In Arlington, from farm to table with a kosher certification

Liz Epstein among the kosher-certified herbs. Photos by Jacqueline Potter

At an indoor farm in an Arlington warehouse, hundreds of varieties of produce grow on vertical conveyors under LED lights that mimic a plant’s day cycle.

The mission of Area 2 Farms is to move the farm closer to people living in urban areas. “We harvest right here and then we deliver to within a 10-mile radius of the farm,” said Liz Epstein, 20, community outreach director.

Co-founder Oren Falkowitz, a member of the Orthodox Ohev Sholom Congregation in the District, wanted to know if his year-old venture of growing crops on top of each other was kosher.

He called in Rabbi Jack Moline, the retired Conservative spiritual leader of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, to get a kosher certification.

“We wanted to assure community members that we were kosher,” said Falkowitz, 41. “We actually got a lot of questions and a big thing for us is that we really value our community and want to make sure those concerns were met.”

Moline toured the warehouse and assured Falkowitz that “technically a farm that raises plants doesn’t need any kind of kosher certification, but they sought it out, as he explained to me, because he wants people to understand that.”

Moline was impressed by what he saw. “Oren showed me every aspect of what they do and it’s remarkable how much of a variety they’re able to grow in the space of a warehouse and they are not even using all their space. They have invented machines that rotate the crops and replicate an outdoor environment that is not subject to weather conditions or pests.”

In an unprocessed state, fruits and vegetables are kosher since they contain neither dairy nor meat products.

At Area 2 Farms, produce grows on vertical conveyors under
LED lights that mimic a plant’s day cycle. Photo by Jacqueline Potter

Moline said two factors could render the farm products unkosher. The Torah, he said, prohibits sowing different types of seeds together in the same plot. “Because each seed is planted in its own container, there’s no danger of that.”

The other factor Moline checked for was if animal product was used to fertilize the soil. That wasn’t the case.

Epstein, a Vienna resident, said she was excited to hear that Area 2 Farms operates under kosher guidelines. She is a University of Virginia student who belongs to Olam Tikvah, a Conservative congregation in Fairfax.

“It’s really important for us to bond with our community, especially the Arlington Jewish community. We really respect our neighbors and are making sure we have assurances for them.”

“We wanted to be more educated about what being kosher certified is,” she said. “Luckily, we didn’t have to make any changes.”

Area 2 Farms has over 100 subscribers now that receive deliveries of harvested produce. The farm offers a selection of vibrant greens, aromatic herbs, crunchy microgreens and robust root vegetables.

“By moving the farm closer to you and giving the harvest to our local neighbors, you are getting more nutrients than you would at a grocery store, where the produce has traveled from California,” Epstein said. The warehouse operation is now large enough to feed 400 families.

Indoor vertical farming allows the grower to eliminate pesticides and herbicides and control the environment to produce the most nutritious plants, Epstein said.

Area 2 Farms has 10 workers and plans to open in so-called food deserts — geographic areas where access to affordable, healthy food is nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores.

“If this experimental prototype is as successful as I think it will be, it has the potential to revolutionize access to fresh food all over the world,” Moline said.

Moline was happy to help Falkowitz with the kosher certification. “This is not a heavy lift and it was in the neighborhood. I was very impressed with Oren’s integrity and his spiritual concerns.” ■

Ellen Braunstein is a freelance writer.

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