Shmita Sourcebook Section VII: Reclaiming The Sabbatical Tradition – An Incentive for Shmita Today?

If you haven't yet, check out section 6 of Hazon's Shmita Sourcebook.

Today's Modern cultural systems seem to be dramatically shifting. The symptoms of cultural uncertainties are hard to ignore, as climate change, economic collapse, loss of local community culture, and rising social inequality have become widespread concerns. The doubts are growing around our industrial agricultural systems and speculative economic systems, and the voices in this conversation are becoming more and more pronounced.
From this perspective, the rise of curiosity around Shmita today seems quite timely. While Shmita is not a synonym of “sustainability” or “social justice,” many of the components of this ancient system can lead us in that direction. On the one hand, we know this tradition comes along with deep, unsettling challenges. On the other hand, it is the values inherent within these challenges that seem to hold the idealistic vision for a long-term, holistic, sustainable future.
In this section, we have highlighted some of the agricultural and economic challenges that we face today, and paired each one with relevant Shmita principles. Far from seeking to reduce Shmita to a directive, we present these texts as a place to begin a conversation around making Shmita more relevant and accessible, in modern terms. Ideally, by looking at such societal patterns and challenges in this way, we can begin to creatively think about how to brink Shmita to life today. And not just for one year out of seven, but for all years of the Shmita Cycle.

This section has been adapted from educational resources created by 7Seeds. The "Shmita Principles" mentioned at the top of each issue are references to section 6 part 9.

Shmita Principle #1: Land Stewardship
There is no seeding or plowing of agricultural land during the Shmita Year.
During the Shmita year, the soil was meant to rest, free from plowing and all forms of cultivation. On this year, we are not forcing anything out of the ground, even with the best of intentions. This fallow period provides an invitation to be in relationship with land as land itself: soil, minerals, rocks, communities of fungi, bacteria, earthworms, all nourishing the roots of plants, purifying the underground waters, generously supporting so many diverse forms of life. This year provides a much needed time to rejuvenate the health of the soil: an invaluable and integral part of our own life system, one that we perhaps easily overlook and take for granted.


Jacob Gatschet, Natural Systems Agriculture at The Land Institute
A major recent study published in Science pegged the cost of soil erosion at $44 billion per year in the US alone. Reliable estimates contend that up to half of America’s topsoil has run to the rivers and seas since the white settlement of this continent. Meanwhile, the average rate of topsoil erosion in the US continues at five tons per acre per year; for croplands it is nine tons per acre per year. But can soil erosion be such a dangerous problem if it has been going on for thousands of years? First, contrary to the thinking implicit in this question, the damaging and widespread effects of soil erosion have already appeared numerous times. History bears out a disturbing pattern: worn out and eroded soils cause civilizations to crash, and if they do rebound it is to a reduced level. Secondly, the question itself reflects the seriousness of the problem. Food depends on soil. Agricultural use of fossil fuel inputs cannot mask the true costs of soil loss forever, and the confidence in a future high-tech soil alternative is sorely misplaced. According to Donald Worster, chair of The Land Institute’s board and the Hall Distinguished Professor in history at the University of Kansas, “the common American confidence in technological remedies for erosion must appear dangerously naive. We can no more manufacture a soil with a tank of chemicals than we can invent a rainforest or produce a single bird.” In short, soil is the only medium in which enough plants will grow to capture and convert sunlight into the food we need.

Jude Boucher, Soil Health & Deep Zone Tillage, University of Connecticut
Between plowing, harrowing, subsoiling, bedding, and cultivating, we are literally working the life out of our soils. Constant tillage oxidizes soil organic matter away as CO2. As the organic matter (OM) disappears, so do the earthworms and other beneficial organisms that depend on OM to survive. Many of these organisms provide the “glue” that hold the soil aggregates together to give us good soil structure. As the aggregates are broken down by tillage, and not replaced due to loss of OM and soil organisms, the soil air pores associated with the aggregates disappear too…Loss of organic matter can also cause the soil on the surface to plate or crust, making an almost impenetrable barrier, which prevents seed emergence and leads to water pooling, low oxygen conditions and even lower biological activity. The horizontal pressure at the bottom of a plow or disk-harrow can produce sub-surface plow and disc-pans over time. Compacted plow pans often prevent root growth beyond 8-12 inches deep and lead to drainage problems, disease problems, reduced yields, and additional tillage costs. A compacted soil depleted in OM retains too little water during dry weather and floods and ponds during wet periods.


Conservation Tillage & No-Till Systems
Conservation Tillage is a method of soil cultivation that keeps plant residue on the field at all times. After harvest, any remaining plant material is shredded or rolled down and left on the field to dry. In No-Till Farming, seeds are subsequently planted directly into this plant residue. In Strip-Tillage, narrow rows are given a shallow plowing for seedbed preparation, while leaving the spaces between the rows untilled. Organic, herbicide-free methods of conservation tillage protect the delicate life systems of the soil’s ecological community. Furthermore, the remaining dry plant residue, or natural ‘mulch,’ adds organic matter to the soil, blocks soil erosion, improves water retention by the soil, and protects soil from direct sun and wind exposure. The thicker the mulch becomes, the more this layer will also block weed seeds from germinating.

On small-scale farms and gardens, no-till farming can more easily be achieved by creating permanently raised garden beds. These beds can be constructed from reclaimed materials or they can naturally be established in a design called ‘sheet-mulching,’ where the ground is first covered by a weed barrier (cardboard, for example), followed by alternating layers of woody and leafy material and compost.

Soil Fertility Management

Plants grow by feeding on the nutrients within the soil. Between each planting cycle, from seed to harvest, the nutrients removed from the soils must be returned to rebalance soil fertility. Compost, the natural byproduct of decomposed plant material or animal manure, should be added direct to the soil before and after plantings. Another method of managing soil health is to rotate your vegetable plantings with a ‘cover crop’ or ‘green manure crop,’ which is a specific mix of leguminous nitrogen-fixing plants, such as vetch, peas, or clover, that naturally add fertility to the soil through synergistic relationships they have with mycorrhizal fungi that live on their roots. While these plants are still in their stage of green-growth, before setting seed, they are rolled down and left as mulch in conservation tillage systems, or they are shredded and tilled to add organic matter to the soil.

Questions for discussion:

What cultural and economic value might we gain by leaving land wild and fallow for a year? How can we invest in soil health in all years, to strengthen this community of life, and the home of our plant roots?

If you’ve ever grown food, how did the experience change your relationship to soil and land? If you’ve never grown food, what relationship do you have, if any, with soil and earth?

Does being a food eater, if not a grower, entail a responsibility to consider soil health? If you are part of a CSA or purchase regularly from one farm, how much do you know about their soil management practices?

Shmita Principle #11: Land Value
Land is not a commodity, and has no market value. If land is sold, the price is based on the potential harvest seasons remaining until the Jubilee Year.
Within the larger Shmita cycles of the Jubilee, lands were available to be exchanged and traded on the market; however, it was never the land itself that was the commodity in such exchanges, since land itself had no market value. Rather, the commodity being traded was the potential amount of harvest that could be grown. And even in such instances of exchange, the lands reverted to its ancestral owner on the Jubilee (50th year). This is a very different paradigm than our modern real estate market, where farmland can reach a point of becoming prohibitively expensive and lost to non-agricultural development.


American Farmland Trust

We’re needlessly wasting one of the world’s most important resources. Less than one-fifth of U.S. land is high quality, and we are losing this finest land to development at an accelerating rate. U.S. agricultural land provides the nation—and the world—with an unparalleled abundance of food. But farmland means much more than food. Well-managed farmland shelters wildlife, supplies scenic open space, and helps filter impurities from our air and water… It makes no sense to develop our best farmland. Instead, we have a responsibility to protect this most valuable resource for future generations.
• In America, we’ve been losing more than an acre of farmland per minute. Between 2002 and 2007, 4,080,300 acres of agricultural land were converted to developed uses—an area the size of Massachusetts.
• Between 1982 and 2007, 41,324,800 acres of rural land (i.e. crop, pasture, range, land formerly enrolled in CPR, forest ad other rural land) were converted to developed uses. This represents an area about the size of Illinois and New Jersey combined.

Robert Karp, Land is Not A Commodity, Guernica, Nov 12 2009

Land is not a commodity! Think about it. Human beings did not grow the land or create the land. It is a gift given by the universe to all of us. The consequences of treating farmland as a commodity are tragic. Consider the following: When capital is used to buy farmland under the current systems, that capital becomes unproductive. This is because that capital has not been used to bring anything new into existence, which is the ultimate mission of capital. The land is still farmed as it was before. What does happen is that the land becomes more expensive. Because the capital is tied up in it, the land values appreciate and the farm rents rise. Farmland thus becomes less and less affordable to farmers.

The value of the land is no longer tied to what a farmer can pay, but rather to what an investor can pay. This, in turn, leads to the rampant conversion of farmland into subdivisions and other development, the results of which we witness every day in the loss of beauty, productivity and biodiversity from our landscape.

A transformation in how we think about the land will only happen gradually, but we must start now to pioneer a new approach—to think of land, even privately-owned land, as a commons that should be tended with the best interests of the earth and the community in mind.


