By Mitch Burnie
Shmitah is first mentioned in the Torah in Exodus 23:10-11. “And six years you shall sow your land, and you shall gather in its produce. And the seventh year you shall release it from work and abandon it, and the poor among your people will eat.” It comes in Parshat Mishpatim and is shown to us in the context of a list of moral guidelines on how we should live our lives. This idea of releasing land has struck a chord with me and seeing its connection with an attempt at morality will guide a lot of what 5782 looks like at Adamama. How could letting your field lie fallow have moral implications? There is a lot to unpack here.
From this Rosh Hashanah until the next we will be in a Shmitah year, a year that is not specific to one farm and its founding date but uniform for all farms (indeed all land) in the land of Israel and to those in the Diaspora who choose to acknowledge it. 5782 will bring about many exciting changes and challenges for Adamama as we move to a new home and find a way to bring the values of Shmitah to the wider community. For the first time in Sydney we have a Jewish urban farm, a living embodiment and example of how to acknowledge and learn from Shmitah.
We will be focussing on three themes: land, community, and self.
Soil! It is the essence of almost everything that we consume and the best and most organic way to get a bumper crop and strong biodiversity. Home to billions of microbial organisms, our soil is what feeds us and so we must also feed it. We feed it with compost and a diverse range of crops, allowing it to feed on all different types of nutrients that each plant species provides. It sequesters our carbon, stores it for the crops and prevents it from being released into the air to become a greenhouse gas.
Large-scale farming does not abide by these principles. They plant mono-culture fields, spray the soil with all sorts of chemicals and dig up (till) the soil, releasing all that sequestered carbon into the atmosphere. These practices are a massive contributor to the climate crisis and will have potentially catastrophic consequences in the future if not addressed properly. Imagine if for just one year no carbon was released from the earth into the atmosphere. Imagine if for just one year we didn’t take the nutrients from our soil but rather just fed it with cover crops. The following year could produce a massive yield that the earth and our bodies would be thankful for.
This could be a time for us all to learn more about where and how our food is produced and to reimagine and practice more sustainable methods to better look after our soil. We are very conscious of this at Adamama and use a no-till method of regenerative agriculture, making sure to sequester all that carbon and feed our soil a diverse range of compost and crop.
While most of us do not have farms that feed the nation and do not have direct control with the methods used in large scale agriculture, we can make a difference with the consumer choices we make. Maybe this Shmitah year is the year that we challenge ourselves to do a bit more research into the food that we buy and make more ethical and organic choices. Organic doesn’t mean just good for you, it also means good for the earth. Another thing to consider is COMPOST! Just do it, you won’t regret it.
Think back to the times of the Torah. We were an agricultural people, the land was our life and our livelihoods. To stop farming for a whole year was to effectively stop the economy. No one could sell or buy, so we were challenged to put our faith in those around us to look after one another. It must have caused so much anxiety in farmers and the community to trust that all would be ok.
Fair and equitable access to fresh and healthy food is not a privilege afforded to most in our Australian society. It is often too expensive, and during this time of lockdowns and uncertainty, trips to the shops (or your local urban farm) are not possible for many members of our more vulnerable community.
Our current situation should serve as motivation enough to “Love your neighbours as yourself,” and to think of all those around us who are struggling. Maybe this Shmitah year can serve as a deeper meaning to looking after our community and working to a more just society in any way that we can.
At Adamama this year, instead of letting our field lie fallow, we will be focussing on the charitable component to the Shmitah year. We’ll be donating the majority of our crops to the local food-based organisations that need it most. We will be sowing quick-growing crops and turning our attention to high-yielding vegetables to ensure all those who need it most, have fair and equal access to fresh food.
We have also donated our first-ever harvest of honey to COA’s kosher ‘Meals on Wheels’.
Finding new ways to service your community, family, loved ones and strangers can be a guiding factor in how you chose to acknowledge the Shmitah year.
Farming is hard work! So while it can cause great stress not to farm for a year and place your trust in others, it can also be a blessing and opportunity to rest your body and your mind. The Shmitah is the first example of a sabbatical, coming from the word Shabbat, meaning to rest. We may not all be in a position to take a sabbatical (I am definitely not), but that does not mean that we can’t use this year or this lockdown to rest, reflect and reimagine.
It was common in ancient Israel for farmers while not working the fields to challenge themselves to work on a new skill or hobby that would help them in the future. They would reflect on what their goals were and what skills or changes in mindsets they needed to achieve them moving forward.
Just like the farmers of ancient Israel, we too may find ourselves with a bit more time on our hands during this lockdown, or in a bit more of a reflective mood especially as we head into the Teshuvah (repentance) period in the calendar. The Shmitah year is a great opportunity to return to ourselves a bit, reflect on what is most important, rest our minds from the daily slog and open ourselves to new ideas and opportunities.
Maybe 5782 is the year that you learn a new skill, pick up a new hobby, meditate every morning, swim in the ocean at least once a week, focus on your well-being and happiness. This Shmitah year can be the catalyst to start doing a bit of self-care, the kind we have been putting off for a while.
I love the ideas of Shmitah, I think they were really onto something. The great equaliser of the environment and the soul. Bringing people together and pushing forward to a better more sustainable world. After all, as we read in Ecclesiastes 1:4, “Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.”