Jewish Farmers Provide Harvest to Twin Cities Jewish Community

Each fall, Jews around the world gather with friends and family to build a sukkah made of wood and leaves, celebrating the harvesting festival with a lulav and etrog in hand and a feast on the table. But between the blessings and the noshing, it seems some of us Jews tend to forget to give thanks to the people who grow the fresh vegetables and fruit we enjoy. Meet Jewish farmers, Martha and Geoffrey Black, the owners of Avodah Farm, a Wisconsin vegetable and community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm that services families in Western Wisconsin and the Twin Cities.

Avodah ­— which translates from Hebrew to mean “work, service and labor” — started as a way for two eager college graduates to fulfill their dram of living off the land. During summers off from classes and exams, the couple found themselves becoming more and more interested in agriculture. During the growth season, they helped a CSA farmer with everyday planting and harvesting, learning the tricks of the trade along the way.

“We were trying to think of things that could support us living in the country and farming was a really obvious one. So we tried it, really loved it, and never looked back.”

“We wanted to raise our family in the country, because we both had grown up in the country.” Martha said. “And so once we knew that’s where we wanted to end up, then we were trying to think of things that could support us living in the country and farming was a really obvious one. So we tried it, really loved it, and never looked back.”


The Blacks on their farm in Wisconsin.

Now, Martha and Geoffrey own their own plot of land (along with their two-and-a-half-year-old son, Elijah, and another one on the way), farming all types of veggies, including zucchini, kale and green beans for hungry family, friends, community members and CSA subscribers.

As a CSA farm, Martha said the couple knows before a harvesting season hits how much of the fruits of their labor will sell, and how much will end up on their own dinner table. And it’s largely because of the Jewish community and their gift of schmoozing that the couple can afford to live off the land.

This year, for the first time since Avodah Farm took off four years ago, Martha and Geoffrey sold out of their CSA subscriptions entirely, giving credit to the members of Beth Jacob Synagogue in Mendota Heights for sharing their name across nearby Jewish networks.

“It’s been a really, really great relationship,” Martha said. “We were sharing our bounty with our other community members at Beth Jacob, and it feels like we’ve grown in some other sites as well and through other connections, but our real core is our Beth Jacob membership.”

Nonetheless, with success comes hard work, Martha said. The couple tries their best to incorporate Judaism and tradition into their busy farm lives. Shabbat is “Shabbat on the farm”, Martha tells us, meaning that the family takes a break from the farming to spend time together for 24 hours to just spend time together.

But celebrating longer holidays can be harder for the family because work on the farm never stops. Though Sukkot is the harvest festival in Jewish tradition, Martha tells us the real harvest festival comes around Thanksgiving time for farmers in the U.S., as late November marks the end of the harvesting season up north.

Although this year’s harvesting season is only a few months from its close, Martha and Geoffrey started an internship program for eager farmers looking to learn the ins and outs of living off the land. It’s the kind of experience you can’t gain sitting in a college classroom, Martha said. The couple takes resumes from interested applicants at their email, and more information can be found on their website.

In the future, she said the family hopes to find a way to service the Jewish community with Kosher, grass-fed beef. After all, it’s the Jewish community that supports the Blacks on their daily farming venture.

“We’re very, very grateful,” Martha said.

Avodah Farm subscriptions for 2016 will open January. Visit their website for more information.