Sunday, March 29, 2009

Pesach prep

Take a break from hunting down that last crumb of chametz and check this out:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Special Yiddish Hour show on Jews, food and ethics

Hope you all can join me this Sunday, March 29, at 10am PDT for a special edition of the Yiddish Hour on KBOO, 90.7 fm. This week I'll be focusing on the intersection of Jews, food and ethics, just in time for Passover. I'll discuss the concepts of eco-kashrut with Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia, PA, and I'll also be speaking with Rabbi Morris Allen, founder of the Hechsher Tzedek Initiative. In addition, I'll be interviewing two local Jewish organic farmers, Shari Raider of Sauvie Island Organics and Lyle Stanley of Gee Creek Farm.

Eco-kashrut is a growing movement in Jewish circles to re-interpret the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut (kosher). Eco-kashrut expands on traditional kosher practice by incorporating the ethics of sustainable growing systems, as well as humane, healthy animal production and fair treatment for farm workers and meat processors.

The Hechsher Tzedek Initiative has created the Magen Tzedek (Righteous Shield), a new ethical certification seal. Kosher food companies who successfully apply for ethical certification from the Hekhsher Tzedek commission will display the Magen Tzedek seal on their products.

Please tell anyone you think would be interested in a discussion of food, values and ethics from a Jewish perspective. Out of town folks can stream the show live online for free at

If you can't listen to the show this Sunday, it will be available for downloading at the Yiddish Hour site at KBOO ( We can't usually do this because there are copyright issues pertaining to music that prevent us from podcasting the show, but since this show is original material, we can post it on our site.

Thanks! Hope you can tune in this Sunday.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tuv Ha'Aretz

For the past several months I've been involved with the planning committee for Tuv Ha'Aretz, a new Jewish organization in Portland that connects Jews with agriculture, sustainability, food, and Jewish traditions. This week we are officially launching our Web site. I invite all of you in Portland who are interested in these issues to check us out, or even become a member (it's a nominal fee of $5/individual and $10/family). Also, please spread the word about Tuv Ha'Aretz to anyone you know who might be interested.

Here's our official news release. Pardon my self-quoting.

March 11, 2009


(Portland, Ore.) — Several Jewish organizations and a local farmer have teamed up with Hazon, a New York-based organization dedicated to a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community, to participate in Hazon’s Tuv Ha’Aretz program. The first Jewish program of its kind, Tuv Ha’Aretz brings synagogues, Jewish community centers and other Jewish organizations together with local farmers to support sustainable agriculture and Jewish environmental education.

Havurah Shalom, Congregation Neveh Shalom, the Mittleman Jewish Community Center and Sauvie Island Organics have come together to create the Portland chapter of Tuv Ha’Aretz, which translates as both “good for the land” and “best of the land.” Portland Tuv Ha’Aretz offers a variety of ways to combine interest in sustainably grown, healthy food with Jewish ethics and values. Among its program offerings, Portland Tuv Ha’Aretz gives people the opportunity to join Sauvie Island Organics’ CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. The CSA provides its members with weekly boxes of freshly picked produce throughout the growing season; in turn, members of the CSA support local, sustainable agriculture through their membership dollars.

“Portland is a major focal point in the sustainable and local food movement,” said Elizabeth Schwartz, a member of the Portland Tuv Ha’Aretz planning committee. “Many members of the Jewish community here already support local CSAs and shop at farmers’ markets, so it makes perfect sense to link Portlanders’ interest in food issues with programs that incorporate Jewish values.” “Judaism is an agricultural religion in its roots,” adds Havurah Shalom’s Education Director, Deborah Eisenbach-Budner, “so it’s really exciting to be able to reclaim some of that.”

Joining Sauvie Island Organics’ CSA is one component of Tuv Ha’Aretz. In addition, members of Portland Tuv Ha’Aretz will be able to choose from a variety of programs, including yearly visits to Sauvie Island Organics farm; movie nights featuring food-oriented films and discussions; weekly newsletters with recipes and short articles about the connections among Judaism, food and agriculture; workshops on growing and eating your own locally raised food; family-oriented hands-on programs for kids and adults; and text study that illuminates the ancient roots of Jews’ relationship to food and how those connections inform our food choices today.

Membership in Portland Tuv Ha’Aretz is open to everyone.

Tuv Ha’Aretz is the first Jewish Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in North America and includes the first CSA in Israel, with a current total of 32 sites internationally. Founded in 2004, by 2008, Tuv Ha’Aretz had more than 2,700 individual members and raised over $600,000 in membership to support local farms. This year, Portland joins eleven other new Tuv Ha’Aretz chapters across the country and in Israel.

