Hazon: Summertime is right time for annual food confab

For the past three years the annual Hazon Food Conference — one on the East Coast, another in Northern California — has been held in December. The time of year was chosen to attract farmers, as it’s usually their downtime.

And yet, picking dates during the winter holiday season sometimes raised problems for would-be attendees, especially with so many people in interfaith situations.

To combat that dilemma, Hazon has decided to shift things from the winter to the summer — as well as to consolidate the two conferences into one national event.

At previous Hazon conferences, Maina Handmaker and Avi Zellman learn the art of making pickles. photos/courtesy of hazon

The new format swings into action Aug. 18 with the opening of the 2011 Hazon Food Conference at U.C. Davis. Given the university’s agricultural emphasis, the location offers some unique hands-on opportunities, said Deborah Newbrun, Hazon’s Bay Area director. Participants will have the option of visiting the university’s brewery, farm, dairy and slaughterhouse.

The four-day gathering will include lectures, discussions, do-it-yourself activities and Shabbat services. Sunday’s closing will feature an eco-fair and Israeli-style marketplace. In addition, U.C. Davis is opening its pool, fitness center and a separate dining hall to Hazon attendees, and the school’s dormitories will be used for overnight accommodations.

Keynote lecturers include Oran Hesterman, author and founder of the Fair Food Network, whom Newbrun described as the “next-level Michael Pollan” — not only does Hesterman write about food problems, but he also discusses solutions and sustainable futures. Popular cookbook author Joan Nathan, whose latest offering is “Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France,” is another keynote speaker.

Hazon’s annual conference — which started on the East Coast in 2006 and expanded to the West Coast in 2008 — is unlike many other food events because of its distinctive emphasis on both religion and food, Newbrun said.

“It’s the only place where farmers, rabbis and chefs come together to explore dynamic interplay between food and Jewish life,” she noted.

Conference attendees can choose different tracks of classes, including food justice, urban farming, Jewish tradition and food, health and tradition, or food education. In addition, there will be cooking sessions, classes on the 2012 farm bill and more.

Kids have fun harvesting the garden. photos/courtesy of hazon

Leah Koenig, creator of the Jew and the Carrot blog, will discuss recipes, food writing and food blogs. Journalist and author Sue Fishkoff will lead a session, as will Zelig Golden of Berkeley-based Wilderness Torah, Simcha Schwartz of Jewish Farm School and David Schwartz of the Real Food Challenge.

A family-oriented affair, the conference also offers programming by the Jewish Naturalist, Urban Adamah and Teva Learning Center, geared for ages 4 through 16.  Kids can take classes in planting, harvesting and composting.

“The more hands-on, the better,” Newbrun said.

The Hazon Food Conference takes place Aug. 18 to 21 at U.C. Davis. Registration is $235. Room and board is $125-$350. Information: www.hazon.org.