Column: ‘Growing sausages’ and more in 2015 at Leichtag property


As the person in charge of agriculture innovation at the Leichtag Foundation property in Encinitas, I have two main goals: to grow as much healthy, organic food for the charitable food system as possible, and to demonstrate and educate the Jewish values that drive this mission.

And today, I’d like to speak with you about the miracle of sausages.

Let me explain. This year, as mentioned in my recent article, the farm at the Leichtag Foundation property is observing a Jewish tradition known as Shmita, the year of agriculture release. Shmita occurs every seven years, and for the remainder of the Jewish calendar year ending in September 2015, we must refrain from growing crops directly in the soil.

The key word here is “directly,” as according to these rules, we are still able to grow food above ground.

While our resident organic hydroponic farm, Go Green Agriculture, does this well with trays above the ground, we are attempting to grow plants outdoors in a “soil sock” using organic and biodynamic methods. The sock sits on top of a weed mat that covers the soil — thus keeping weeds, disease and moisture at bay.

With these grow socks, or “soil sausages” as some people call them, one can grow food, herbs, or flowers on top of soil, mulch, gravel, asphalt or even on a roof.

There are some things to keep in mind with all of these surfaces, such as how wood mulch can rob nutrients, especially nitrogen. And the soil below can transmit disease or get too wet, damaging your crops.

We are planting winter veggies that were requested by our food bank partners. The majority of what we grow will provide fresh, organically grown (not yet certified) veggies to the charitable food system. Some of the crops selected are cabbage, celery, broccoli, parsley and peas, all nutrient-packed green vegetables.

There is so much that goes into this effort, from formulating a balanced soil medium, developing a complex irrigation and fertigation (applying water-soluble fertilizer through irrigation) system, and of course, starting seeds and growing plants. Our farmers, George Workman and Daniel Yabrove, can fill you in more on all the challenges and innovations the Shmita year is inspiring on our farm, which at this point has no official name.

While this is the sabbatical year for the land, we are very busy growing a farm. 2015 is an ambitious one for us as we start construction on our educational community farm.

In the coming year, we have goals of naming our farm, renovating a rundown horse barn to be a functional educational space for children, and planting our 4-plus-acres food forest trail with pioneer leguminous shrubs and trees.

The first step in creating this magical forest garden is complete. We successfully graded an 800-foot trail, installed an irrigation system and added more than 200 cubic yards of compost and 1,000 pounds of cover crop seed.

We opted for a new technology that we see as a major improvement from traditional hydro seeding, which involves blowing a blanket of compost with the seed blended in. The coverage is phenomenal and we are thrilled with the success.

The seed mix we developed for the first planting of the food forest floor consists of half a dozen clovers, grasses, vetches, peas and beans to prevent erosion and build soil fertility. The next big step is planting thousands of leguminous shrubs and trees to break up the hardpan, fix nitrogen and build organic matter in the soil.

These trees will provide shade, fertility and moisture to nurse the fruit and nut trees we will plant once the Shmita year ends in fall 2015.

In the first year the fruit trees are planted, there will be 90 percent pioneer trees and 10 percent edible trees. Over the next five years, that will flip-flop to 90 percent edible trees, shrubs and understory plants, and 10 percent cover crop.

We will be inviting volunteers to partake in the pioneer plantings over the next few months.

In the meantime, we’re hosting educational and hands-on events. We recently hosted a solstice cider-making and seed-starting workshop. The Leichtag Foundation and the city of Encinitas have collaborated to bring Lancaster, a rainwater-harvesting expert, to assess opportunities to manage our water more sustainably.

For information on events and volunteer opportunities at the farm, follow Leichtag Foundation on Facebook and sign up for our newsletter at

We look forward to sharing the beginnings of this exciting new venture with you, our community, as we have lots more programs on the horizon. We recently hired Jewish Food Justice Fellowship graduate Matt Karlin as our first Farm Program Coordinator.

He will be the primary contact for hosting, co-hosting and running programs on the farm that aim to bring people together around learning skills that support a healthier, more vibrant life for all.

A nationally known farmer, Daron Joffee relocated to Encinitas last year to serve as the development director of the Leichtag Foundation’s 67-acre property on Saxony Road.

Correction: Because of an editing error, the original online version of this “Farmer D” column incorrectly listed a rainwater harvesting workshop on Jan. 17 at The Gefilteria. No workshop is scheduled for that date or place. We apologize for the error.