Once upon a time Jews couldn’t own land. That’s something that the executive director, Dena Leibman, and a board member, Debra Moser, of Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA) mentioned when sharing how their Jewish values led them to work for our region’s largest sustainable agricultural education and advocacy non-profit organization.
Once Leibman, an avid backpacker with a degree in biology, landed a communications job with Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), she had to learn about farming, taking classes with farming geeks on sizing irrigation pipes and constructing hoop houses. She soon fell in love with farming and bought a 100-acre farm in Catoctin, MD, with her partner, where they plan to open Zigbone Farm Retreat Center this fall.
Leibman took the helm of Future Harvest just over a year ago, at a time of tremendous organizational growth to keep up with the demand for sustainable farming education. The three pillars of Future Harvest’s programming are: the Foodshed Field School, which offers 20 field workshops around the Chesapeake Region, the Beginning Farmer Training Program, touting 48 graduates (38 of whom farm today), and the Annual Conference. Leibman believes that Future Harvest is fully energized now, having formalized its field school, doubling its budget and, this year, attracting its largest conference ever, with 600 attendees.
Future Harvest also advocates for sustainable farming policies. Leibman proudly explains two victories: “We worked with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to pass legislation for the on-farm processing of chicken and rabbits to support local farmers. In addition, Maryland now has a cost-share funding for farmers to convert commodity row crop farming to pastured grazing, supporting better land management for the Chesapeake Bay and our local economy.”
Looking ahead for the organization, Leibman shares, “We need to build greater consumer awareness about sourcing from local farms. We also need to develop new markets and better business relationships.” Enter new board member, Debra Moser, armed with her MBA and a track record for building VisArts at Rockville, to a $13 million organization.
Moser loves to help small organizations grow. She and her husband, Mitch Berliner, launched the wildly popular Central Farm Markets with three locations and MeatCrafters. Moser says that her Jewish values of giving back to community inspired her and Berliner to host a chefs’ dinner featuring local farmers, which raised $17,000 for Future Harvest.
In addition to being a stellar fundraiser, Moser brings the retail and business perspective of how to get farmers’ products to market, and in turn, she has learned about farming. “We have a diverse board including chefs, farmers and a food distribution company,” Moser explains. “We’re seeing the business of food from lots of different angles, so together we can be very effective.”
Leibman is thrilled to see many young Jewish farmers. She tells me that a new generation has emerged from our landless history, including farming organizations like the Pearlstone Center, Urban Adamah and the Maryland Organic Food & Farming Association (MOFFA). “Each organization reconnects Jews with the land and embeds our Jewish heritage of Sukkot, Tu b’Shevat and the kibbutz movement in Israel into modern sustainable farming practices,” says Leibman. And with Leibman and Moser as great role models, Future Harvest stands ready to teach and to advocate for a whole new generation of farmers.
Top photo: Participants in the Beginning Farmer Training Program.