Ekar Farm educates and engages the community
It’s harvest season this month at Ekar Farm, and for some people, that means fresh, organic produce that they could not otherwise afford. Ekar, Denver’s only Jewish community farm, believes in connecting people to the community and the community to the earth.
“We feel that organic food that is good for you and for the environment is a basic human right,” says Jason Plotkin, Executive Director of Ekar Farm. “We try to provide as much as we can.”
Through grants and long-standing relationships, Ekar donates thousands of pounds of the food it grows to organizations across the community including Jewish Family Service’s Weinberg Food Pantry, Metro Caring, SAME Café, and Kavod Senior Life.
From providing a seed planting project for JEWISHcolorado’s YAD Family Shabbat to developing and providing programming for more than 30 Early Childhood Education classes, Ekar finds ways to bring the farm to the people. Through these intentional programs, Ekar is engaging and educating more of the community than it ever has before.
Plotkin, who found his way to Ekar in 2012, has seen the Farm in every season. Starting as Farm Manager and Director of Operations, he was the only on-farm employee until 2017. Fast forward to 2023 and Plotkin rejoined Ekar as the Executive Director where he now leads a team of five that is diversifying its programming and expanding its reach in the community.
“The amount that we grow and actually give away and how many people we engage in doing this work is tremendous,” shares Plotkin. “We’re tzedakah. We don’t turn people away from food. That’s my favorite part about Judaism—the charity piece. It’s about taking care of each other, and that’s what we do here.”
Capturing the community
Located on Denver Academy of Torah’s campus and covering 2 acres, Ekar Farm caters to everybody, as much as it can.
“Judaism and the Jewish faith are very much about community,” Plotkin says. “Ekar is a Jewish farm. It’s a community farm. It’s a Jewish community farm.”
In a year, Ekar supplies 460 meal kits that can feed a family of six to Healthy Food for Denver Kids, donates close to 80% of the 35,000 pounds of produce it grows, and provides programming for individuals and organizations across the Denver community.
At Ekar Farm, everything from events to programs and from volunteer opportunities to community garden plots are designed to engage the community and educate as many as possible. Volunteer opportunities, such as Day in the Dirt (every Sunday from 9am-1pm), is an easy way to get people on the farm.
But volunteering isn’t the only way community members can interact with Ekar. Staring Sundays in mid-August, people can come to the farm and fill a reusable grocery bag with produce to take home for only $60. Ekar also offers 40 community garden plots that provide a place for people to connect with other gardeners and encourage conversation around good land stewardship.
Focused on being as inclusive as possible when considering programs and events, Plotkin partners Jewish holidays with US holidays, such as pairing Sukkot with a harvest festival.
“We do promote Jewish life, and we want people that identify as Jewish to come here and experience that part of their Jewish identity, but we also want community members to learn about food access and hunger relief,” he says.
Growing the farm
For 14 seasons, Ekar has created a space for people to learn about food security and urban farming. With few urban farms of Ekar’s scale around and their highly collaborative approach to both Jewish and non-Jewish community members, they are focused on sharing their space to include other community members and organizations.
Continuing Ekar’s growth is a key focus for Plotkin. By shepherding in more meaningful and successful programming he aims to engage more community members. And by using fewer third-party distributors, Plotkin hopes to have more of a direct relationship with the people Ekar serves.
Physically, Ekar hasn’t changed much since it started, but its programming and hunger relief efforts have changed dramatically. At the start, programs were limited to talking tours. Now, it is more widespread and efficient than ever, which Plotkin credits to Becca Harley, Community Outreach and Programs Manager and Kevin Oster, Farm Manager. The ultimate goal is to get people on the farm.
“Food justice, hunger relief, and experiential education,” says Plotkin. “If you get one thing from any of those categories, your visit was a success, and we just did something that we were supposed to do. You can’t not learn something here.”