On a hillside in Encinitas stroked by ocean breezes, Daron “Farmer D” Joffe looks out over acres of farmlands and likes what he sees, even though the fields are fallow and many are covered with great pelts of waving grasses and other cover crops.
"We rest the fields every seventh year for shmita,” he says, “in the Jewish tradition—a sabbatical year.”
The Leichtag Foundation purchased a farm/nursery from the Ecke family (famed poinsettia growers) in North San Diego County.
And although this is a shmita year, the foundation’s lands and extensive greenhouses are far from resting in most other ways.
On the day before this Earth Day, Wellness Warrior paid a visit to see Joffe, the foundation’s “Director of Agricultural Innovation and Development.” The underlying theme of our visit during this “Year of the Soil” was ... talking about dirt—but the conversation quickly turned to much more than composting, thanks to the foundation’s vision for making as many people as possible enjoy the possibilities of sustainable agriculture...and a sustainable life in general.
What we got, in short, was much more than a handful!
Young, enthusiastic, and already an established farmer-entrepreneur with his Farmer D Organics brand from the days before he arrived at Leichtag Foundation, Joffe loaded us into a golf-cart-like electric vehicle (equipped with high clearance and knobby tires) and off we set to view the farm.
Joffe is also the author of “Citizen Farmers: The Biodynamic Way To Grow Healthy Food, Build Thriving Communities, and Give Back To The Earth” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, New York; NY, 2014). The book is both how-to guide as well as Joffe’s engaging musings on the connection between gardening and what counts in life most.
Nine chapters map out a nice philosophy of making your garden your guideposts for fulfillment. For example, composting = stewardship, planning = vision, sowing = faith, and sharing = generosity.
As we bounced along the roads, trails, and paths, Joffe shared the foundation’s plans for creating a community hub of sustainability-themed ventures. Along the perimeters of the property, we looked over fences into the San Diego Botanic Garden. Then, not far away, we found ourselves viewing an adjacent, multi-acre “Farm Lab:” a science and nutrition magnet program started by the local public school system. An “aging in place” retirement community is in walking distance. The nation’s largest YMCA is just across the street.
The farm itself, only two-and-a-half years after its purchase by the foundation, will become a center for gardening and nutrition education, a place for volunteers to literally get their hands dirty, a community agriculture market, a place for entrepreneurs to lease greenhouses and/or land and grow ethical, sustainable products...the list goes on and on.
We stopped beside the current community farm. Despite the soil resting for shmita, tall bunches of kale and chard are ready for harvest. Tomatoes, strawberries, herbs, beets and the entire cornucopia of any ideal backyard garden burst from the seams of a tubular “sock” called GardenSoxx, which sits atop the ground.
“For fun, we arranged the tubes into a labyrinth,” explained Joffe, as we looked over the circles-within-circles of vegetables. A watering system developed long ago in Israel delivers both moisture and nutrients direct to the GrowSoxx: a critical conservation measure during California’s time of drought.
Schoolchildren love navigating the paths, plucking strawberries. Just as important, the small demonstration farm is already supplying thousands of pounds of fresh produce to local food-bank programs.
When we spoke to Niki Mazaroli, one of the foundation’s Program Officers, we learned that most of their grants focus on programs that foster self-sufficiency, a living wage, healthy food, policy and advocacy ... and, of course, the farm itself, where programs come to life through hands-on education, involvement, experience.
The Leichtag Foundation is only in the earliest stages of their vision for this land and programs in Jerusalem as well. It’s a unique, international approach to social change that brings people together around the themes of food, family, sustainability, as well as many other causes and issues. We predict that this little corner of California will soon attract thousands of visitors a year—not only those who live near by, but the curious from around the world.
A certain kind of music played throughout the farm that day: the strong ocean breeze plucked and plunked some of the loose metal siding on an abandoned barn; the grasses were a string section, faintly humming under the wind’s bow; the cart’s electric motor also hummed...all of it a spare, elemental composition rooted in a quiet devotion to land, growing things, and most of all, a sustained commitment to the health of Mother Earth.