Agricultural Land Trusts
Agricultural Land Trusts are regional non-profit organizations that work with protecting and conserving local farmlands. These land trusts accept financial donations to purchase farmlands, available on the marketplace, which might otherwise be developed. They also purchase conservation easements from land owners, creating a legal agreement between landowner and the land trust that prohibits non-agricultural residential or commercial development, subdivision, and practices which would be destructive to the agricultural potential of the land. The land is taken out of the real estate market and its value is specifically determined based on its potential to be used in agriculture, without fluctuation based on potential to be used as development property. Land Trusts then lease or sell such land to farmers to ensure that the land is being used to its full potential by farmers that are aligned with the values of the land trusts’ mission. The easement creates a legacy for the land, as future owners are bound by this agreement.
Learn more:

Land Sharing & Farm Link Programs
As the traditional method of land ownership becomes less accessible to many farmers- due to distance from the city and cost of land- a creative solution that has emerged is peer-to-peer land sharing. Many landowners may have large yards or parts of their property that they would like to have cultivated, yet they do not know how to farm. Others may have the skills and experience, without access to land. Websites have been created to map land availability, and to match partners together. These connections can result in spreading decentralized local food production throughout your area, on what would otherwise be unutilized land. Partners share certain responsibilities, as well as the harvest. In some cases, farmers make this a business, by managing a mosaic of many donated or rented micro plots throughout their neighborhood.
In more rural locations, Farm Link programs work with farmers who would rather not sell their land for non-agricultural purposes, or who are nearing retirement age and do not have children to pass the land onto or. The Farm Link programs help these landowners register their land and, through a matching program, create agreements to successfully transfer land rights, through sale, lease, or rental, to aspiring farmers.

Questions for discussion:

How might we reconcile the economic value of land with the non-commercial, priceless value that is land itself, as a part of our history, and as an important part of an ecological community?

How can we work to preserve farmland, and keep such food-producing lands close to where we live, while also investing in the fertility and ‘natural capital’ of the soil?

Can you think of any land in your community that could be used to grow food? What questions would need to be addressed to get a garden growing there?

Shmita Principle #3: Perennial/Wild Harvest
Primary harvests include wild edibles and perennial produce.
The Shmita prohibition to till and sow most directly affects the growing and harvesting of annual plants (grains and vegetables), but not perennials. As fruit and nut trees do not need seasonal sowing or tilling, these plants still produce abundant harvests during the Shmita year. However, the conventional, large-scale mechanized and chemical monoculture farming systems in place today are best suited for the production of annual plants, which are primarily grown for processing and for animal feed. Clearing land for such large scale annual-based agricultural systems results in increasing levels of deforestation and soil erosion.


What is Driving Deforestation Today? Union of Concerned Scientists

Humans have been cutting down forests for thousands of years, practically since they invented agriculture. Although forests themselves can be a source of many kinds of foods and useful products, fundamentally forests and agriculture are in conflict since, in many parts of the world, trees must be cleared to grow crops or graze livestock.

Until recently, deforestation has only been a local or regional concern, but today we live in a globalized world in which the forests of Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa are connected economically to consumers around the world. Growing global demand for agricultural commodities has led to increased tropical deforestation, which not only affects biodiversity and the livelihood of forest peoples but also contributes to global warming.

The Land Institute

Most of the food consumed by humans comes from annual grains, legumes, and oil seed crops, either directly or indirectly. We may eat the grains ourselves, or feed them to livestock that we eventually consume. Roughly 70 percent of global agricultural land is dedicated to producing them. Unfortunately, the way these crops are grown, even the very nature of the crops themselves, is destroying priceless ecological capital.

Annual crops are detrimental to soil, a natural resource in many ways more valuable than oil. In some cases, farmers plow deep furrows through the earth to plant their seeds. Other farmers rely on erosion lessening no-till planting methods. The first one results in bare earth that extends an invitation to invasive weeds and leads to considerable erosion. The second relies on an arsenal of chemicals to subdue competitive plants.


Perennial Plant Research
The Land Institute, based in Salinas, Kansas, is a non-profit farm-research facility dedicated to renewing a perennial-based agriculture. For over 30 years, the institute has been experimenting with breeding new varieties of perennial grains and legumes, in an effort to restore the diversity and ecological stability of the perennial prairie, while keeping yields comparable to the production levels of annual crops. Working with domesticating wild perennial grains for food production, or breeding annual grains with related perennial species, they have made progress with developing new perennial varieties of wheat, sunflowers, and sorghum.
Learn more:

Perennial Polycultures & Food Forests

A perennial polyculture is a diverse, mixed plant community, comprised of many different perennial plant varieties growing together in the same landscape. These plants are chosen due to their complementary relationships, as each plant mutually supporting the other’s growth. Some farms use a method called Alley Cropping, which alternates between one row of mixed tree crops, and one row of annual vegetables. Another method is called a Food Forest, which is a unique type of orchard design that uses edible plants to mimic the natural synergy found in the multi-layered growth of the wild forest ecosystems. Whether the polyculture is grown in rows or in larger orchards, the plant communities usually include diverse varieties of ground covers, insectary plants, vines, bushes/berries, and fruit/nut trees.
Learn more:

Community Fruit Tree Projects
While it is critical to introduce more perennial plantings on our farms, there is tremendous opportunity much closer to home in introducing fruit trees to our urban and suburban landscapes. Local neighborhood-based fruit tree projects include initiatives to organize tree plantings on private and public land, map local fruit trees, collectively care for trees during their growth, as well as collectively harvest and share the fruits. For more info questions and information about perennial plant ideas for your neighborhood, see Appendix A: Shmita Foods.
Learn more:

Questions for discussion:

Do you know which of your favorite foods are annuals and perennials? What perennial foods might you add to your diet during the Shmita Year?

How does (if at all) knowing how food grows affect your enjoyment of it?

Planting treesv- which often take years to bear fruitv- is a key Jewish idea of building for the future. Do you have a location where you could plant a fruit or nut tree? How, if at all, would doing so change your relationship to that place?

Shmita Principle #2: Land Stewardship
There is no seeding or plowing of agricultural land during the Shmita Year.
The Shmita year was a period of re-wilding, in which we ceased from our agricultural efforts to control land through cultivation. In creating a period of agricultural fallow, we stepped back from our interaction with land as farmers. Landscapes that were otherwise dominated and shaped by human hands and tools were now freely open to the growth of wild plants and animal communities. In the ideal sense, the Shmita year shaped the process of rejuvenating wild ecologies.


Niles Eldredge, Life on Earth: An Encyclopedia of Biodiversity, Ecology, and Evolution

Pesticides have impacts far beyond their target organisms. Scientists at Cornell University estimate that 67 million birds are killed each year in the United States from pesticides. Many individuals of some bird species have died after eating sprayed insects. Pesticides from agriculture flow into aquatic systems via runoff of surface water, soil erosion, and drainage into groundwater. Pesticide residues in streams, lakes, bays, and coral reefs kill aquatic plants and zooplankton (microscopic animals) that fish require for food. More directly, very low concentrations of pesticides in water have been shown to increase the mortality of young fish and amphibians.

Pesticides and other toxins have an important effect on wildlife through "bioaccumulation." Certain kinds of pesticides are persistent, that is, they do not break down as they pass through the food chain. They can be taken up by small aquatic organisms and insects and are then passed on to the fish that eat them. Those fish are eaten by larger fish, which are eaten by predators such as eagles, pelicans, seals, and bears. The toxins become increasingly concentrated in the higher levels in this food chain, so top predators accumulate dangerous concentrations.

Catherine Badgley, Can Agriculture & Biodiversity Coexist? Fatal Harvest
Habitat destruction—which includes clearing of vegetation, replacing one kind of vegetation with another, and urbanizing and polluting natural areas—has contributed to the extinction or endangerment of about 90 percent of threatened species. Agriculture is the leading cause of habitat destruction in terrestrial ecosystems. As much as 40 percent of global net primary productivity—the base of all food chains—has been appropriated by humans and their commensal species. On land, the lion’s share of this appropriation involves agriculture. Of the 8.9 billion hectares of the Earth’s land area that are capable of supporting substantial vegetation, 1.5 billion hectares are currently used for production of agricultural crops and 3.3 billion hectares are used to pasture livestock. Thus, many natural ecosystems have significantly shrunk, primarily because people have converted the original vegetation to farmland or pasture.


Wild Land Trusts (WLTs)
Wild Land Trusts are regionally based non-profit organizations that work to permanently protect and steward diverse types of wild ecological habitats and landscapes, including forests, meadows, prairies, coastal areas, wetlands, and river systems. Through the financial support of private donors, local governments, and philanthropic foundations, WLTs purchase open, wild land available on the market. Once purchased, these lands are protected through conservation easements, and are managed, through the WLT and their partners, in a way that supports and encourages its wild ecology, for the sake of ecological restoration and local education. WLTS also work to purchase private land ‘inholdings’ within designated wilderness areas that would otherwise be vulnerable to logging, mining, oil/gas drilling, and development. These parcels are then donated to federal agencies to be formally protected within the wider wilderness areas.
Learn more:

Farming With The Wild
Wild Farm Alliance is a national non-profit organization empowering farm practices that work with wild ecologies. As part of their mission, they believe agriculture must be conducted in ways that are compatible with preservation of native plants and animals. Rather than create a sterile ecological canvas, through mowing, tilling, weeding, and monocrop farming, this work aims to design farm landscapes that are thriving wild food-producing ecologies. Suggested farm practices include restoration of wetlands and riparian (river-edge) zones, inclusion of native-species hedgerows and windbreaks, and addition of pollinator gardens and other animal habitats. The added wild biodiversity benefits the cultivated landscape by stabilizing runoff, improving soil health, attracting beneficial insects and natural predators, and creating a strong sense of place.
Learn more:

Questions for discussion:

If you grow food, what measures could you or do you already take to support wildlife habitat?

