This Week in Jewish Farming: The suburban homestead


A week ago, I moved into an apartment on the second floor of a two-family house on a tree-lined street opposite an elementary school. Thus ended nearly three months of crashing with my family, months in which I spent many a night on a trundle bed in the basement, fished my clothes out of an open suitcase on the floor (or sometimes straight off the floor) and watched with mounting alarm as piles of my belongings and various farm paraphernalia rose in heaps around me.

Maybe even more than starting the farm, the largest source of anxiety in this whole adventure was leaving Brooklyn for the suburbs. West Hartford is a nice enough town, but I had spent most of my adolescence waiting to flee it. When I landed in New York City after college, the Giuliani years were in full flower with all that hype about New York being the greatest city on earth. I completely believed it. I watched from my front stoop as Brooklyn morphed from a borough into a global brand, confident I was among the fortunate few whom providence had blessed to live in the great metropolis.

After more than a decade of that sort of vibrancy and grit, landing in a sterile suburb was a bit wounding. Having to live with my parents for a time was like pouring a little salt in it.

So I was fully primed for last week’s move to herald the start of a new chapter to — if not exactly turn the ‘burbs into Brooklyn —  at least restore a measure of independence, to mark the official start of my new life. But it didn’t turn out that way. There was no lazy weekend unpacking boxes and pondering the perfect spot for the bookcase, no dropping in at the local coffee hole (Actually, there isn’t one: Help!) and befriending the neighbors (who, in my imagination, are wearing impossibly broad grins while pushing lawnmowers across impossibly green lawns).

Within an hour of the movers departing, I was back on the farm, on hands and knees in the dirt. When I returned home that evening, I was disturbed to find those heaps of belongings had migrated with me.

A week later, they are still there. Turns out, that new life chapter had already begun on the snowy day in March when I put those first onion seeds in the tray. That one act threw a tether around my life, one that has only tightened in the intervening months. My days begin now before 6 a.m., I’m out the door before rush-hour traffic hits its peak and typically return with just enough time to see the sun do its final nosedive.

It’s strange to consider how my life has become so completely enveloped by one thing, and stranger still to discover how satisfying that is. After living with Gotham’s daily smorgasbord of possibility for so long, it’s shocking how liberating it is to have my horizons so dramatically curtailed.

More choices, psychologists tell us, often lead to greater dissatisfaction. Among the many things I’ve learned this year is that the obverse is true as well.

Veteran JTA journalist Ben Harris is chronicling his new life as a Connecticut farmer. Read more of his weekly dispatches here.


From the annals of Jewish farming: The general manager of the Jewish Agricultural Society reported that the Jewish back-to-the-farm movement made progress in 1936, with the society granting 268 loans totaling $116,801 to new farm settlers.

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