Jewish Initiative for Animals (JIFA) announced its official launch on the grounds of what’s now the Leichtag Commons in Encinitas, CA. The Leichtag Foundation has been a strong supporter of JIFA’s work, providing offices for JIFA staff in their co-working space and fostering consciousness for more humane and sustainable food choices through programming and education on their Jewish community farm, Coastal Roots Farm.
For Coastal Roots, the Jewish value of tzaar baalei chayim, or the prevention of unnecessary suffering to animals, is a fundamental concept to executing their mission of cultivating healthy, connected Jewish communities. By integrating sustainable agriculture, food justice, and ancient Jewish wisdom, the farm staff draws upon Jewish agricultural tradition to inform its growing and production practices.
Kesha Dorsey Spoor, Communications and Outreach Manager at the farm, says: “We work to balance the manipulation of land for the benefit of human consumption with the commitment to caring for and about the land and species that reside on it. Among our values is the concept of tzaar baalei chayim, or ethical treatment of animals. This value in particular guides the Farm’s management of and education around our chicken flock.”
In partnership with JIFA, the farm acquired heritage chickens from Frank Reese at the Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch, and these animals serve as ambassadors to help educate visitors about factory farming and the genetic implications for chicken welfare. Coastal Roots is committed to promoting heritage chickens as an alternative to hybrid chickens, which, even on pasture, can suffer from chronic pain and severe health issues due to unnaturally fast growth. Ellie Honan, Vegetable Production Manager, knows and teaches that turning chickens into an efficient production unit “comes at the expense of important traits such as resilience, temperature tolerance, and the ability to forage.” As allies of more traditional, less intensive animal breeding and raising, “we believe in the importance of not only our chickens’ wellbeing, but also ensuring heritage chickens’ long genetic lines don’t become obsolete.”
Coastal Roots also demonstrates its commitment to tzaar baalei chayim in its treatment of the entire chicken flock. Honan says “the flock has access to the outdoors and to the Farm’s grounds during daylight hours, where they can find bugs to eat that keep their bodies and eggs healthy.” In stark contrast to more industrialized farms, visitors to Coastal Roots see chickens being chickens, with space to roam and opportunities to express a wide range of natural behaviors.
The farm celebrated its inauguration of the new heritage chicken members of the flock in 2017, with an event in honor of Aleph Elul, or the New Year for Animals in the Jewish calendar. Along with JIFA, Coastal Roots has been a partner in reviving this Jewish holiday as an opportunity for humans to restore a healthier relationship with domesticated animals:
“We possess an inherent responsibility to care for the animals from which we benefit. Tzaar baalei chayim reminds us to be sensitive to the vulnerability of all animals, and to practice responsible care with our chickens, who have become an integral part of the Coastal Roots Farm family.” —Kesha Dorsey Spoor, Communications and Outreach Manager
JIFA is proud to partner with Coastal Roots Farm, which continues to be an active participant in transforming the way our Jewish community—and our nation—eats and farms.