The cessation of tilling during the Shmita Year can have the effect of allowing other natural systems to flourish.
In a metaphorical sense, how might you use the Shmita Year to “rebalance” your own ecosystem?

Shmita Principle #6: Animal Care
Animals must have free access to range and food.
The produce of the Shmita year was intended to be freely and fairly available, not just to landowners, hired workers, and all community members, but to wild and domesticated animals as well. The intention during the Shmita Year was to unlock fences surrounding our agricultural fields so that anyone in need would have free access to come and harvest. This would have affected our relationship with animals, as much as with our human neighbors. Just as we unlocked fences for our human neighbors, would we unlock the fences keeping in our domesticated animals? Would we change the diet we fed our animals on this year?


Michael Pollan, An Animal’s Place, The New York Times Magazine, November 10, 2002

To visit a modern CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) is to enter a world that, for all its technological sophistication, is still designed according to Cartesian principles: animals are machines incapable of feeling pain. Since no thinking person can possibly believe this any more, industrial animal agriculture depends on a suspension of disbelief on the part of the people who operate it and a willingness to avert your eyes on the part of everyone else.

From everything I’ve read, egg and hog operations are the worst. Beef cattle in America at least still live outdoors, albeit standing ankle deep in their own waste eating a diet that makes them sick. And broiler chickens, although they do get their beaks snipped off with a hot knife to keep them from cannibalizing one another under the stress of their confinement, at least don’t spend their eight-week lives in cages too small to ever stretch a wing. That fate is reserved for the American laying hen, who passes her brief span piled together with a half-dozen other hens in a wire cage whose floor a single page of this magazine could carpet. Every natural instinct of this animal is thwarted, leading to a range of behavioral “vices” that can include cannibalizing her cagemates and rubbing her body against the wire mesh until it is featherless and bleeding.

More than any other institution, the American industrial animal farm offers a nightmarish glimpse of what capitalism can look like in the absence of moral or regulatory constraint. Here in these places life itself is redefined–as protein production–and with it suffering. That venerable word becomes “stress,” an economic problem in search of a cost-effective solution, like tail-docking or beak-clipping or, in the industry’s latest plan, by simply engineering the “stress gene” out of pigs and chickens. “Our own worst nightmare” such a place may well be; it is also real life for the billions of animals unlucky enough to have been born beneath these grim steel roofs, into the brief, pitiless life of a “production unit” in the days before the suffering gene was found.


Pasture Raised Animals
The idea of raising your animals on pasture is actually a portal into a wider scope of holistic land management. Many farmers who raise their animals on pasture tend to see themselves as grass farmers, because this becomes the main food source for their animals. In such systems, farmers manage their pasture as a bio-diverse ecosystem in itself, creating a plant diet rich in nutrients for their animals. And the animals play a part, too, in growing their own food. Free-range animals tend to managed in rotational blocks. With the help of portable fencing, flocks of chickens or herds of cattle remain on a piece of grass until they have eaten their fair share, and are then rotated to a fresher area. The continual shearing of the grass keeps the growth healthy, and the animal manure dropped in the fields adds to the natural fertility of such fields. The build up of organic matter in the soils creates stronger grasslands, which feeds healthier animals.
Learn more:

Community Supported Meat
Industrial feedlot animal production relies heavily on grain diets, rather than fresh grazing. The industrial system is mechanized, subsidized, and, with the help of artificial hormones and select breeds, quick (in terms of reaching animal slaughter weight). When this is translated into dollars, animal products from such production methods are much cheaper than animals raised on pasture. For customers who would prefer to support free-range animal systems, and holistic land management, but cannot easily afford to, one option is to join a Meat CSA. Different versions of this Community Supported Agriculture program allows farmers to sell an entire cow to a group of customers, and who divide the meat among themselves.
Learn more about kosher free-range animal products:

Questions for discussion:

How can we use the Shmita year as an inspiration to support healthy forms of animal husbandry practices, which truly honor the life of such animals, and respect the dignity of their wildness?

Shmita Principle #4: Eat Local
Harvests must be eaten locally. They cannot be exported.
During the Shmita year, harvests were consumed in the region they were grown, as foods were not meant to travel beyond the local community connected with that region. Today, our food system is complex and global. With a few exceptions, government support for local food economies and holistic, sustainable ‘food sheds’ tend to be bypassed in favor of subsidies given to large farms that grow food for global industry and export market. This has directly affected the security and strength of local food systems, both ecologically and socially.


Helena Norberg-Hodge, Think Global…Eat Local, The Ecologist, September 2002

Global food is based on an economic theory: instead of producing a diverse range of food crops, every nation and region should specialize in one or two globally-traded commodities—those they can produce cheaply enough to compete with every other producer. The proceeds from exporting those commodities are then used to buy food for local consumption. According to this theory, everyone will benefit. Rather than providing universal benefits, the global food system has been a major cause of hunger and environmental destruction around the world…

The global food system demands centralized collection of tremendous quantities of single crops, leading to the creation of huge monocultures. Monocultures, in turn, require massive inputs of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. These practices systematically eliminate biodiversity from farmland, and lead to soil erosion, eutrophication of waterways, and the poisoning of surrounding ecosystems.

Because of the global food system, people around the world are induced to eat largely the same foods. In this way, farm monocultures go hand in hand with a spreading human monoculture, in which people’s tastes and habits are homogenized—in part through advertising, which promotes foods suited to monocultural production, mechanized harvesting, long-distance transport and long-term storage.

Sarah DeWeerdt, Is Local Food Better? WorldWatch Institute
In the United States, the most frequently cited statistic is that food travels 1,500 miles on average from farm to consumer. That figure comes from work led by Rich Pirog, the associate director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. In 2001, in some of the country's first food-miles research, Pirog and a group of researchers analyzed the transport of 28 fruits and vegetables to Iowa markets via local, regional, and conventional food distribution systems. The team calculated that produce in the conventional system-a national network using semitrailer trucks to haul food to large grocery stores-traveled an average of 1,518 miles (about 2,400 kilometers).

Pirog's team found that the conventional food distribution system used 4 to 17 times more fuel and emitted 5 to 17 times more CO2 than the local and regional (the latter of which roughly meant Iowa-wide) systems. Similarly, a Canadian study estimated that replacing imported food with equivalent items locally grown in the Waterloo, Ontario, region would save transport-related emissions equivalent to nearly 50,000 metric tons of CO2, or the equivalent of taking 16,191 cars off the road.


Farmers’ Market
A farmers' market is a weekly community-driven market, where farmers have an opportunity to offer direct sales to local customers during the growing season. Markets are usually organized and managed by farmers’ groups, community groups, non-profits, or local government councils, and are hosted in centrally located public spaces, such as parking lots, blocked-off streets, and downtown plazas. The market offers a low-cost way for farmers to provide fresh, local, seasonally grown produce that requires minimal packaging and transport. Customers get a chance to taste the flavors of their own region, support their local famers, and enjoy the diverse flavors of their region through the offerings of vegetables, fruits, baked goods, preserves, honey, poultry, meat, eggs, and more. Markets also provide the opportunity for community gatherings, and the experience is supplemented with live music, cooking demos, and educational stands.
Find a farmers market near you:

Be a Locavore
In 2007, the Oxford Dictionary listed ‘Locavore’ as the ‘Word of the Year.’ It means ‘a person whose diet consists only or principally of locally-grown or produced food.’ That year, the book ‘The 100 Mile Diet’ was published, and it told the story of two individuals who, for one year, committed to limit their diet to foods that were grown within 100 miles of their residence. Since then, different ‘locavore challenges’ have been created, sponsored by food-oriented organizations, and the challenges vary by intensity and length of time, and cover a broad range of ways you can begin to practice a more locally based, natural diet. Examples include: purchasing from a farmers market, joining a CSA, preserving food through the winter, foraging wild edibles, going on a farm tour, finding creative replacements for the exotic foods in your diet, hosting locally-sourced dinners for your friends, and more. Ultimately, these diets must be crafted to the needs of each individual, as ‘local’ is a relative term, and everyone must make their own choices on where they compromise and what they are willing to sacrifice.

Questions for discussion:

To fully ‘eat local’ during the Shmita Year, what systems would need to be in place the other 6 years to make this possible where you live?

In what ways do you and your community already support local food systems? What are some of the challenges and benefits?

