How did Ekar Farm go from being a small urban farm project on the Denver Academy of Torah’s campus to a front runner in the fight for food justice and action around climate change? Executive Director Sue Salinger says it is one of the many results of a global pandemic.
Denver’s two-acre Jewish communal farm and garden, which was based on a charity model of food production, began more than a dozen years ago. Today, said Salinger, “Ekar Farm is at an inflection point. At the start, we grew food and donated food. Now, we’re at the center of trying to understand the root causes of food and environmental injustice.”
During the height of the pandemic, the number of families needing food assistance multiplied ten-fold. In order to meet that demand, said Salinger, the farm needed to take a more systemic approach to feeding the hungry, including making strategic choices to maximize their impact in the community.
One silver lining of the otherwise devastating COVID pandemic has been a move toward a more collaborative effort across the Denver Metro area to address the problem of food insecurity. For the past year, said Salinger, Ekar Farm and other organizations have participated in weekly phone meetings to discuss ways to serve the community’s needs, and the philanthropic community, including JEWISHcolorado, has stepped in repeatedly to provide emergency funding for hunger relief. As a result of those meetings, Ekar received emergency assistance and grants that enabled them to triple the amount of food grown and distributed to those facing food insecurity and to coordinate the distribution of over 17,000 seed packets to community gardeners and individuals.
This isn’t the first time that Ekar Farm has stepped up and endeavored to fill an unexpected breach in the Jewish non-profit world. When Hazon, the largest faith-based environmental organization in the U.S. closed its office in Denver, Ekar Farm was left with a challenge—and an opportunity.
In the wake of that shift, Ekar took on implementation of one of Hazon’s biggest programs: the Seal of Sustainability, a program designed to support organizations and communities working to create healthier, more equitable, and more sustainable Jewish organizations and institutions.
Organizations that receive the Seal must commit to a series of sustainability projects. Ekar currently works with 13 local organizations, helping synagogues and other Jewish non-profits assess their environmental footprint and take substantive action towards shrinking it. Projects often include implementing a recycling program, composting, adopting fair food purchasing policies, building gardens on-site, and exploring the installation of solar power.
For the Denver Jewish community, Salinger said, “Ekar Farm is at the nexus of food, environmental justice, and social justice. We are looking closely at the role Jewish institutions must play in helping Jewish people and organizations adapt to climate change.”
The farm is also building comprehensive and thoughtful partnerships to advance environmental action within the Jewish community. Of late, Ekar has partnered with Dayenu, a new national organization mobilizing the American Jewish community to confront the climate crisis by focusing on political advocacy and systemic change.
Salinger said that Ekar has the opportunity in the coming years to become the Jewish center in Colorado for environmental and food justice. As part of the organization’s strategic planning process, Salinger said they are “actively looking for community stakeholders to participate in that process.” They want to know, “What does the community need and what does it want?”
Salinger said that part of the answer might be taking to heart Motzie, the blessing of thanks said before meals in recognition that food comes from the earth. “So much of Torah is about growing food, about what we eat… Our connection to the environment is so intimate; we all know that we are dependent upon the environment and planet for our survivability.”
To learn more about Ekar Farm, to explore Hazon’s Seal of Sustainability, and to learn about Dayenu climate-action circles, please visit the links below.