Above: For those interested in starting a garden, Farmer D Organics recommends beginning with easy-to-grow herbs.

By Logan C. Ritchie | lritchie@atljewishtimes.com 

From shemitah, allowing the land to rest every seventh year of harvesting, to pe’ah, leaving one corner of the field to the less fortunate, Judaism is rooted in farming.

Using the land to connect to faith, spirituality, ancient practices and lunar cycles is a concept fundamental to Jewish history. Sukkot, Shavuot, Tu B’Shevat and even Passover call Jews to reflect on earth and how it serves the Jewish people.

That connection drew Daron Joffe, a.k.a. Farmer D, to work the land with his hands, to promote the concept of community farming, and to study and employ ancient practices of growing food — all roles for which the Sandy Springs native has become famous. Farmer D’s organic efforts include a retail garden center at 2154 Briarcliff Road in Toco Hills.Farmer D - For the Love of Land 2

“What inspires me is that what we see as innovative concepts are actually in the Talmud and the Torah, like seder zeraim, the order of seeds. It’s the Jewish farmer’s almanac,” Farmer D said.

As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin in 1995, Farmer D explored biodynamic farming when he set out to grow a sandwich. His first apprenticeship at Prairie Dock Farm in Wisconsin led him to organic farming and community-supported agriculture — what plain folk call a CSA or farm share.

His passion for sustainable agriculture drove him back and forth across the country for the next 10 years. He created gardens and farms, fed the homeless, lived in a chicken coop overlooking the Pacific Ocean. He became a cheesemonger on a biodynamic farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

In 1998, during a push for urban children to learn about growing food, he started a pizza business that delivered to Madison Waldorf School. Shortly after, he was recruited to launch an organic garden at a youth correctional facility near San Francisco.

“We are all citizen farmers,” Farmer D said.

From Madison, Wis., to San Diego, Farmer D established a reputation as a maverick of the organic farming movement.

Back in Atlanta after college, Farmer D launched the nonprofit Gan Chaim at the Marcus Jewish Community Center to provide innovative programming to youth through therapeutic gardening. His gardens are growing at facilities around Atlanta, including Chaya Mushka Children’s House, Temple Sinai, the Epstein School and the Davis Academy in Sandy Springs and the Shepherd Center in Buckhead.

In the early 2000s Farmer D was serving on the board of Georgia Organics, the rapidly growing organization that links farmers, consumers and the food industry. The city was ripe for a brick-and-mortar store that carried organic seeds, plants and compost.

The inspiration for Farmer D’s Toco Hills retail store sprouted from a discovery that Whole Foods was discarding food waste. Farmer D teamed up with engineer and composter Mike Smith and the produce team leader for Whole Foods Market, Alex Rilko, to create Farmer D Organics Biodynamic Blend Organic Compost.

Farmer D Organics offers a selection of plants that are appropriate for the Atlanta climate and soil.

Farmer D Organics offers a selection of plants that are appropriate for the Atlanta climate and soil.

In addition to hearty plants and compost, the store sells wooden gardening boxes crafted by Farmer D’s father and company chief everything officer, Stanley Joffe. Woodworking has been his hobby for 30 years.

Lead designers on staff at Farmer D’s store work on projects ranging from planting backyard vegetable gardens to converting golf courses into community farms, a new trend in community development.

CEO Joffe said: “I’d love to see more farming in the city and people growing their own food. Kids don’t resist farming with food, and they have great synergy. Parents come in, buy a small planter box and come back because the other kid wants one.”

How to Dig In

Farmer D Organics CEO Stanley Joffe said anyone can get started with gardening. If you run into a problem, the staff at Farmer D’s can offer advice. The store offers classes and is the only local place to buy everything you need to grow your own organic garden. And all of the plants are kosher!

Joffe’s beginning tips:

  • Grow something you love to eat.
  • Plant something easy, like herbs. Herbs grow virtually any time of year and are low maintenance, and you can always use them in cooking.
  • Buy a small bed to start. Plant 70 percent herbs and one or two veggies you like.
  • Tomatoes are popular but are not the easiest to cultivate (hello, squirrels), and they grow for only a short period of the year. Lettuces, radishes and cucumbers are good choices. Squash is easy but requires a lot of room to roam. Blueberries are easily grown in Georgia; plant them and hope the birds leave enough for you.