Shmita Principle #12: De-Commercialization
Produce can be harvested for nourishment & enjoyment; but not sold as a commodity.
During the Shmita year, all produce was treated as ‘ownerless’ and therefore no one had the ability to claim it as ‘property’, to be brought to the market and sold for a profit. Instead, harvests were gathered directly by those who would consume them, or they were brought to a local community pantry for non-commercial distribution. Today, most food distribution channels occur through the economic marketplaces, where food is treated as a commodity of exchange. As with all commodities, the main initiative is to grow profits, and in many cases, as food prices rise, affordable food choices become limited.


Sophie Wenzlau, Global Food Prices Continue to Rise, Worldwatch Institute, April 11, 2013

Continuing a decade-long increase, global food prices rose 2.7 percent in 2012, reaching levels not seen since the 1960s and 1970s but still well below the price spike of 1974. Between 2000 and 2012, the World Bank global food price index increased 104.5 percent, at an average annual rate of 6.5 percent… There is reason to believe that food commodity prices will be both higher and more volatile in the decades to come. As climate change increases the incidence of extreme weather events, production shocks will become more frequent. Food prices will also likely be driven up by population growth, increasing global affluence, stronger linkages between agriculture and energy markets, and natural resource constraints.

José Graziano da Silva, Tackling The Root Causes Of High Food Prices And Hunger, U.N. World Food Programme, Sept 2012

The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that every 10 per cent increase in the price of its food basket means it has to find an extra US$200 million a year for food assistance.

Ruth Messinger, Food: Commodity or Human Right? Huffington Post, Dec 10, 2009
For decades, the futures market for agricultural commodities served a useful, stabilizing purpose. The tightly-regulated exchanges allowed farmers and wholesalers to sell their future output to processors, at a locked-in price, months before harvest. These contracts insulated the entire agricultural sector from dramatic and sudden pricing shifts caused by external factors, such as weather or the cost of fuel. There was little, if any, Wall Street participation.

But, beginning in the 1980s, rapid changes began to transform the food market as regulators started to spend more time and resources policing other, more complex, markets. A series of subsequent policy moves by the Commodities Futures Trading Commissions (CFTC) and the U.S. government allowed for the influx of speculation on agricultural futures by banks, hedge funds, pension managers and university endowments.

When the housing bubble began to deflate in 2007, food futures became the new infatuation of Wall Street, where corn, grain and rice futures were quickly bid into the stratosphere. Speculation of agricultural commodities reached its peak in 2008, when corn, wheat and rice futures all nearly tripled in price from 2005. Even though prices for food staples have fallen about 50 percent in the last year, the consequences of rapid food inflation have been devastating in the developing world. A poor family is typically faced with an untenable choice: Either pay 75 percent of its income on food or simply not eat enough.


Local Food Co-Op
Food cooperatives are models that source food and sell food with environmental, social, and local concerns taken into account. Co-ops exist primarily for the benefit of their members, as opposed to maximizing profits. Since consumers are owners in this model, there is a sense of shared interests, democratic governance, and equal investment. Members take part in shared decision-making and have direct choice and voting power over what food is sold, where it is sourced from & how much it is sold for. Members take part in managing store needs, from cashier roles to management, by taking on work hour shifts, divided and rotated among all members. By purchasing in bulk quantity, direct from wholesalers, and by taking on volunteer work roles, co-ops can offer sales for significant price reduction in comparison to retail costs of similar items. Besides the financial reasons, there are also the social benefits of being part of a co-op, as many stores use the space to host educational and community events.
Find a food co-op near you:

Crop Swaps
A crop swap is a gathering of local gardeners coming together during the growing season to share and exchange harvests, without cost. In a typical urban/suburban setting, whether you are gardening in your own yard or at a community garden, space is a challenge. And with a small growing area, there is less possibility for expanding the diversity of the crops you grow. However, when each small garden becomes linked together in a network, the possibility of food production spreads beyond your own lot. Each garden has its own micro-climate, its own soil, and perhaps its own unique harvest. In each of these gardens, there is a different source of abundance and lack. Crop swaps allows gardeners to bring their excess, and share with others, while receiving what they are lacking in return, all free of charge, with no money changing hands. Gardeners bring their fruits, nuts, vegetables. Some brings eggs and dairy products. Some bring prepared foods. Others bring seeds and transplants. Crop Swaps are hosted in central open-access public areas, and are organized by volunteer community members, or by a local community organization. This is also an opportunity for neighbors to meet and get to know one another, sharing gardening advice, recipes and stories.
Learn more:

Questions for discussion:

How does the privatization and commercialization of agriculture and farming affect issues of food security?
How can we support free access to food today, in a way that recognizes food as an equal right for all, and not as a commodity?

Shmita Principle #4: Eat Local
Harvests must be eaten locally. They cannot be exported.
Shmita Principle #5: Seasonal Diet
Harvests should be gathered at full ripeness, and eaten in their natural growing season.
During the Shmita year, the ideal diet included perennial foods and wild edibles, which were harvested locally, in their natural growing season, and when fully ripe for the picking. Fresh harvests were supplemented by dried harvests, stored from previous years, and animal proteins. Considering our modern food industry, this Shmita diet would limit the diversity of possibilities we have available in the selection of processed, nonlocal, and/or non-seasonal foods we can find in the common super-market. The Shmita year created an opportunity to explore the rich possibilities of a simple, natural diet.


Jo Robinson, Breeding the Nutrition Out Of Our Food, The New York Times, May 25, 2013

Studies published within the past 15 years show that much of our produce is relatively low in phytonutrients, which are the compounds with the potential to reduce the risk of four of our modern scourges: cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia. The loss of these beneficial nutrients did not begin 50 or 100 years ago, as many assume. Unwittingly, we have been stripping phytonutrients from our diet since we stopped foraging for wild plants some 10,000 years ago and became farmers.

Each fruit and vegetable in our stores has a unique history of nutrient loss, I’ve discovered, but there are two common themes. Throughout the ages, our farming ancestors have chosen the least bitter plants to grow in their gardens. It is now known that many of the most beneficial phytonutrients have a bitter, sour or astringent taste. Second, early farmers favored plants that were relatively low in fiber and high in sugar, starch and oil. These energy-dense plants were pleasurable to eat and provided the calories needed to fuel a strenuous lifestyle. The more palatable our fruits and vegetables became, however, the less advantageous they were for our health.

Michael Pollan, In Defense Of Food

All of our uncertainties about nutrition should not obscure the plain fact that the chronic diseases that now kill most of us can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food: the rise of highly processed foods and refined grains; the use of chemicals to raise plants and animals in huge monocultures; the superabundance of cheap calories of sugar and fat produced by modern agriculture; and the narrowing of the biological diversity of the human diet to a tiny handful of staple crops, notably wheat, corn, and soy. These changes have given us the Western diet that we take for granted: lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of everything—except vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. That such a diet makes people sick and fat we have known for a long time. Early in the twentieth century, an intrepid group of doctors and medical workers stationed overseas observed that wherever in the world people gave up their traditional way of eating and adopted the Western diet, there soon followed a predictable series of Western diseases, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. They called these the Western diseases and, though the precise causal mechanisms were (and remain) uncertain, these observers had little doubt these chronic diseases shared a common etiology: the Western diet.


Slow Food Movement
Slow Food is a global, grassroots organization with more than 2,000 food communities in over 150 countries. Founded in Italy in 1986, this intentional network works to link people with the rich food cultures of the specific lands they live in, shaped by human history and natural ecology. Through locally organized harvest festivals, shared meals and tastings, cooking workshops, and artisanal food processing, their programs celebrate heritage foods, culinary styles, flavors, and recipes otherwise overlooked in industrial food systems. Regional groups meet together to prepare and experiment with these foods, in an effort to spread such awareness to their own kitchens, schools, markets, and restaurants. Social gatherings are focused on enjoying and savoring the rich, complex flavors and tastes we can only really enjoy when we slow down enough to fully appreciate them.
Learn more:

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
Community Supported Agriculture is a direct-marketing technique used by small scale farmers to create a consumer-base rooted in local community, as well as to secure seasonal funds before the growing period actually begins. There are many variations, but the core principle is that farmers offer the consumer a seasonal membership to the farm, which includes an overview of the crop plan and a percentage of the harvest. Each week, the harvest is divided among the membership base, usually with full-size and half-sizes available depending on the needs of the member-families. Members receive shares of the harvest as long as the harvest season continues, along with newsletters from the farm including recipes, photos, and stories, as well as membership in a community that is invited to the farm for work parties, gleaning, CSA dinners, and more.
Find a CSA near you:

Founded in 2004, the Hazon CSA program now includes over 65 sites in the US, Canada and Israel, and over 2,300 households involved. The Hazon CSA program is a customer-organized CSA, where individuals form a core group to collectively commit to purchase a share of the harvest of one or multiple farms. These CSA usually use a synagogue or Jewish community center as a drop off point for the weekly deliveries of harvest shares.
Learn more:

Questions for discussion:

How can we support healthy, nutritious food consumption today, with diets that are designed to match the foods and seasons of a particular bioregion?
How can we begin experimenting with supplementing our diets with highly nutritious wild edibles, found locally?

