Jewish homesteading: an interview

A while ago I was contacted by Tachlis magazine, who were looking for information on the Jewish homesteading movement. My email interview with them is below:

Where do you live exactly?

I’m sorry, but as our privacy is important to us, I cannot state our exact location. I can only say we live somewhere in the Shomron.

What is your homestead like?

I wouldn’t call what we currently have a homestead, precisely; I look at it, figuratively, as the seed of what I would like to have. Right now we have a small flock of chickens, a small garden and a few young fruit trees. I would like to have a large, productive garden and orchard, more chickens, and ideally some sort of a dairy animal. This way, we would provide a significant part of our own food.

In the meantime, we are doing what we can with what we have, and learning relevant useful skills in gardening, improving soil and raising animals. We used to keep dairy goats so I know how to hand-milk and make cheese, and can easily go back to it again.

Is there a community where you live? Is there a minyan?

Yes and yes. We have some wonderful neighbors around here.

How did you decide to homestead?

I don’t think it was a one-time conscious decision. We did know, even when we first married, that we wanted to live on a piece of land, not in an apartment building. We are just taking baby steps in a certain direction, and anything we have accomplished so far has been largely thanks to my husband: sometimes you just need to jump in with both feet, and he can do it much better than I. He was the one who brought home a box with our first chicks, and he was the one who decided on buying goats. He has also accomplished various complicated projects around the household I couldn’t have done myself.

What do you feel your family is gaining from homesteading?

Even though I wouldn’t refer to us a homesteaders just yet, we are learning a whole lot from growing plants, raising animals and working on a plot of land. Our children know the thrill of a newly hatched chick and a newly sprouted seedling. They know how an incubator works and where is the best spot to plant tomatoes. They know all sorts of things I wish I had learned as a child.

Israel+chickens3

Above: Israel, 19 months old, loves to feed the chickens.

I think one of the best things in growing your own food is that the experience does something to every member of the family, regardless of age. You can all share the excitement of newborn baby goats – nobody is too young or too old for that. And when you go foraging for wild-growing goods, you are all equally satisfied when you come home with full containers.

Our lifestyle has brought us together with many wonderful like-minded people, which has been a terrific experience and an education in itself.

And, of course, those who “graduate” to growing and raising a significant part of their own food will reap the benefits of a healthier diet and reduced expenses.

Does homesteading help you connect to the Torah in a deeper or more personal way?

Yes, certainly. Jewish life and working on the land are closely intertwined. Many of the mitzvot specifically refer to agriculture: ma’asrot (tithes), Shmita (the Sabbatical year) and the holy status of the firstborn male, to name a few, and of course anything that has to do with humane treatment of animals. When you grow plants and raise animals, even on a small scale, you get to experience this first-hand, not just learn it in theory. Then there’s everything Shabbat-related, such as the restrictions of tending to the garden (you must do everything before Shabbat) and milking (you can milk so the animals don’t suffer, but not collect the milk). Also, as we’re into poultry especially, we have learned there’s some doubt about the kosher status of certain heirloom chicken breeds (in particular ones with an extra toe). We have found out so many things we would otherwise have had no clue about!

You can read more about homesteading and small-scale farming in Israel in this post.

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