by Joan Rachlin~
I recently retired and have since been immersed in climate change related activities. I once heard it said that most working folk are “denatured,” so one of my post-retirement goals has been to “renature.” With this kavannah in heart and mind, I have been trying to more actively appreciate the boundless gifts nature offers us daily.
Most specifically, I’ve begun to notice, appreciate, and more consistently support those who produce the food that sustains my family and me. Through the physical labor of farmers we are given the gift of nourishment, which fuels us as we engage in our chosen pursuits and passions. And through the stewardship of farmers the earth receives the gift of care, which enables it to remain healthy and fertile. The farmers I’ve met love their land, respect their plants and animals, and recognize their synergistic relationship with the sun, rain, winds, and seasons. They rely on that relationship for their livelihood, but it is now threatened by climate change.
As Helen Keller said, “I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.” I joined a CSA and went to farmers markets each week. I bought my eggs, honey, and beeswax candles from a farm where the chickens rest peacefully under bushes as though posing for a still life. I buy chicken from a farm family who feed their animals by hand, fretting over any who are not doing well. They “dress” those chickens by holding them gently and killing them softly and swiftly. This farmer accompanies his cows to the nearby slaughterhouse the night before they die in order to feed them their last supper; he then sleeps with them in the barn to ensure that they are calm despite the new surroundings.
The food I purchase from farmers feels holy and wasting it would thus be tantamount to disrespecting them. I therefore compost kitchen scraps, eggshells, coffee grinds, and ash from our grill, being careful not to squash the bugs and worms feasting on my garbage for they, too, are part of the food-waste-to-rich-soil continuum. Everything is connected.
I saw my first red leaf last week with its bittersweet message: Summer was turning toward fall and it was thus time for me to enter this season of self-reflection. I have missed the mark by taking farmers and our earth for granted, but teshuvah affords me the perennial gift of intentionality and change. I hope to put my time, money, and mouth where my words are when it comes to honoring and supporting local farmers, sustainable food producers, vendors, and nonprofits working for a just food system.
Among other things, I’ll be thinking about how I can contribute to inner city agriculture. The Urban Farming Institute, for example, runs training programs, provides land access, engages in public education, and produces food for those who are “food insecure.” A thriving urban food system combines the elements of tikkun olam (healing the world) and tikkun tevel (healing the earth) and I hope to find a way in which I might participate in that sacred work. If we’re not careful and caring, successive generations might not have access to nourishing produce during Elul or at all. That prospect is overwhelmingly sad and frightening and although I cannot do everything to prevent it, I can do something.
Joan Rachlin is the executive director emerita of Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PRIM&R), an international bioethics organization dedicated to educating, informing and providing a forum for those involved in the ethical, legal and policy dimensions of biomedical, behavioral and social science research. In addition to her work with PRIM&R, she has practiced law and has taught women and the law, health law, and research ethics at several Boston-area colleges. An active member of Temple Israel of Boston, Ms. Rachlin serves on the Leadership Council and chairs the Green Team. She received a Distinguished Service Award from the Association of American Medical Colleges in 2013 and the Harvey M. Meyerhoff Award for Leadership in Bioethics from the Berman Institute for Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University in 2014. She holds a J.D. from the Suffolk University School of Law, and a M.P.H. from the Harvard School of Public Health. She found The Sacred Table helpful in her journey to a personal food ethic.