Shmita Principle #7: Creating Commons
All private agricultural lands are declared public and become community commons.
Shmita Principle #8: Shared Harvest
All harvested and stored produce are declared ‘ownerless’ and shared equally.
Shmita Principle #9: Fair Distribution
When harvesting, only collect specific to your immediate needs and not beyond.
A main hope and challenge for the Shmita year was that everyone would have enough to eat. During the Shmita year, all agricultural lands were opened as commons. Everyone had equal access to farmland and to its harvests. For this opportunity to be fully utilized and enjoyed, there must have been a close relationship between a community and it's food productuion, so that the open access to farmland could be fully taken advantage of. The intention for harvesting was that individuals gathering on their own would only take as much as they needed, and that community-organized harvests would then be distributed fairly through a collective pantry.


World Hunger Education Service, 2012 World Hunger & Poverty Facts

The world produces enough food to feed everyone. World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 calories per person per day. The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food.

Oran Hesterman, Fair Food
Perhaps the starkest symptoms of a food system that is broken are hunger, malnutrition, and starvation. Each year, 3.5 million adults and children die of malnutrition…And by many measures, things are getting worse: according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the number of undernourished people worldwide has increased from just under 842 million in the early ‘90s to an estimated 1.02 billion in 2009. While the vast majority of chronically undernourished people live in the developing world, as recently as 2007, more than 36 million individuals in the United States could be classifies as ‘food insecure.’ Food insecurity occurs whenever the availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food—or the ability to acquire these foods without relying on food pantries or soup kitchens—is limited or uncertain. While food security is as dependent on affordability as access, most communities in which the prevalence of food insecurity is high are also communities in which food access is limited.

According to the USDA Economic Research Service, in 2007, 13.5 percent of all urban U.S. households experienced food insecurity…The term “food desert” is typically used to describe geographical areas of food imbalance, defined as a place in which the average distance to a full-service grocery store or supermarket is greater (sometimes by as much as a factor of 3) than the average distance to a “fringe” location, such as a gas station, liquor store, pharmacy, convenience store, or fast food restaurant. In Detroit, [Mari Gallagher, one of the leading researchers in this area], found more than 500,000 residents living in areas so out of balance in terms of healthy food options that “they are statistically more likely to suffer or die prematurely from diet related diseases.” In Chicago’s particularly out-of-balance communities, she found a diabetes death rate greater than twice that of more in-balance communities.


Community Gardens & Farm Centers
Many urban vacant and underutilized lots can be turned into food producing community gardens. Community gardens vary in size and scale, as well as ownership and management model. However, the purpose is generally the same: to utilize community land in the production and distribution of affordable, fresh, healthy, local produce for the public, in an effort to revitalize urban food security. Some community gardens are collectively managed by a group of volunteers with a shared budget and vision; others are divided into individual lots where each member has an equal space for growing their own veggies. Gardens managed by non-profit community organizations are not just food producing commons, but are also spaces for activating community empowerment through educational programs, youth-based activities, after-school programs, work parties, cooking classes, skill shares, mentorship programs, and more. Many of these gardens also donate shares of their harvests to low-income community members, through ‘free’ farm stands, or partnerships with local food-aid groups.
Learn more:

Farm-To-Food-Bank Programs
Much of the food products most widely available to those in need from SNAP (food stamp) programs or food banks usually come in the form of canned and processed foods. Through government and community financial support, regional programs have been created to specifically increase the availability of fresh produce to those in need. Many food banks are now working directly with local farmers to grow food directly for food banks. Additionally, many CSA farms reserve a certain amount of their harvest for low-income shares. These members receive the same weekly distribution as other members, but pay a reduced fee. In Michigan, the Double Up Food Bucks program allows for SNAP dollars to be doubled in value when used to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables at partnering retailers, which now includes the local farmers markets.
Learn more:
If you are a backyard gardener and would like to donate surplus produce to local food banks, visit

To learn about Jewish advocay and organizing in response to hunger, visit

Shmita Principle #10: Waste Reduction
Harvests have a special sanctity. They cannot be wasted or thrown away.
The foods harvested during the Shmita year had a unique, sacred nature attributed to them. There was an understanding that food should be treated as it is naturally intended: for consumption. Not only did this mean that foods could not be sold as commodities, but also that foods could not be wasted. Today, enormous amounts of food waste come along with our industrial food production and distribution systems, with wasteful practices starting on the fields and continuing into the general home kitchen.


The Progressive Increase in Food Waste in America, 2009 Study

Since 1974, U.S. per capita food waste has progressively increased to more than 1400 calories per person per day, or 150 trillion calories per year. During this same period, food waste has increased from about 30% of the available food supply to almost 40%. Food waste now accounts for more than one quarter of total freshwater consumption and about 300 million barrels of oil use per year.

Emily Main, Food Waste Statistics, Rodale News, June 2013
What's driving all this food waste? Every hand that touches food, from farmer to shopper, is partly responsible. For instance, low commodity prices on certain foods can mean that it's cheaper for a farmer to leave a field unharvested than to pay for labor, packaging, and shipping to a distributor. Grocery stores follow the "pile it high, watch it fly" philosophy, which means they stock shelves to overflowing in an effort to get people to buy more food. Restaurants serve enormous portions, and 55 percent of diners' leftovers are left behind. However, we the people waste the most food waste. The average family of four wastes 25 percent of its purchased food. That's $1,365 to $2,275 we spend every year on food that winds up in the garbage. The USDA offers a more conservative estimate that each consumer spends $390 on wasted food. Whichever figure you believe, it's good money being funneled straight to landfills.


Farm-Based Gleaning & Food Rescue Programs
Gleaning has ancient, biblical roots, and there are plenty of opportunities to keep this practice alive today. On production-scale farms, where there is always the need to keep up with the freshest, prettiest harvest, it is not uncommon for older crops to get left behind. What is otherwise perfectly edible produce is ignored to rot in the fields, or gets tilled in when the soils are prepared for the next planting cycle. Farm-based gleaning programs are volunteer led initiatives, where groups connect with willing farmers to arrange for the harvesting and delivery of such produce from the fields to those in need. Groups arrange with the farmers when to come, and how many harvesters are needed.
Beyond the fields, there is plenty of urban gleaning to do from grocery stores, farmers markets, and restaurants. Edible foods that are day-olds, or just recently past their expiration date cannot be sold, and would otherwise end up in the dumpster. Both farm and urban gleaning groups provide their own transportation, and directly redistribute these foods to soup kitchens, food pantries, homeless shelters, senior centers, and children's daycare centers. Larger gleaning groups have fleets of their own trucks, and warehouses where they sort these foods, and are diverting millions of pounds of food from waste every year.
Learn more:

Food Preservation
When it comes to personal waste reduction from our own kitchens, there is not much we can do for processed foods. However, as for the abundance from our backyard/community gardens or CSA boxes, there is a whole new life potential for these foods, as they can be preserved in so many ways, by being dried, pickled, fermented, juiced, frozen, canned, etc. Food preservation offers a low-cost method of eating local foods through extended seasons, which is particularly helpful if you are trying to keep a local diet in the winter months of temperate climates. Food preservation, when done large scale at a farm or community garden, offers an opportunity to celebrate community, seasonality, and the harvest.
Learn more:

Questions for discussion:

What are your own practices for food conservation and best-use practices?
How can you support food traveling from farm-to-fork in a more efficient and effective manner?
How would you treat food differently if the harvests were considered ‘sacred’?

Shmita Principle #1: Let Rest & Lie Fallow
Take the time to form a new relationship with work and rest. Allow your land, your body, your workers, your economy of production and consumption, to rest.
Shmita Principle #2: Land Stewardship
There is no seeding or plowing of agricultural land.
Our economic systems are based upon the demands and expectations for continual levels of growth. A higher level of production leads to higher levels of spending, which leads to higher profits and job creation. When such expectations are not met, it is seen as alarming and a course of action is set to correct this deviation. Shmita essentially initiates a period of economic fallow once every seven years. On this year, economic growth is put to rest and the idea of de-growth is explored.


Clive Thompson, Nothing Grows Forever, Why Do We Think The Economy Will? Mother Jones, June 2010

Can the Earth support endless growth? Traditionally, economists have argued that the answer is "yes." A steady rise in gross domestic product (GDP)—the combined value of our paid work and the things we produce—was seen as crucial for raising living standards and keeping the masses out of poverty. We grow or we languish: This assumption has become so central to our economic identity that it underpins almost every financial move our leaders make. It is to economics what the Second Law of Thermodynamics is to physics.

Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy
The conflict between economic growth and environmental protection is becoming more apparent as the oversized economy bumps up against limits. From depletion of ocean fisheries to loss of pollinators, from groundwater drawdown to deforestation, from climate change to increasing concentrations of toxic pollution, from massive urban slums to degraded rural lands, the consequences of too much economic growth are observable all around us…We find ourselves in a global state of overshoot, accumulating ecological debt by depleting natural capital to keep the economy growing. Continuing to grow the economy when the costs are higher than the benefits is actually uneconomic growth.

Thomas Homer-Dixon, Economies Can't Just Keep On Growing, Foreign Policy, Feb 2011
We can't live with growth, and we can't live without it. This contradiction is humankind's biggest challenge this century, but as long as conventional wisdom holds that growth can continue forever, it's a challenge we can't possibly address.


