Although our kitchen facilities were lost in the fire on August 7th, Ramah in the Rockies remains committed to providing our camp community with delicious, farm-to-table options while drawing parallels between the food we consume and Jewish context. If you are interested in making a donation to our rebuilding effort, please click here.
Ramah in the Rockies cares deeply about its food sources and production. Here on the ranch, every meal is made with love, care, and intentionality. But what does that mean? How does our camp model this philosophy? In order to learn more about the ways we interact with food at Ramah in the Rockies, I talked to people all along the camp ‘food chain,’ and what I discovered renewed my appreciation for each and every meal we share together on the chava (ranch).
To begin, I ventured to the most obvious place for my research; the kitchen, or the mitbach, located right off the dining hall. There I had the opportunity to speak with Phreddy, a restaurant chef for 15 years who now serves as one of our head chefs at camp. As we spoke, he massaged lemon juice, salt, and olive oil into a big bowl of kale. I was struck by what a labor intensive project this salad was! Indeed, every aspect of the work done in the kitchen is treated with tremendous care and attention. “We try and put a lot of love, intention, and creativity into each meal so that everyone feels cared for,” Phreddy told me. “We want everyone to feel like there’s an abundance of options, and not a lack of choice.” Here at camp, our kitchen staff designs every meal to include at least one protein, starch, and vegetable. Their goal is to keep everyone healthy, happy, and properly nourished!
It was clear, however, that there was more to this food than just nourishment. Phreddy spoke of honoring each step in the process of preparing a meal, from planting the seeds to cooking the harvest. He explained, “Judaism is about knowledge. At every step of the process we want to know where our food is coming from, whether it’s organic, and whether it’s local.” This awareness of and appreciation for the process of food production is much of why the kitchen reuses and repurposes untouched leftovers, minimizes our waste with reusable milk and cereal containers, and composts all organic leftovers. Phreddy referenced this season of Sukkot, saying, “one week in the Sukkah infuses the whole year with thanks and appreciation for the food on our plates.”
It turns out that the kitchen is not the only part of camp that emphasizes food appreciation. Out on masa, our backcountry excursions, food takes on a whole new role. Rather than having their meals prepared for them, chalutzim (campers) are tasked with packing up all their food in the right measures and quantities, as well as helping to prepare each of their meals. Like everything else on masa, this proves to be a team-building activity, and one that leaves campers with “a new sense of appreciation for where their food comes from,” according to Alex Hamilton, head of masa ‘pack out’ here at camp. “It brings people together,” says Hamilton, “It’s like a little mini Thanksgiving.” Having this unique opportunity to partake in the food process is not only a collaborative activity – it also gives our chalutzim a newfound investment in their dinner. Oftentimes campers will try foods they would normally avoid when they’ve cooked the meal themselves!
A similar phenomenon can be observed on our farm, where even the pickiest of eaters can be found munching on veggies they helped to grow themselves! On the farm, chalutzim have the opportunity to interact first hand with the garden, the chickens, and the goats. Each day ripened veggies must be harvested, freshly layed eggs must be collected, and goats must be milked. Our chalutzim play a vital role in these tasks, getting their hands dirty, stepping outside of their comfort zones, and interacting with their food first hand.
“It’s about interconnectedness” says Blair, the head of our farm here at camp. She spoke with me as we harvested produce for that night’s Shabbat dinner. She explained to me how the chalutzim used composted liquids to help with soil fertility, and soon began “thinking of different ways the food that they eat both comes from this place, but also is going back into it.” By emphasizing this cycle of growth, sustenance, and compost, our kitchen and farm staff have joined forces to encourage a camp culture of gratitude and ‘ain biz-buz’ – no waste.
In the context of Sukkot, Blair, a Rabbinic student, talked about what a festival of the harvest really means to her. She stressed laborious cycle of planting, saying “you only get to have a harvest if you put in all the hard work during the season. I think that reinvigorating the sense that Judaism really cares about and takes responsibility for the whole food chain, and not just what we put into our mouths, is a valuable lesson.”
As the season of Sukkot comes to an end, may we all consider with gratitude the journey our food took to reach our tables!