The Hazon Food Conference is one of those places where lots of different people, many not yet acquainted, come together for a few very full days to learn, connect, collaborate, share passions, explore new ideas and, by the way, have a great time in a beautiful setting. It’s a testament to the conference that most of the diverse participants leave feeling inspired and motivated to help create healthy, sustainable communities in the Jewish world and beyond.

Active participants in the Kids Food Conference

This annual gathering of over 250 chefs, farmers, writers, environmentalists, activists, clergy, community leaders and others features more than 90 classes, demos, hands-on workshops and panel discussions, as well as an outdoor food festival with chef-prepared foods, drinks and music. There’s even a simultaneous Kids Food Conference for ages five to 12.

If it sounds exhausting that all this happens in just few days, trust me: It’s really not. After all, there’s always time for a walk around the lake or a swim. But it is one of the most enjoyable, energizing and mind-expanding experiences I’ve ever had…not to mention that there’s the pleasure of having someone else prepare four days of delicious, kosher, organic, ethically sourced farm-to-table cuisine for me!

Last year, I attended my first Hazon Food Conference, teaching two classes and cooking in the food festival. It was such a remarkable experience that, when asked, I agreed to co-chair this year’s conference along with Liz Rueven, blogger and founder/editor of Kosher Like Me. The 2018 conference takes place August 1 to 5 at Isabella Freedman Jewish Conference Center in northwest Connecticut.

Susan Barocas prepares eggplant caviar and salad

There’s still time to register for our world-class line-up of presenters including James Beard Award winner, author and culinary historian Michael Twitty; hunger expert and founder of Gary Oppenheimer; and authors/bloggers Jeffrey YoskowitzAdeena Sussman and Shannon Sarna plus JFE®/DC’s own chef and author Paula Shoyer and Shelby Zitelman, CEO and co-founder of Soom Foods…to name just a few.

Nearly two decades old, Hazon—the Hebrew word for “vision”—works to constantly renew Jewish life by creating a healthier and more sustainable world. As a cornerstone program, the food conference was founded in 2006 at the forefront of the new Jewish Food Movement. It aimed to encourage Jews to think and explore more broadly and deeply about our food choices. With this in mind, the annual gathering is dedicated to the vision, innovation and reality of sustainable food practices, food justice and security, social justice and Jewish culinary tradition from around the world.

Mitchell Davis of the James Beard Foundation speaks to a captive audience

“The Hazon Food Conference is an integral aspect of Hazon’s mission, taking a wide lens on Jewish texts, traditions and cultures—as diverse and multifaceted as possible—and then turning all of that outward, facing the wider world and engaging with issues of broad concern and interest,” says Jess Berlin, Hazon’s director of retreats. “There is so much that Judaism has to say about food—about how it is produced, consumed, interpreted, prepared and so much more—how can this inform our relationship as humans and within civil societies with culinary, agricultural and social relationships with food?”

Berlin explains that the conference is a place to ask questions and explore solutions in a “pretty remarkable, vibrant and pluralistic Jewish community that exists before and beyond the conference, yet one that is intentionally created at the conference by learning and singing together, sharing Shabbat and creating opportunities for unique encounters with awesome people and powerful ideas, and the space to grow those ideas and relationships.”

I cherish the ripples of my attending last year’s conference—exploring new ideas and techniques, learning about other Jewish food cultures, expanding my understanding of sustainable practices and the issues around food justice. More than anything else, I cherish the friendships and relationships established there that continue to enrich my life both personally and professionally.

The entrance to the food festival boasts the goodies that await inside

Over 2,400 people have attended the Hazon Food Conference over the past 12 years. It has been held in different locations and in winter rather than summer. Now, holding the conference at the retreat center with its adjacent ten acres of farmland and orchards in mid-summer abundance means opportunities for a complete farm-to-table experience, with farm tours and produce for meals and the food festival freshly picked from the farm. Last year, I particularly enjoyed using harvested eggplants, peppers and onions in the dishes I prepared for the food festival.

For more information about the Hazon Food Conference including registration, click here and join us for a memorable time. As Berlin says, “There is a consciousness that is really what this is about, setting the table for a better and more sustainable world for all people and the planet.”

Top photo credit: Susan Barocas; other photos courtesy of Hazon