Slow Money
If our money is moving too fast, our companies are too big, and finance is becoming too complex, we need to simplify the systems and slow it down. In an effort to do so, Slow Money is a movement that advocates for investing our economic growth back into local community and ecological health. The mission of Slow Money is to reconnect our finances to people and place, particularly by focusing on our systems of food production. Regional Slow Money chapters support investment of capital back into the earth and sustainable businesses so that the economic ‘growth’ we experience is in terms of natural capital: healthy food, healthy nutrition, healthy soils, and healthy farmers. This way, economic fertility is parallel to our local soil and social fertility. There are seventeen regional Slow Money chapters in the United States, and more than $30 million has been invested in 221 small food enterprises around the country since 2010.
Learn more:

Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI)
The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is the total market value of goods and services produced in a given year. This is the main tool we use to indicate and measure national economic growth. The GPI (Genuine Progress Indicator) provides an alternate measurement tool, and is guided by the question: What if we defined success not by the money we spent and the goods we consumed but by the quality of life we create for ourselves and all life? The GPI comes with 26 indicators, consolidating critical economic, environmental and social factors into a single framework to measure genuine progress, not just growth. The GPI puts value on factors that would otherwise be overlooked by the GDP since they come with no ‘market’ value measurement, such as parenting, civic engagement, quality of education, and more. The GPI also takes into account the hidden costs that the GDP does not differentiate, such as pollution, crime, loss of wild lands, product quality, etc. In the United States, the legislatures of Vermont and Maryland have adopted the Genuine Progress Indicator.
Learn more:

Questions for discussion:

How can we create an economy that is more comfortable with natural rhythms of growth and rest, rather than continual patterns of unsustainable, linear growth?

What might be the benefit and challenges of an economy built upon such pulses of economic contraction? How do you think this would affect the market economy in all other years of the Shmita cycle?

Shmita Principle #1: Let Rest & Lie Fallow
Take the time to form a new relationship with work and rest. Allow your land, your body, your workers, your economy of production and consumption, to rest.
The modern idea of the Sabbatical is to take time off from work for one full year, just as the farmers would in ancient times. Landowners, hired workers, and family members equally shared in this period of rest. Shmita initially emerged from a primitive agrarian society, where everyone was involved in some aspects of the food production system. In this way, the Shmita rest directly affected the majority of society. Now that much of Western, industrial populations are not working as farmers, how might the Sabbatical rest take effect today?


Miriam Shulman, Time To Go Home, Center For Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University

The 50- or 60-hour workweek has begun to raise ethical questions: Are employers respecting the contractual arrangements they make with their employees? Are employees placing too much value on work and the material things work makes possible? What impact do such long workweeks have on families and, through them, on the common good?

Steve Yoder, Is America Overworked? The Fiscal Times, February 16, 2012
According to the Center for American Progress, 86 percent of U.S. men and 67 percent of women work more than 40 hours a week, and American families worked an average of 11 hours more per week in 2006 than they did in 1979. Though the shift has helped companies cut expenses and increased U.S. productivity, a growing number of studies show that the extra work is negatively affecting our health, family lives, and effectiveness at work.

For one, workers and their bosses often are not being paid for their extra time. Twenty-four percent of employees and forty-seven percent of employers work six or more hours a week without pay, concluded a 2007 study by corporate staffing firm Randstad. And research in 2008 by the Pew Research Center showed that 22 percent of Americans are expected to respond to work email when they’re not at work, half check job email on weekends, and a third do so while on vacation.

That is, of course, if they ever get to take a vacation. According to a 2009 report by the human resources firm Mercer, after 10 years of service U.S. worker bees normally get 15 days of paid leave, while the Germans get 20, the British 28, and the Fins 30. But now come several new surveys last November announcing that we’re not even taking the vacation we do have. One, by travel company Expedia, found workers left 2 of their 13 days on the table—that’s $34.3 billion in free labor.


For at least one day a week, the Sabbath offers us the opportunity to step out of our weekday rhythm and consciousness. Building upon this tradition, the Sabbath Manifesto is a project to take the possibilities of the Shabbat and make it universal, as a vision for everyone to take dedicated personal time to unplug from commerce, the computer, and technology. For each of us, this will look different. The common theme is that this time is sacred for you to be separate from your work deadlines, pressures, and commitments, so it can be invested instead into your own health, creativity, and time with loved ones. Ideally this momentum can overflow into the week, as well, with times of each day dedicated beyond work routines. Once a year, they organize a national day of unplugging, as well, in the vision of a broad network of individuals and communities unplugging at once, together, for a full day.
Learn more:

Company Sabbatical Programs
In a modern context, the Sabbatical is most popularly known as a year of paid-leave that many universities extend to their professors. In the business sector, the concept of the Sabbatical is being widely adapted, as well. Many companies are finding the value of giving their employees extended personal time to simply explore their curiosity, devote themselves to what they are most excited about, and take time for self-rejuvenation. Sabbaticals generally range from 2 months up to a full year. This is not just a personal holiday; rather it is a genuine opportunity to explore new learning, to take risks, to walk into creative possibilities. The hope is that employees come back to their work projects with renewed creativity and motivation.

Beyond such traditional Sabbaticals, companies are also experimenting with incorporating micro-Sabbaticals into their work policies, in the form of extended parental leave, flexible vacation policies and personal time off, as well as time dedicated to work from home or on the road. Inspired by the creative possibilities of the Sabbatical, some companies are also attempting to infuse such energy into their own work cultures by creating ‘creativity rooms’ for games, playful thinking, and crafting, or dedicating percentages of time (15% at 3M, 20% at Google) for employees to work on personal projects.
Learn more:

Questions for discussion:

How might you infuse this “Sabbatical intention” into your workweek and work year on a regular basis? Or would you prefer to work hard and then, when the time is right, play hard?
What would our society, family lives and personal lives look like if we had a more balanced relationship with the work we do?

Shmita Principle #1: Let Rest & Lie Fallow
Take the time to form a new relationship with work and rest. Allow your land, your body, your workers, your economy of production and consumption, to rest.
Shmita Principle #2: Land Stewardship
There is no seeding or plowing of agricultural land.
During the Shmita year, the luxuries of the over-grown marketplace would not have been available. On a year of economic and agricultural fallows, reduced levels of production would result in reduced levels of consumption. Yet, even with such limits on the possibilities of economic consumption, the hope was still to feel a sense of ‘enoughness’ and local abundance, rather than scarcity and loss. The Shmita year creates an opportunity to collectively and personally explore new patterns of consumption.


Thomas Naylor, Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic

Affluenza: ‘A painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.’

Erik Assadourian, Is Sustainability Still Possible? The Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2013

In 2008, people around the world used 68 billion tons of materials, including metals and minerals, fossil fuels, and biomass. That is an average of 10 tons per person—or 27 kilograms each and every day. That same year, humanity used the biocapacity of 1.5 planets, consuming far beyond what the Earth can sustainably provide. Of course, not every human consumes at the same level. While the average Southeast Asian used 3.3 tons of materials in 2008, the average North American used 27.5 tons—eight times as much. And the spread of consumerism has driven many regions to dramatically accelerate material consumption. Asia used 21.1 billion tons of materials in 2008, up 450 percent from the 4.7 billion tons that the region used in 1980.

Consumption and the Consumer Society, Neva Goodwin, Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University

Regarding the view that “consumer sovereignty” is the fundamental mechanism that guides economies, we need to recall that consumers—as members of complex larger organizations including families, communities, corporations, and nations—are subject to many influences from social institutions. The idea of a “sovereign consumer” implies someone who independently makes decisions. But what if those decisions are—instead of being independent—heavily influenced by community norms and aggressive marketing by businesses? Who “rules” then? When we look at an economy from this perspective, we can see that consumer behavior is often cultivated as a means to the ends of producers, rather than the other way around…

Advertising in the United States is big business. Advertising Age, a company that analyzes the advertising industry, estimates that spending on TV, radio, and print advertisements in 2004 was around $134 billion, or about $460 per American. When spending on other forms, including direct mail, phone marketing, and Internet ads, was included, total spending on all forms of advertising was estimated to be over $263 billion in 2004. This amount exceeds the entire annual GDP of many countries, including Denmark and Saudi Arabia. By the mid-1990s, the average American adult was exposed to about 3,000 ads every day.


Voluntary Simplicity
We can choose to have prosperity with less. For those willing to downsize, it begins with checking needs versus wants, and being conscious of consumption habits. Ideally, with less stuff, there are fewer expenses to worry about, and with fewer expenses, we can create more free space and time in our lives. Voluntary simplicity can include living with less space, living with less stuff, and living with less money. As a general foundation, there is the mantra of ‘reduce, reuse (or creative use), and refuse.’ First, try to reduce the amount of stuff and space you need to feel happy and comfortable. Second, do your best to re-use what you (or others) already own. This can include shopping at thrift stores and going to swap meets; repairing your goods before throwing them away; and making the most creative use of the items and space you do have. Lastly, refuse the consumer culture that tells you to buy big and buy more. This is not about choosing less as a sacrifice. It is about entering into relationship with ‘enoughness,’ and adapting how much we each need to feel successful and at ease.
Learn more:

Go Local Campaigns
Besides reducing how much we consume, we can also have a large impact on the environment and economy by shifting what we consume. In most instances, consuming mass-produced items that have been produced in other economies tends to create waste where we live, while the profits are enjoyed elsewhere. Instead, when we use our spending dollars to support local production and independently owned businesses, we keep profits circulating locally, which can then be re-invested into our own community. Go Local Campaigns are alliances of locally-owned independent businesses and community organizations, which support awareness about local spending and local industry, while creating buyer incentive through membership programs, buyer clubs, and discounts. Community currencies have also been created where dollars can only be spent within local regions and for local purchases. These initiatives create stronger connections and feedback loops between producer and consumer, which further strengthen local and resilient consumption patterns.
Learn more:

Questions for discussion:

How aware are you of your own patterns of consumption? Are we consuming based on our needs or based on our wants? How much of these ‘wants’ are genuine, and how much of these ‘wants’ are coming from the surrounding consumer culture?

