For Shani Mink, love of Judaism and love of farming cannot be separated. Mink, a Baltimore City resident and farmer-educator at the Pearlstone Center in Reisterstown, first started working on a farm while a student at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. In addition to farming throughout her undergrad, she received a permaculture design certificate from a farm in Israel, and now, back in the states, is putting it to use.
Mink is the co-founder of the Jewish Farmer Network, a group that aims to connect Jewish farmers in regions and countries around the world and provide WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) services for those that adhere to kashrut laws and observe Shabbat. Along with her work in agriculture, Mink is a Jewish educator in Baltimore City and hosts a monthly Rosh Chodesh event for women.
What is the Jewish Farmer Network?
It’s a lot of things! Judaism is an agrarian tradition at its core. We’re trying to connect Jewish farmers and different regions and countries around the world. Being a Jew can be isolating and being a farmer can be isolating. If you are a rural Jewish farmer, it can be hard to find community. So we’re trying to give people the networking space for rural Jews to find other farming Jews and connect with them.
We’re trying to elevate the legacy and status of Jews as farmers. We think of people like Jews as “people of the book” or “scholars,” but before we were any of those things we were all farmers, and people of the land.
What are some of the ways you can build those connections?
We’re trying to set up a Jewish WWOOF service. If you’re a religious Jew and you observe the laws of kashrut or you observe the laws of Shabbos, you can’t just go volunteer on any farm. Engaging in agricultural work has a lot of boundaries for a person like that. We want to provide people with a resources that says, “These are farms that observe at your level.” We want to open the doors so people can engage in Jewish farming.
How did you get involved in farming?
I went to St. Mary’s College of Maryland in St. Mary’s County. I took a class in my second semester in college in environmental ethics. My teacher said, “Hey, you seem like you’re really interested in this food stuff, there’s a farm in this area where you could maybe intern.” I called the farmer and asked for an internship and he said, “I don’t do internships, I pay people for their time.” So I said, “Great! Can I have a job?” and that was it. I worked part time on this farm through most of college. I would get up at the crack of dawn and work 6:30 to noon, get back to the dorm, shower and then go to class.
You also work at the Pearlstone Center. Do you ever feel farmer overload?
I do also like a lot of other work. I’m also a freelance Jewish educator in the city. There’s this idea in Judaism that is very present in the holiday of Shavuot, im ein kemach ein Torah [no food, no Torah]; if there isn’t wheat, if there isn’t flour, there isn’t study. And on the flipside, im ein Torah ein kemach [no Torah, no food]. In your life and in society these things need to be in balance with each other.
I also run a monthly Rosh Chodesh for women in the city. It’s been really beautiful. We started almost a year ago and every month we get anywhere from seven to 27 women crammed into someone’s living room. We do craft rituals for each month and thematically relevant snacks and group meditations.
Do you have a favorite season to farm?
I was actually thinking about that today! Probably the fall. Most of the hardest work is behind you and the cool breeziness of fall is really nice.
What do you do to relax?
I am blessed to live in a house with three of my closest friends from college in a city where many of my other friends from college live. We have a lot of people over all the time, so I have a beautiful community I get to spend time with.
I do yoga, I run, I’m a daily meditator, and I watch “The Great British Baking Show.”