The past two years, the food festival was reduced to a drive-up or drive-through experience due to the COVID pandemic.
After a two-year hiatus, the Hazon Michigan Jewish Food Festival is back live and in-person 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug 21. Weaving the themes of Jewish living, sustainability, community and above all — nourishment — event organizers expect hundreds of attendees to attend from all backgrounds in a gathering that for the first time will take place at the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center, 1801 Atwater St., Detroit, which is located at the intersection of the Dequindre Cut at the Detroit River. Admission into the Outdoor Adventure Center will be free during festival hours.
“Hazon has long focused on food as the foothold into a larger conversation about environmental sustainability,” said Hazon Detroit Director Amit Weitzer.
“The importance of stewarding and connecting with Earth is a part of how we engage as Jews.”
In the past two years, Weitzer said the food festival was reduced to a drive-up or drive-through experience due to the COVID pandemic. Supporters of the food festival were given food baskets or drove up to vendors to sample or purchase food from local food artisans and companies.
Weitzer added that this year, the festival will take place in indoor and outdoor areas and will provide flexibility for the comfort levels of participants who may still be hesitant about crowds in the age of COVID-19.
Weitzer said Hazon Detroit invites the Jewish and wider Detroit community to “lean into” the nurturing feeling of coming together in person that the festival provides. Visitors can stop by the booths of partnering organizations to learn about the work they are doing in sustainability and community building initiatives. Of course, she added, there will be plenty of food to sample from a rodeo of food trucks with food to purchase, inlcuding Treat Dreams, Chef Cari, Nu Deli, Shimmy Shack and Drunken Rooster.
There will also be live music from Joe Reilly and Henry Barnes and the Half Sauers String Band.
The festival is made possible by the generosity of the William Davidson Foundation, the D. Dan & Betty Kahn Foundation, the Ben N. Teitel Trust, Hebrew Free Loan, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and dozens of Jewish and communal organizations.
A Unique Location to Learn
Weitzner said the Outdoor Adventure Center essentially serves first as an interactive children’s museum, introducing urban children to the wonders of the natural bounty of northern Michigan. The center features a 40-foot-tall, manmade, interactive tree; off-road vehicle, bicycle, kayak, canoe and fishing-boat simulators; a life-size beaver lodge and eagle’s nest; an indoor archery range; a 3,000-gallon, freshwater aquarium; and a man-made, 36-foot-tall waterfall.
The top floor of the center features classrooms overlooking the Detroit River. Here is where event organizers will hold interactive classes and workshops and tastings. Zach Berg, co-owner and head cheese monger at Mongers Provisions, will lead a session called “Cheese: Milk’s leap toward immortality” where participants can explore dairy preservation and sample cheeses. Chef Phil Jones of Farmacy Food will lead a workshop called “Sweet Potato Latkes: an edible journey through Black and Jewish cultures.” He will offer cooking demonstrations and samplings as well.
One workshop, entitled “When Manischewitz is Treyf,” will challenge participants ages teen and up to think about whether their values are reflected in choices they make when buying food and drink, said facilitator Avery Robinson.
Robinson, who grew up in Metro Detroit and now lives in Brooklyn and works as an editorial associate at the Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, describes the class as a lively lesson and discussion about the history of the Jewish values surrounding food and kashrut through the lens of wine.
“This is going to be an engaging conversation that will revolve around what makes wine kosher or not kosher, and why as a beverage the rabbis created a certain set of special rules for wine making and consumption,” said Robinson, who grew up in an actively involved Jewish family.
“The class will be a combination of stories from history, texts and a discussion to explore what kosher wine means when one decides on what bottle they will pick out next time they bring one to serve and drink at the next seder or meal with a Jewish ritual.”
Rabbi Louis Finkelman of Or Chadash of Oak Park will lead a discussion and demonstration on how wheat is grown and processed. He will also speak to the many times in Jewish tradition where wheat and bread — leavened and unleavened — is mentioned in Jewish traditions. Part of his stories will come from his own experiences growing a modest amount of wheat in his Southfield backyard.
“People have a different take on sustainability when they have experienced growing their own food, even growing a small part of their own food,” Finkelman said. “Last year, my daughter-in-law gave me red wheat seeds. She planted a tiny bed of wheat in her garden in Oak Park, and I did the same in my garden in Southfield. We harvested the wheat, and got together to process what we had planted, generating enough flour for one loaf of bread.”
Outside, on a lawn adjacent to the center, representatives from Outdoor Adventures from Tamarack Camps will be staging outdoor games and activities, allowing those who may not get the chance to go away to camp in the summer to get a taste of camping.
The environmental organization Plastic Oceans will host stewardship activities along the Dequindre Cut Greenway and children can create art projects made from recyclable materials with the Flying Cardboard Theater.
Rob Streit of the Detroit Food Academy will be on hand to teach stoppers-by the educational programs the academy offers to students as young as middle school. The DFA trains students in culinary arts where they can eventually find employment and try their skills in one of the small batch companies in partnership with the academy. Some of its most well-known products are its Slow Jams, Mitten Bites Energy Bars and Popsicles, all available for purchase at the festival.
Author Anita Pazner of West Bloomfield will be reading and selling her new children’s book The Topsy Turvy Bus (2022 Kar-Ben Publishing) a book about sustainability. Fueled with leftover vegetable oil collected from restaurants, the real Topsy Turvy bus will be on site at the festival, and visitors can climb aboard, though it will stay put during the festival. Pazner will also teach about the values and importance of home composting with a hands-on demonstration.
Inspiration for the book came to Pazner during volunteer outings on the bus at the height of the pandemic. Former Hazon Detroit Director Wren Hack drove the bus to pick up used cooking oil in local restaurants and deliver food to area food banks.
Pulling on the Jewish value of tikkun olam — repairing the world — Pazner said the book can show children of all faith backgrounds that there are things they and their parents can do to make the Earth a healthier, more sustainable place to live.
“When I walk visitors through the bus, I’ll teach them how it uses vegetable oil and solar power and talk about the benefits of composting,” Pazner said.
“I hope by visiting the bus, and by reading the book, kids and their parents will come to understand that we can all perform tikkun olam one new, fresh idea at a time.”