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Pilar Strutin-Belinoff shows off a produce box from Eatwell Farms as part of Temple Sinai's new Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

Temple Sinai launches new farm produce program

on October 19, 2011

It started with a home garden. But that was not enough.

“I’ve always been an avid cook and I appreciate fresh ingredients,” said Pilar Strutin-Belinoff, a congregant and mother of students at Temple Sinai. “But I’ve never been able to dedicate as much time as I’d like to gardening.”  It’s hard to juggle it all, she said, listing her various roles as wife, mother, and freelance product designer and consultant. “Sometimes there’s just not enough time in the day.”

But Strutin-Belinoff noticed that her neighbor seemed to have a solution to the fresh produce problem. Every week, after picking up her kids from the Contra Costa Jewish Day School in Lafayette, the neighbor would also unload a huge box brimming with brightly colored vegetables and fruit, part of her a subscription to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. A CSA is a program through which members receive boxes of fresh, local, and seasonal produce directly from farmers; the boxes are picked up from community drop-off sites.

Taking inspiration from her neighbor, over the last year Strutin-Belinoff and others at Temple Sinai worked to turn their temple and its school into a CSA drop-off site as well. The new program, which partnered with Eatwell Farms in the Sacramento Valley to supply the produce, launched last Wednesday in tandem with the celebration of the eight-day Jewish harvest holiday, Sukkot.

The evening event began with services in the outdoor sukkah, a temporary grass hut built for the holiday. It was followed with a cooking demonstration by Shayna Marmar, the assistant director of the pre-school and coordinator of the after-school program, on how to cook healthy foods like an herbed tabouli salad, using fresh, organic produce. A sample CSA box, gushing with parsley, basil, tomatoes, lettuce, assorted herbs, onions, and apples, was on display for congregants to see, along with cookbooks and information about CSAs and nutrition.

The goal of the program, said Strutin-Belinoff, is to make fresh, local, and organic produce more convenient, readily available, and affordable to the Temple community. “We’ve had congregants or community members who are like, ‘What is a CSA? I’ve never heard of that,’” she said. “So we have to educate community members and communicate how it works and why it’s worthwhile to eat locally and organically.”

“It’s almost like going to a farmers market, but it’s better because it’s less expensive and it’s kind of fun not knowing what you’ll get each week,” she added.

The produce boxes from Eatwell Farms are large enough to feed a family of four for a week and include both vegetables and fruit, Strutin-Belinoff said, and the selection will vary from week to week because of changing seasons and weather conditions. “Because we’re getting it directly from the farms, you have no choice but to eat in a sustainable manner where you’re purchasing produce that is available at that time of year,” said Strutin-Belinoff.

Marmar, who already uses fresh ingredients to make snacks for students, plans to subscribe to the CSA program as well because she feels it is important to introduce her students to new foods and impress upon them the significance of eating seasonally.  “They eat a lot of apples and carrots and things like that, but when there are lot of choices it’s a chance to educate them on new foods,” she said. “When it’s winter, there are more greens and it really is not the time for strawberries. It’s a lot of fun because then you can teach them about the seasons and which foods grow when.”

The program can also be a way to bring the community closer together, said Strutin-Belinoff, and perhaps serve as an impromptu weekly social event. “We don’t want it to just be pick up your produce and go,” she said. “We really wanted it to be come pick up your produce and mingle.”

Strutin-Belinoff said she would also be creating a blog and newsletter to update the congregation on health and nutrition-related news, as well as provide recipes and updates on the contents of the coming week’s box.

Strutin-Belinoff emphasized that the temple does not benefit financially from running the CSA—all of the funds go directly to Eatwell Farms.  “We are not using it as a fundraiser,” she said. “We feel that it is important to offer it to our community and help sort of support the local economy.”


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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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