Have you thought about ways to limit what you consume, while still feeling that you have plenty?

Shmita Principle #9: Fair Distribution
When harvesting, only collect specific to your immediate needs and not beyond.
During the Shmita Year, there was an ethic for each family or individual to only harvest as much as was needed. Personal, long-term accumulation would not be possible in such a system, and the resources that were available would meant to be stored in a collective ‘pantry’ to be distributed evenly and fairly within community. Such distribution systems created an opportunity to directly explore patterns of wealth and fairness, as well as systems of mutual support and care, within community culture.


Joseph Stiglitz, Equal Opportunity: Our National Myth, The New York Times, February 16, 2013

Today, the United States has less equality of opportunity than almost any other advanced industrial country….Perhaps a hundred years ago, America might have rightly claimed to have been the land of opportunity, or at least a land where there was more opportunity than elsewhere. But not for at least a quarter of a century. It’s not that social mobility is impossible, but that the upwardly mobile American is becoming a statistical oddity. According to research from the Brookings Institution, only 58 percent of Americans born into the bottom fifth of income earners move out of that category, and just 6 percent born into the bottom fifth move into the top. Economic mobility in the United States is lower than in most of Europe and lower than in all of Scandinavia.

CEOs: Why They’re So Unloved, Business Week, April 22, 2002

Between 1980 and 2000, top-paid American CEOs increased their pay from 42 times the average worker’s pay to 531 times the average worker pay.

Institute for Policy Studies, Washington D.C. 15th Annual Compensation Survey, August 2008
In 2007, the top 50 hedge fund and private equity fund managers averaged 588% million in compensation each, 19,000 times the typical U.S. worker.

Alan Dunn, Average America vs. The One Percent, Forbes Magazine, March 21, 2012
The average annual income of the top 1 percent of the population is $717,000, compared to the average income of the rest of the population, which is around $51,000. The real disparity between the classes isn’t in income, however, but in net value: The 1 percent are worth about $8.4 million, or 70 times the worth of the lower classes… Altogether, the top 1 percent control 43 percent of the wealth in the nation; the next 4 percent control an additional 29 percent. It’s historically common for a powerful minority to control a majority of finances, but Americans haven’t seen a disparity this wide since before the Great Depression—and it keeps growing.

It’s a common belief in America that all people have the same opportunity for success as the top 1 percent. Most people consider success to be a by-product of hard work, and hard work is something that Americans are extremely familiar with. In fact, Americans have increased productivity by 80 percent since 1979; unfortunately, their income hasn’t risen accordingly, if at all. The average worker in an American company makes substantially less than supervisors and executives. In fact, corporate executives make 62 times more money than an average worker in bonuses alone, not counting the executive’s actual salary. For every corporate bonus, the company could have paid 62 employees. In fact, incentive pay actually rose 30 percent from years before the recession.


Time Banking
Time Banking is a local community-based system of equal exchange. Its currency is time and its unit of value is the hour. In these networks, services are traded based on peer-to-peer exchange, outside of market structures and channels. Through web-based platforms, members post services they are in need of, as well as skills they can offer. Regardless of what skill/service is bring posted, all services are of equal value, so that an hour of carpentry, for example, would be worth the same as an hour of babysitting. Timebanks work especially well to recognize the importance of services that are typically undervalued in market-based economies. Unlike one-on-one transfers within a traditional barter exchange, the time bank system works within the context of community. Time exchanges will most likely be indirect between members of the community, in which case you can respond to one member’s need without the expectation of being paid back in hours by that same individual. With the hour you have earned, you can search within the wider community for an offering that meets your particular need.
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Community Currencies
A community-based currency is similar to national currency, however, unlike the standard, homogenous national dollar, community currencies are designed to support the resources and needs of a specific location, and are traded only within that local region. Community currencies create feedback loops of empowerment. Local businesses and individuals collectively decide to accept these dollars (which can be printed or accounted for in a digital system), as the medium for purchases and sales, as well as salary payments. In many instances, community currencies are used side by side with national dollars (a certain percentage of a value includes community currency dollars). These currencies circulate locally and stay local, spreading through the web for everyone’s enjoyment. Each dollar spent is an investment in empowering and strengthening the local economy and community.
These currencies shift the value of the dollar. Local money is dependent upon collective trading, rather than hoarding or concentrated investments. It must be spent, it must circulate or else it is worthless. The more the dollars are spent and traded, the more value they have. Community currencies are strongest when it is shared widely in the hands of the many, rather than concentrated in the hands of a select few.
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For more ideas about creating possibilities for community-supported economic equality, see Appendix B:
Shmita Economics.

Questions for discussion:

How do you think we might be able to equalize or balance some of the resource allocations in today’s economic systems?
How should the values of equality enter into the ideals of a ‘free’ market? How might systems of local community support and mutuality interact with larger non-local and impersonal financial systems?

Shmita Principle #7: Creating Commons
All agricultural lands are declared public and become community commons.
Shmita Principle #8: Shared Harvest
All harvested and stored produce are declared ‘ownerless’ and shared communally.
Shmita Principle #13: Generous Giving
The value of exchange is based on generous giving and lending practices, without the need for profit or monetary gain..
The practice of Shmita emerged out of an agrarian economy, where food and land were the primary economic resources. During the Shmita year, food was not treated as a commodity on the marketplace.
As no one could own the harvest, it could not be commoditized and sold for a profit. On this year, food simply returned to its natural potential: nourishment, freely available to all. This would have shifted the entire economic marketplace, creating a transition from private ownership to collective commons, and from personal gain to communal access.


The Commodification of Everything, The Hedgehog Review: Critical Reflections on Contemporary Culture, Summer 2003

These days you can buy almost anything. Sperm and eggs are advertised on the web. Speed dating services will provide you with several minutes-long dates in one night for the right price. Human organs are being bought and sold around the world. Universities are increasingly thinking of the education that they offer as a “product” and their students as “consumers.” There are fewer and fewer realms of life in which the language of money does not speak powerfully.

We now live not only in a market economy, but also in a market society, where the market and its categories of thought have come to dominate ever more areas of our lives. Many see the political revolutions of the last decade as offering a complete vindication of American-style free and self-regulating markets. Free markets promise the most efficient allocation of resources, unmatched production of wealth, and greater liberty. But what does the spread of the paradigm of the market mean for the things that we hold most dear, for our most intimate relationships, for our understanding of what it means to be human?

Vandana Shiva, Corporate Monopoly of Seeds Must End, The Guardian, October 8, 2012
In another time, some people thought it was all right to own other people as slaves. In our times some corporations think it is all right to own life on earth through patents and intellectual property rights (IPR). Patents are granted for inventions, and life is not an invention. These IPR monopolies on seeds are also creating a new bondage and dependency for farmers who are getting trapped in debt to pay royalties… Seed slavery is ethically important to address because it transforms the Earth family into corporate property. It is ecologically important because with seeds in the hands of five corporations, biodiversity disappears, and is replaced by monocultures of GMOs (genetically modified organisms). It is socially important because without seed sovereignty, there is no food sovereignty. After all, seeds are the first link in the food chain.


Open Source/Creative Commons
Popular in the software industry yet widely applicable, open-source systems provide free access to a product’s source-material or blueprint, with the intention that the design will be used, adapted, and improved by a wide community-base of users, and shared publicly under free licensing agreements. Open Source systems promote peer-to-peer creativity and collaborative efforts in producing product designs that are available to the public, free of charge, for use and modification.

Creative Commons is a similar alternative licensing system, seeking to build a richer public domain of intellectual commons. This license allows for product designers to waive their ‘all right reserved’ copyright, in place for a unique copyright that provides the flexibility to grant certain permissions to end-users, in regards to attribution, commercial use, and adaptation. Creators can choose which particular level of allowance they want to give their product and craft their own Creative Commons license to meet their own particular needs.
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Pay It Forward/Gift Economy
The value of ‘paying it forward’ is what drives the peer-to-peer collaborative economy, where exchange is based upon the value of shared use, rather than monetary gain. In the market economy, dollars are the currency that facilitates exchange, and without dollars, the exchanges come to a halt. In these alternative economic systems, however, social capital is the momentum for exchange, which builds interpersonal relationships that connect one person’s ‘have’ to another person’s ‘need.’ Such exchanges of products, services, and skills are genuinely based on practices of generous giving and participatory collaboration, without being facilitated by marketplace structures. In the Free Cycle network, groups of individuals form groups that freely exchange items. In the Skill Share networks, members freely share skills and information, based on curiosity. In the Couchsurfing network, members freely host travelers and tourists at their homes. In these systems, a web of social support is built without any dollar changing hands.
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Questions for discussion:

What resources have you grown accustomed to seeing as ‘commodities’? How does this commodification of resources affect your relationship with it?
What would our economic system feel like if those resources were not privatized and instead were available to the collective, freely?
How can you model such ‘shared access’ and support of the commons with your own property, skills, and time?