Hazon, which means “vision,” is a non-profit that works to create a healthier and more sustainable Jewish community and a healthier and more sustainable world. Best known for its series of Jewish Environmental Bike Rides in New York and Israel, Hazon is at the forefront of an emerging national movement at the intersection of food and Jewish life. Hazon’s food work includes Tuv Ha’Aretz; an annual Food Conference for chefs, farmers, educators, and food enthusiasts; Min Ha’Aretz, a day school food curriculum for children and parents on issues of food, health, and Jewish life; Challah for Hunger, whose chapters bake and sell challah to raise awareness of and money for poverty and disaster relief work; and The Jew & The Carrot: a blog about Jews, food and contemporary food issues. For more information on Hazon, visit

For more information on Portland Tuv Ha’Aretz, visit

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lawns to food in 13 easy steps

This year Sweetie and I decided to expand our vegetable patch and get rid of more of our lawn at the same time. Much of our lawn is too shady to become a viable vegetable garden, but we marked out a 4' x 16' stretch on the west side of our front walkway. Here's the plot with half the sod removed:

Step 1: Remove the sod and put it aside to use later. With the right shovel (flat-edged and sharpened), this was not as hard as I expected it to be. Glad I didn't have to do the whole lawn, though, because it is tiring.

Step 2: Spread compost over the de-sodded bed.

Step 3: Remove a trench of soil one shovel-length deep and one shovel-length wide (approx. 1 sq. ft). Set aside:

Step 4: Use a forked spade or similar tool (ours is kind of like a pitchfork, but designed for soil) to turn and loosen the soil an additional foot deep:

Step 5: Dig a second trench of soil, moving this dirt onto the trench you just loosened. Then repeat steps 3 & 4 until the whole bed has been dug and loosened (this part took Sweetie and me about 3 hours; we took turns with the shovel and forked spade so as not to wear ourselves out)

Step 6: Fill the last trench with soil from the first trench (wipe brow, straighten aching back, feel great about finishing the most manual part of this labor).

Step 7: Sprinkle lime over the bed. Lime is used to balance the pH in soil. Portland soil tends toward the acidic, but of course it depends on where in the city you are.

Step 8: Remember all that sod we removed? Now we get to replace it, grass side down and roots up:

Step 9: Sheet-mulching. Also known as lasagna mulching, because you make layers of compost, organic material (yard debris), cardboard and straw. First a layer of cardboard, courtesy of Sweetie's bike shop, which is soaked with water:

Step 10: Add a layer of compost or composted manure. Water thoroughly:

Step 11: Add a layer of yard debris; we had lots of dead leaves hiding under our rhodies and in our hedge. This picture only shows about 1/3 of what we eventually piled on. Water thoroughly:

Step 12: Add a layer of straw. We went out to Linnton Feed & Seed, a nifty store on Hwy. 30 north of Portland, to get a bale of straw. A bale of straw, in case you weren't aware, (as I wasn't) is a LOT of straw, at least for gardening purposes, although I'm sure a horse could make short work of it. Water thoroughly:

Step 13: Stand back and enjoy what you've created. 

fyi: the bed on the far side of the path is our existing vegetable garden; we created permanent walking paths using extra cardboard and straw, so we don't walk on our vegetable beds and compact the soil:

When we dug our first bed, five years ago, we had no idea what we were doing. We made lots of mistakes but somehow managed to get quite a bit of food to grow that first summer. This year, armed with information (knowledge is power, after all, or so my 4th grade teacher told me), I'm excited to try new veggies and see how much food our little plots (221 sq. ft. total) can grow.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Nothing says spring like...

Our yard faces north, so this might seem anticlimactic for all you folks with south-facing properties, but our first daffodil is out (finally).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Breaking news

I just heard on ABC news that there will be a vegetable garden planted on the White House lawn near the fountain. Unfortunately I couldn't find the story on ABC news' web site, and of course it was just a sound bite, no details as to size of garden, what they'll plant, who will tend it, etc.

But still. It's. About. Time. Stay tuned.

Here's some backstory.

UPDATE: Thanks to Itai and Abigail for finding the full story here.

Mid-morning thoughts on listening to Mahler's 4th Symphony

I've been spending the past few days researching and writing about Mahler's 4th Symphony for an upcoming Oregon Symphony concert (it's in May, in case you want to check it out, or, if you're like some of my friends, avoid it like plague). 

I understand those who groan when they hear the name Mahler. He's not an easy listening experience. I would never take someone unfamiliar with classical music to a Mahler concert, for several reasons: the shortest Mahler symphony is just under an hour, so it's a lot of music to throw at neophyte ears; his music is complex, with many layers of meaning and subtext; sometimes it's relentlessly dark or ominous (Mahler was tortured, with justification, about a lot of stuff). Listening to Mahler without knowing much about him or his music can be like taking a first-time museum visitor to a Mark Rothko exhibit. (If you're not familiar with Mark Rothko, here are a couple of his paintings):

You look at the paintings, know you're supposed to "understand" them but don't, feel like an uneducated Philistine and give up. This is also some people's experience with Mahler. I get it.

