their kitchen for our toast. It makes us feel even more connected to the community and to the land.”

Rural Intelligence FoodIt makes Isabella Freedman more connected to the community, too. Originally founded as a not-for-profit camp for lady garment workers to have a low-cost summer vacation, Isabella Freedman evolved into a year-round retreat center hosting groups of all ages from all the Jewish denominations. Since Sadeh arrived eight years ago, the camp has become increasingly focused on environmental and agricultural issues, collaborating with neighbors such as Chubby Bunny Farm and Whippoorwill Farm (which both sell Adamah pickles, yogurt, and chèvre, as does the Berkshire Co-op and the Millerton Farmers’ Market.) “We believe we are the largest Jewish educational farming program outside Israel,” he says, noting that graduates of the Adamah program have started community or synagogue gardens in places such as Baltimore, Berkeley, and Chicago.

Rural Intelligence FoodWhereas the Freedman dining room’s kosher farm-to-table cuisine was once merely a bonus for visitors who’d signed up for retreats such as “Torah Yoga” or “LGBTQ Teen Shabbaton,” it is now the centerpiece of two family-friendly Berkshire Farm Vacation retreats (July 23 - 27; August 20 - 24) where guests learn how to pickle cucumbers and milk goats so they can make their own cheese. The new farmland lent by their non-Jewish neighbors makes it possible to not only supply the dining room but also to provide products for two local CSAs and to produce ingredients for the retail products. And for the non-Jewish McLaughlin and Mulens, it means that after working a long flight from L.A. or a day selling mid-century furniture in Sheffield, they can wander into their backyard and pick some tomatoes or squash for their dinner. “It’s fantastic,” says McLaughlin. “We feel blessed.”

Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center
116 Johnson Road
Falls Village, CT 06031
800.398.2630

Mix on Main
725 North Main Street
Sheffield, Ma. 01257
Phone 413.229.8900
Thursday - Sunday:  noon till 5

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 07/11/12 at 03:52 AM • Permalink