Encinitas farm’s roots stretch back to ancient Jewish traditions


Coastal Roots Farm in central Encinitas has a lot in common with other farms dotted around North San Diego County — neatly cultivated rows of crops, tractors, compost piles and greenhouses.

What may be different, however, is that the farm’s roots stretch back for thousands of years and halfway around the world, to ancient Jewish agricultural traditions and practices.

The farm, which celebrated its official launch in early October with a Sukkot, or harvest, festival held on its grounds, is an initiative of the Leichtag Foundation, a philanthropic organization founded in 1991 by the late Max “Lee” Leichtag and his wife, Andre “Toni” Leichtag, who were residents of Fairbanks Ranch.

In 2012, the foundation purchased the 67-acre Ecke Ranch property, which is bordered by Saxony Road and Quail Gardens Drive, internationally known for the poinsettias it once produced. About one-third of the property will be devoted to the farm, which has been in planning and cultivation for the past several years.

The farm uses organic methods and will grow a wide variety of produce, from fruit and nuts to herbs and vegetables, said Daron “Farmer D” Joffe, the foundation’s director of agricultural innovation and development.

Underlying its work will be Jewish principles such as peah, which means that the corners of the fields are left for the nourishment of strangers and the poor. Already in its young life, the farm has contributed produce to local food banks, a practice that Joffe said will continue.

“We’re creating a place rooted in Jewish traditions and celebrating Jewish culture and life in a very open and accessible way, for people of all faiths,” Joffe said as he gave a tour of the farm to a reporter.

The farm has been set up as an independent nonprofit, although the land and seed money — budgeted at $550,000 this year — will come from the Leichtag Foundation. As it begins to produce crops and create its own revenue stream, however, the farm is expected to support itself and even give back to the foundation, Joffe said.

“It’s like a baby being raised to live on its own,” he said.

Future plans include a farm stand on the Saxony Road side of the property that will sell fresh produce and flowers grown on the property, which is expected to open by this winter.

The farm also will have areas where visitors can pick their own produce, or attend community workshops on agriculture-related topics.

Plans include an “edible trail” that will be lined with fruit-bearing trees, and over the next couple years, the farm will begin producing wine from vineyards on the property.

Another big component of the farm will be education, with internships and classes offered for students from middle school through college.

“We want to be training the next generation of community farmers,” said Joffe.

In addition, the farm is collaborating with its neighbors, such as the adjacent San Diego Botanic Garden, and the Farm Lab operated by the Encinitas Union School District.

The farm currently has a staff of seven full-time workers, plus four apprentices. The latter group includes Jean Paul Sein, an agriculture student from Puerto Rico, who is serving a paid apprenticeship at Coastal Roots Farm.

Sein said he appreciates the chance to be working in an agricultural setting, especially one with a focus on sustainable practices.

“I’m here because I want to learn, to expand my knowledge,” he said. At the farm, he said, “you’re doing everything.”

Public events such as the Sukkot Festival, held Sunday, Oct. 4, will also play a big role at the farm, Joffe said. Some 2,000 people were expected to attend, for theater performances, animal exhibits, and a chance to get their hands dirty and sticky by pressing apple cider and making bricks with mud and straw.

The farm is helping to fulfill one of the visions of Encinitas’ founders by preserving agriculture in the city, said City Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer. In 2005, city voters turned down a proposal by the Ecke family to rezone the property to permit construction of homes.

“I think it’s fantastic. They are honoring Encinitas’ historical roots, which are in agriculture,” said Shaffer.

According to Joffe, who has worked as a consultant for residential developers who wanted to include community farms in their projects, such farms and gardens are a growing trend across the country, as an alternative to golf courses in some places.

For the long term, the goal of Coastal Roots Farm and the Leichtag Foundation is to become indispensable to the community, so that the land is preserved for community access and agriculture, rather than being developed into houses or shopping centers, said Jim Farley, the foundation’s CEO.

“If, 100 years from now, someone is walking around this property and they want to know who the Leichtag family was, we will have done our job,” Farley said.

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