All of Mahler's symphonies are distinct worlds. Listening to them is to enter into a soundscape, to take a journey without necessarily knowing the final destination. But Mahler's 4th Symphony is a complete departure from what we think of as "the Mahler sound." It's one of his shorter symphonies (still close to an hour, though), and its soundscape, its journey, is an exploration of childhood. Not a post-modernist self-consciously ironic portrait of childhood, either. It's cheerful and sunny and graceful, nostalgic without being maudlin.

If you've noticed the labels for this post, you are probably wondering at this point what the (insert favorite expletive here) Mahler's 4th Symphony has to do with gardening, of all things. The last movement of the symphony is a setting of a poem, originally titled "Heaven is hung with violins." (Mahler renamed it "The Heavenly Life" when he set it to music.) It's a child's concept of Heaven, which is a place full of music, dancing and other innocent pleasures. Heaven also offers a variety of delicious foods. What struck me about the poem is the specificity of the foods mentioned: 

"Good greens of all sorts
Grow in the heavenly garden.
Good asparagus, string beans,
And anything we want!...
Good apples, good pears, and good grapes,
And the gardener who permits us everything!"

Kids who love vegetables so much they dream of them in heaven. My kinda place. Of course, I know the poem itself was written by an adult, and perhaps this childish yearning for good asparagus and string beans is simply projected wishful thinking on the author's part, but it still made me smile. Perhaps it only exists in literature, but at least somewhere there are kids who don't balk at eating vegetables.

As for gardening, my sweetie and I are expanding our vegetable patch (more about that in another post), and as I listen to the soprano sing about the delicious veggies I am imagining all the great food we're going to grow this year.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

catching up

Okay, I can't possibly post about everything that's been going on, so I'll do it as I can. Top of my list: radio training.

I spent 7 hours at KBOO last weekend attending two different trainings on how to host music shows and also how to host public affairs shows (I'm planning a public affairs-style show on the Yiddish Hour later this month about the eco-kashrut movement; more on that later).  I find myself thinking a lot about one thing our intrepid trainer, Marilyn Pittman, kept saying, which is that as hosts our responsibility is to take care of our audience. 

What does that mean? Well, several things. For one, it means that you need to give your audience a reason to tune in and a reason to keep listening to you. You need to sound competent and comfortable and conversational but the irony is that you can't actually talk the way you do in regular conversation because THIS IS RADIO. You just have to SOUND like you're having a regular conversation, but there's a whole lotta craft that goes into sounding conversational. It doesn't happen by accident. It takes preparation and warming up and a lot of time. It takes training, and being serious about your work, even if your show is comedy. Maybe even especially if your show is comedy.

Another thing about taking care of the audience is to remember that only 1 in 100 people actually calls a radio show. In other words, the callers are not your audience. Your audience is the other 99 people listening; it's easy to assume the callers represent the audience, but they don't, esp. on public affairs and news shows. At KBOO that's an important point to remember, because people who tend to call KBOO shows think they have a right to rant and ramble simply because it's community radio, and everyone should have a right to weigh in.

So now I'm going to say something that won't go over well in some circles, but this is my blog, so what the hell. Being a host is a privilege. Being on the radio is a privilege. I take that seriously. And I take a lot of time to prepare my show, both because I'm still pretty new at it and also because the audience deserves to hear a quality product. I'm a radio consumer as well as a host; I listen to the radio many hours a day. I'm trying to make the kind of show I'd like to hear (I hope other people like to hear it too).

What isn't going to go over with some folks is my beef with people who don't take their hosting duties that seriously, who pride themselves on not sounding "professional," (and they say it like that, with finger quotes), who ramble and um and er and clearly just rolled out of bed and into the air room. Their shows sound like crap, and even if the content is interesting I find it really annoying, bordering on disrespectful. I'm not referring to anyone in particular, but if you tune into KBOO at any given time, particularly on the weekday public affairs shows, you'll hear what I mean. The audience deserves better. I'm the audience. So are you. If the prime job of the host is to take care of the audience, then the audience for these shoddily-done shows is ill-served indeed.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Watch this space

Wow, has it been a month since I've posted?

So much to catch up with, hard to know where to start, and I don't have time or energy to do it now, but stay tuned for further details.

Am trying out pictures for my header; this is Yofi, one of our food-obsessed cats. Comments?

Random fact for the day: Today, March 3, 2009, would have been my paternal grandfather's 100th birthday. He died almost 20 years ago, but I still think of him often. He was a mensch and a sweet, quietly heroic man.

Happy birthday, Grandpa Al.