As someone who was raised in a rural sheep farm area in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula, I had the incredible opportunity to learn directly about the importance of appreciating the natural world. I knew where all of our food came from (my family raised it and harvested it), I knew what it took to maintain our forest property (consistent tree planting as well as tree removal), and I also learned firsthand the role that Mother Nature can play in successful food production.
As a result, I am constantly looking for relevant outdoor experiences for my children. But we live in the Detroit suburbs, and finding ways to encourage my two young boys to appreciate and honor the nature around them can be a challenge in the midst of the many busses, cars, and buildings.
The Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat is quickly approaching, and it is a perfect opportunity to refocus our kids and families towards environmental awareness. Often referred to as the “New Year for the Trees” or Jewish Arbor Day, Tu Bishvat is also known as the Jewish environmental holiday. It happens when things really start to bloom in Israel., and it’s also an opportunity to mark the birthday (and thus the age) of each tree in the land of Israel so that we can be sure we don’t overwork the soil.
It’s tough for us to imagine spring as we sit in the cold and snow during a Midwest winter, but it does allow us a great opportunity to make a different list of New Year’s resolutions. What are we going to do for the environment going forward this year? In what ways can we change our habits at home to reflect our concern for the earth? What changes can we make together towards better health for ourselves and for our world? These are the questions that my family asked itself this year, and we came up with the following ideas:
1. Continue to compost our eggshells, fruit and vegetable scraps, and coffee grinds, and use the compost we create to fertilize our vegetable garden. Composting is a great family activity, although not the most glamorous. It can be smelly in the summer, but the dirt produced through composting is like true gold for the garden. It also cuts down significantly on garbage. The Recycling Authority in Oakland County has some great local resources on composting.
2. Actively seek out opportunities to volunteer in local community gardens. Yad Ezra, our area’s only kosher food bank, is currently building a beautiful green house as part of the Giving Gardens project. It will be used to educate the community about food sustainability, food justice, and environmentalism.There is another wonderful community garden project called Eden Gardens in downtown Detroit. They are working to achieve a safe, green, viable, clean environment for the city and its residents. It works in cooperation with the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue . They are always looking for volunteer help as soon as the spring hits!We will also look to help out at Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills, where they recently opened a beautiful greenhouse.
3. Eat less meat.
4. Buy farm raised, antibiotic-free, grass-fed kosher meat as much as possible. We love to buy from Grow and Behold Foods, but I’ve heard that KOL Foods is a great source as well. There is a Southfield-area Grow and Behold co-op. Information about the co-op can be found on the website.
5. Get more involved with the work of Hazon. This national organization recently opened a local Detroit-area office and its mission is working to create a healthier, more sustainable Jewish community. They are excited to get more local Detroiters involved with their mission.
6. Work with our synagogue leadership to organize a “green” Kiddush. Let’s get rid of the Styrofoam cups!
7. Plant more food for our bee pollinators. Bees really like plants with nectar and pollen. We are going to add some to our yard so that they will have some good food with which to create their yummy honey and maintain their hives. I’m thinking sunflowers would be good to start!
8. Stop spraying our lawn with pesticides and non-green fertilizers.
9. Expand our membership to our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) organized through Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield. The produce we receive each week comes from Brine Family Farms in Dexter, MI. We will also attend Shaarey Zedek’s Tot Shabbat Birthday Party for the Trees event on Friday, January 15.
10. Finally, we decided to expand our backyard garden. We will add a few feet to it so we can add a couple more rows of veggies. One of my favorite family Tu Bishvat activities is to look at our seed catalog together and decide what we will grow when the spring begins!
Tu Bishvat can be celebrated in many ways, and I hope these ideas will speak to others as well. It takes a village to make real change and improve our world. Hopefully our local metro-Detroit village will join us! Shanah Tovah (Happy New Year)!
Tu Bishvat 2016 will begin at sundown on Sunday, January 24 and conclude at sunset on Monday, January 25th.