Just down the street from Congregation Brith Sholom in Bethlehem sits Monocacy Farm, property of the School Sisters of St. Francis. A large portion of the farm relies on the work of volunteers. The harvest — mainly staples like green beans and carrots — is donated to soup kitchens and food pantries across the Lehigh Valley, including Jewish Family Service.
“To be able to provide fresh organic produce to people who have such limited income, it opens them up to a lot of possibilities that they wouldn’t have in terms of their nutrition and their eating,” said Rebecca Axelrod-Cooper, community impact coordinator at Jewish Family Service.
The Jewish Family Service food pantry serves 130 families per month and is open to everyone living in the 18104 zip code and all Jews throughout the Lehigh Valley.
“It’s really a very fundamental Jewish concept of tzedakah (charitable giving),” Axelrod-Cooper said. “You set apart a side of your field and share with those that are less fortunate.”
Many synagogues in the Lehigh Valley participate in community garden initiatives. After receiving a call from Sister Bonnie, Rabbi Michael Singer of Brith Sholom said his congregation was more than willing to help out with the Monocacy Farm Project.
“Our congregation is really fired up about it,” Singer said during a trip to the farm. “People need a diet that includes fresh vegetables and things that are nourishing to body and soul.”
Sister Bonnie described the partnership as “getting people who care about humanity and the earth to work together ….”
“... Which ties with both of our religious traditions,” Singer added.
Sarah Cohen started Lil Miss Organic, a farm-to-table style business that offers catering, baked goods and fresh vegetables at a permanent stand in the Allentown Farmer’s Market. All of the ingredients she uses are organic, kosher, gluten-free and soy-free. They are locally sourced whenever possible and vegetarian, with some vegan offerings.
“We also do farming,” Sarah said, adding that, in addition to keeping nine heritage-breed chickens for their eggs, “last year, our 30 tomato plants gave us 850 pounds of tomatoes.”
Cohen looks to the Lehigh Valley Jewish clergy for guidance in maintaining the kosher standard for her ingredients. She points to a strong connection with what she learned while growing up at Bnai Abraham Synagogue in Easton.
“I learned always to be charitable and give back,” she said. “Remember that your community makes you who you are.”
To learn more about donating your fresh produce and more to the JFS Community Food Pantry, visit www.jfslv.org/pantry.