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Faith, Family Farms, and Food Access


Faith, Family Farms, and Food Access

By Tish Levee

When I walked into a large room full of people at the Petaluma Community Center the afternoon of February 24th, I stepped into a whole new world – the world of the Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative. People from a wide spectrum of religious faith traditions came from all over the greater San Francisco Bay area to share and learn about ways in which congregations are building healthy, local food systems at the Collaborative’s 4th Annual Conference – Faith, Family Farms, and Food Access.

The Collaborative, based in Sebastopol, started four years ago when a team of Christians, Buddhists, and Jews began sharing ideas about programming and interfaith bridge-building to advance their congregation’s goals. In August of 2012 the ISFC took part in the American Community Garden Association’s national conference where they organized a panel on faith-based community gardens.

As I walked into the Assembly Room at the Community Center, I was handed a binder filled with a wealth of resources, organized according to the four main break-out sessions of the day: Creating a produce stand at a house of worship, reducing food waste, advocating for sustainable food policies, and engaging youth in food projects, plus resources on many other projects and supplementary reading material. The binder alone is invaluable for anyone concerned about sustainable food practices. Although it might be considered unsustainable (plastic cover, lots of paper), the information it contained was truly priceless. I will return to it again and again. 

In other areas, this group “walks their talk.” In the evening, during a dinner catered by Forks in Sebastopol that featured delicious sustainably raised vegetables and grilled chicken, we listened to Devorah Brouss, the founder and executive director  of Netiya, a Los Angeles based food and faith network that cultivates unused land at houses of worship to grow and tithe nutritious food. 

Throughout the afternoon, a representative of Ft. Bragg’s Thanksgiving Coffee poured Delicious Peace coffee, a fair trade coffee produced in Uganda by a cooperative of  Christian, Jewish, and Muslim coffee farmers. Thanksgiving makes this coffee available to congregations to serve and to sell to their members to help the cooperative grow. Go to to order the coffee. For a great movie about this cooperative, go to 

The program opened with an interfaith panel: Rabbi Steve Finley from Sonoma’s Congregation Shir Shalom, who spent nearly 20 years on a kibbutz in the Jezreel Valley in Israel; the Reverend Elizabeth Duff, who lives in Larkspur and is on the staff of Grace Cathedral, and describes herself as a farmer-priest; and Myozen Barton Stone, from the Stone Creek Zen Center in Graton, where he and his wife cultivate four acres of land for the “beneficial interaction of all beings,” and where, his wife (“I’m a pagan midwife”) told me, he is the chaplain for the Grange. I was pleased to see that interfaith meant just that, with people from various Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist denominations taking part.

I could only attend two of the four break-out sessions. The one on Reducing Food Waste was right up my alley (see this month’s Mitzvah Moments column). Assemblyman Bill Dodd (see his article in the January Gazette) was joined by Cynthia Cunningham from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Cotati, and Marv Zauderer of ExtraFood, a Marin County organization that gets extra food to people who need it. Someone from Sonoma Food Runners also spoke.

I also attended the break-out session on Engaging Youth, where Eddie Seamons from the Presbyterian Church of the Roses spoke on the program he is helping to develop there; Qayyum Johnson, the farm manager at Green Gulch Zen Center in Marin Beach, shared the ways in which they involve school children in reattaching to the land; and David Fox of the Amir Project, talked about this innovative program that involves campers in 30 camps across the country, about half of them Jewish camps.

While I was there covering this event for the Gazette, I also wore my other hat as co-chair of Congregation Beth Ami’s GREEN Committee. I came away with a number of great ideas that I hope we can implement there.


© Tish Levee, 2016