Welcome to “Who the Folk?!” Every week on Monday we feature a new member of our Jewish community. Know someone we should feature? Nominate them by sending an email to [email protected].
Last week week we got to know Leslie Fhima. This week meet Mike Jacobs! He owns a farm!
Mike: No, I’m not. Nor do I live there now. I actually grew up in Teaneck, NJ.
TCJ: What brought you here?
Mike: Initially I came to St. Paul to attend Macalester College. Then a whole variety of circuitous events brought me from St. Paul to the wilds of western Minnesota. I live about 140 miles west of Minneapolis and St. Paul–so legally speaking I’m not a Twin Cities Jewfolk, but I spend a lot of time in the Twin Cities. If you get on Lake Street and drive about 2.5 hours west, you’ll get to our farm.
TCJ: Yes, you run a farm! Easy Bean Farm. What’s that like?
Mike: It’s great when it’s great. This time of year it’s really great! Because I get to be working with living things, with plants, when everyone else is stuck looking at the dreary snow-covered ground outside. I get to grow food for people, and I get to feed myself and my family at the same time. It’s fantastic.
TCJ: Have you always wanted to be a farmer?
Mike: No. Actually, even about a year-and-a-half before I started farming, if someone told me I was going to end up doing this, I would’ve said they were completely nuts! I studied biochemistry in college. I come from a very academic family, so it really wasn’t even on my radar of things that were even a possibility until right before I got interested in it. I was always very interested in taking care of the environment and being active in the environmental movement. It really wasn’t until I ended up in Minnesota, though, that someone pointed out to me that if I really cared about the environment, I should start caring about food and the way it’s grown.
TCJ: OK, it’s one thing to care about food and how it’s grown; it’s another thing to actually become a farmer. So how did that happen?
Mike: Well, you know, youthful naiveté probably played as large a role as anything! I joke now that I have all these friends that went off to third-world countries during and after college, and moving to Western Minnesota was sort of my equivalent to that. It was culturally, in a lot of ways, as foreign to me as going to a country where people spoke a different language. But I just fell in love with the idea. And I was at a time in my life that I was really looking for a place to put my energy and labor that felt like it was going to make a difference. So I moved out here to Milan, MN, in 1996, and I’ve been here since then.
TCJ: You also do a CSA with pick-up points at many local synagogues in town, right?
Mike: Yeah, we have the St. Paul JCC, the Sabes JCC, Bet Shalom, Adath; we’ve had stuff on and off over the years at Shir Tikvah. So yeah, we’ve had a great connection over the years with a variety of synagogues and Jewish organizations in the Twin Cities.
Mike: A CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it is a way of connecting farms to the people who consume the food that’s produced on the farm. So rather than have that relationship be distant and purely economic, with the CSA model, people make a financial commitment to our farm. It’s a little bit like investing in a vegetable mutual fund–they put in an investment directly with us, and in return we try to farm in a way that represents the values of our community. Values like good stewardship, taking care of the land and environment, being good to our employees, and leaving the planet in as good or better shape than we found it.
Members sign up early in the season–right now–and each week between sometime in June to sometime in October, we deliver a box of mixed produce. We get to grow things that normally you wouldn’t find in a grocery store. Grocery stores tend to pick things that keep really well, whereas our stuff goes from our field to our customers in 24 hours. So we can pick things because they’re beautiful, and because they taste good, and because they’re nutritious.
TCJ: You talked about the community aspect of the CSA. Do you feel a particular connection to providing the Jewish community with food?
Mike: We’re a foodie people. Maybe that’s an over-exaggeration, but I tend to think of us as people who really love to gather together in community to eat food, and say blessings over our food. So for me, the ability to mix my faith with my work and my customer base–yeah it’s satisfying. One piece in particular: I get asked to speak at synagogues, but also various churches around the state, and those people tend to be one generation off the farm. For Jews in the United States especially, we tend to be many, many generations off the farm, for a variety of reasons. We talk about being a people of the land, and yet we’re very disconnected from the actual land in general. So for me, restarting that conversation within the Jewish community is incredibly satisfying and pleasurable.
TCJ: What is your favorite Jewish holiday?
Mike: I probably should say Sukkot, or something agricultural, but it’s not. It’s Pesach, actually! It’s just such a social justice holiday. It’s about moving from a place of despair to a place of freedom, and it’s always been a holiday in my family where we talk about that in terms of how we can affect other people’s lives now. How we can help other people go from whatever type of slavery they experienced to freedom.
TCJ: What’s your favorite Jewish food?
Mike: Yonah Schimmel‘s potato knishes, which is soon to no longer be on the planet, apparently. They’re a lower New York knishery–I don’t know if there is another knishery around. But that’s all they do. And lots of brown mustard! Potato knish and lots of brown mustard.
TCJ: When you do get into the Twin Cities, what’s your favorite thing to do?
Mike: There’s always food and friends. And I love the MIA. There are always four or five paintings in the MIA that I go and sit in front of and I’m totally content.
TCJ: What else do you for fun?
Mike: I build furniture. I do timber framing, which is a type of house building. I also play some music–mandolin and banjo.
TCJ: Finally, give us one more reason why you’re folking awesome!
Mike: I dig my own marror! I’m actually about to go do it in a minute–as soon as this interview is done!Click here to nominate your favorite TC Jew to be featured on our weekly Who the Folk?! series!