Shmita Principle #1: Let Rest & Lie Fallow
Take the time to form a new relationship with work and rest. Allow your land, your body, your workers, your economy of production and consumption, to rest.
Shmita Principle #16: Release of Slaves
Every Jubilee Year, slaves would be released and would be able to return home.
During the Shmita year, all workers and slaves were invited to rest, side by side with the landowners. Similarly, all foods harvested were to be shared fairly with the workers. The Shmita year blurred the distinction between landowner, worker, and slave, and, on the Jubilee year, all slaves would be automatically released. These practices were a part of a set of values that governed the relationship between landowner, hired worker, and slave, within the Torah.


National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

At its heart, slavery is an inhuman perversion of a simple economic principle: the best way to maximize profits is by minimizing the cost of labor. In today’s global economy, the seemingly inexhaustible demand for cheap goods and services has created a vast, largely invisible market for easily replenished supplies of men, women and children who are forced to work against their will, for little or no pay, and under constant threat of violence or intimidation.
An estimated 12-27 million people are caught in one or another form of slavery. Between 600,000 and 800,000 are trafficked internationally, with as many as 17,500 people trafficked into the United States.
Forced labor is present throughout the world and takes many forms. The enslaved work as field hands harvesting crops, as seamstresses in back-alley sweatshops, as kidnapped fisherman or child soldiers, and as common laborers so deeply in debt that their obligation can never be repaid. Increasingly, the enslaved are women and children—mostly teenage girls and younger—caught up in the global sex industry of prostitution, pornography and pedophilia.

The Color of Food, Applied Research Center: Racial Justice Through Media, Research, and Activism, February 2011
The food chain provides employment for millions of workers in other sectors, some unseen to the eye of the consumer, such as processing and distribution. A movement based on holistic understanding of food justice needs to encompass the chain of food production that connects seeds to mouth…Often workers in the food chain suffer low wages and exploitative conditions. Farm labor, for example, has a higher rate of toxic chemical injuries than workers in any other sector of the U.S. economy, with an estimated 300,000 farmworkers suffering from pesticide poisoning annually. Service workers in the restaurant industry, which serves food to consumers at the end of the food chain, face unfair labor practices ranging from employees withholding wages to not getting paid for overtime. Also, many sectors of the food chain are excluded from the protection of federal labor laws. This includes farmworkers, tipped minimum wage workers, such as those working in restaurants, and the formerly incarcerated. These workers fall under the rubric of excluded workers, who lack the right to organize without retaliation, because they are excluded from labor law protection.


Worker-Owed Co-Op
Worker cooperatives are alternative for-profit businesses that are owned and democratically managed by their employees. Worker co-ops simultaneously aim to create job satisfaction and improve quality of life for their workers, while becoming a financially successful company. Profits are invested back into the company, and shared among employees, rather than being diverted to external shareholders. Top-level managers and entry-level employees alike own an identical share and receive an equal percentage of any profits or losses. Many work co-ops aim to hire locally, and offer on-site training and professional development services to their employees, to create an informed and empowered workplace. As a worker-owner, each employee has one equal vote in decision-making processes within the company, and can have a direct say in terms of the hours they work, the salaries that are paid, and how financial resources are managed within the company. With their vote, they also elect managerial staff and Board of Directors.
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Fair Trade
Fair Trade is a both a product certification system, and a set of business practices agreed upon by producer and buyer of agricultural commodities grown in developing nations, for sale in a developed nation. The Fair Trade certification serves to inform and educate consumers about trade practices and standards associated with the products they are buying. The mission of Fair Trade is to support small-scale farmers and local farm-cooperatives that would otherwise be misrepresented in the trade contracts of multi-national corporations or agri-businesses. Fair Trade certification is applicable to a product when the buyer sources directly from farmers, on a long-term contact, for fair market prices, and premiums on certain harvests. The financial relationships allows for further investment in the local community, as well as the improved wages of workers. Another critical factor taken into account is the guarantee of safe and healthy working conditions for all employees, and the strict prohibition of child or slave labor.
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To learn about a Jewish response to ending slavery and supporting worker’s rights, visit:

Questions for discussion:

Who are the modern slaves in the current global economy? Visit to track modern
slavery today.

Have you considered the conditions and rights of the workers involved in the production of your own clothing, food, building materials, etc? Are we treating our workers with respect and dignity?

How would you support the release of modern slaves and the improvement of rights for hired, yet disadvantaged, workers?

Shmita Principle #13: Generous Giving
The value of exchange is based on generous giving and lending practices, without the need for profit or monetary gain.
Shmita Principle #14: Debt Release
All debts from previous years are canceled at the conclusion of the Shmita year.
During the Shmita year, debts would be released. Whatever was not paid back to a lender by the end of the seventh year would be forgiven. Today, the level of debt experienced by families, students, even entire countries, is becoming an unbearable burden. The Shmita Year created an opportunity to ease such burdens, and in the process, shift the way we are in relationship with lending and borrowing.


Debt Resistor’s Manual, Strike Debt

Everyone seems to owe something, and most of us (including our cities) are in so deep it’ll be years before we have any chance of getting out—if we have any chance at all. At least one in seven of us are already being pursued by debt collectors. We are told all of this is our own fault, that we got ourselves into this and that we should feel guilty or ashamed. But think about the numbers: 76% of Americans are debtors. How is it possible that three-quarters of us could all have just somehow failed to figure out how to properly manage our money, all at the same time?

Alarming US Consumer Debt Statistics,, 2011

  1. The total amount of consumer debt in the US is nearly $2.4 trillion in 2010. That’s $7,800 debt per person.
  2. Thirty-three percent of that debt is revolving debt (such as credit card debt), the other 67 percent comes from loans (such as car loans, student loans, mortgages and the like).
  3. The average credit card debt per cardholder is $5,100, and expected to increase to $6,500 by the end of the year.
  4. The average consumer carries 4 credit cards, while the average household carries $6,500 of debt.
  5. 1 in 50 households carry more than $20,000 in credit card debt. That amounts to more than 2 million households.
  6. 4.5 percent of cardholders are 60 or more days late in their payments.
  7. Roughly 2 – 2.5 million Americans seek the help of a credit counselor each year to avoid bankruptcy.

Center for American Progress
Higher education is an integral part of the American Dream. But today more and more young people increasingly have to finance their education through student loans. In the past three decades, the cost of attaining a college degree has increased more than 1,000 percent. Two-thirds of students who earn four-year bachelor’s degrees are graduating with an average student loan debt of more than $25,000, and 1 in 10 borrowers now owe more than $54,000 in loans…With $864 billion in federal loans and $150 billion in private loans, student debt in America now exceeds $1 trillion.


Financial Literacy & Empowerment
We can begin to reclaim our own economic power by first making sure we are educated in terms of how to avoid entering into credit relationships that are not in our best interests; what our legal rights are if we do fall into debt; how to best manage levels of compound interest; and how to practice caution while using credit cards. Without this knowledge, we become dependent upon our banks and creditors, who are more concerned with their own profit margin than our own personal needs. Financial literacy has traditionally been left up to personal initiative and self-study, as the process of how to manage personal finances, the importance of savings, investing and avoiding debt is not a priority at schools, and once this is grasped, many young adults are already struggling with paying back loans. The 2013 Consumer Financial Literacy Survey revealed that 40% of adults gave themselves a grade of C, D, or F on their knowledge of personal finance.
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Rolling Jubilee
The Rolling Jubilee is a project that emerged after the financial crisis of 2008, when banks of the United States were being bailed out in a package worth trillions of dollars, while individuals struggling with debt were not being given direct support. In response, Rolling Jubilee began actively buying debt for pennies on the dollar and then abolishing it. This was a bailout of the people, by the people, entirely supported through individual donations. Usually, when financial institutions are unable to collect on their loans, they sell the rights of the debt to third parties, such as debt-collectors, at a huge discount (and receive a tax write-off in the process). These debt collectors then pursue repayment at enormous profit rates. The Rolling Jubilee project has so far spent almost $700,000 to reclaim almost $15 million of debt on the market. Once the debt is purchased, it is entirely forgiven and the individuals connected to these debts are informed. According to the project, a $10 donation wipes out $200 of debt, while a $100 donation wipes out $2,000 of debt.
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For more ideas about creating possibilities for economic exchange systems that help prevent and ease debt, see Appendix B: Shmita Economics.

Questions for discussion:

Are you in debt? If so, how does this affect your life?

Would you advocate for a national debt release policy today? What would need to happen for governments and banks to release some of this burden?

On a local scale, how can we use community networks to help alleviate debt burdens through generous giving and resource sharing?