“Farm-to-table” is something of a buzz phrase these days, but Josh Rosenstein is a true believer. Rosenstein, 41, launched Edible Eden, a sustainable business that creates edible landscapes and organic gardens in and around Baltimore to connect people back to their food source, in 2014. Even among his landscapes and gardens, Rosenstein tries to stick close to his roots, so to speak, like his newly-developed educational program for young adults looking at food ethics through a Jewish lens.
Rosenstein grew up in Israel, but has hopped around in his life, working in organic farming, nurseries, permaculture and sustainability from the U.S. Pacific Northwest to kibbutzim in Israel. He landed in the Baltimore area in 2011 after he and his now-wife, who were then living separately in Israel and South Africa, respectively, were offered positions at the Pearlstone Center where Rosenstein worked for several years as director of their educational farm.
What inspired you to start Edible Eden?
There’s kind of a movement of sustainable “right livelihood” three-pronged businesses that are both good for the earth and good for the people and also bring in income. The hope, the dream, is that this is a timely, meaningful, in-demand thing that I can do and also make a living.
What first got you into gardening/landscaping?
I grew up in a house that did not purport to be environmentalist or activist or any of those things. My parents had a compost because a compost made sense. My parents had a vegetable garden because local, seasonal vegetables are the best you can get. And my mother gardens because she finds it therapeutic, you know?
[In 2005] I went through a divorce and had a big questioning period of what’s next for me. A woman I’d met at a festival called me up and said she needed an intern, and in order to be her intern I needed to take this permaculture design course. So, that experience and then subsequently coming out to the East Coast and discovering the Jewish organic farming world, those things built upon each other to bring me to this stage.
Why do you think it is important for people to eat local and connect to their food?
My agenda is not to lead with darkness, but I just believe that our industrial “Big Ag” food system is fundamentally broken. And the reason they’re able to get away with it is because of that disconnect between consumer and their food source. I’m also just really passionate about food. This is about the peak of culinary experience. Food that’s produced locally and sustainably and harvested fresh and treated right and then served is 100 percent more flavorful and delicious and healthy. So, one side of this has to do with ethics and environment and one side has to do with culinary excellence and flavor.
What plants or vegetables would you recommend for someone’s first garden?
The short answer is: try anything! I would recommend any foray into gardening include both vegetables from seed — your arugula, your carrots, your spinach — and seedlings, like tomatoes or peppers. I would also definitely recommend some perennial culinary herbs — thyme, rosemary, sage, chives. The last category I would recommend is perennial native pollinator species, such as yarrow, Echinacea or orange glory flower.
How is the approach to food different in Israel and America, and how has that informed your work?
It’s a two-edged sword. I think Israel inevitably leans more toward an industrial productivity when it comes to agriculture. At the same time, culturally, I grew up in an Israel where fresh vegetables were a part of every meal and going to buy vegetables from the markets in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv was a visceral, colorful, tangible experience. So, I definitely think I came up in a culinary culture, and that definitely informs my passion for it today.
Last, and potentially hardest, question: What’s your favorite food?
I would have to say the Israeli experience of hummus is probably my favorite. Growing up, I was a passionate vegetarian and deathly allergic to dairy, so my parents were a little bit at a loss for what to feed me. Those things have shifted since, but I ate a lot of hummus growing up [laughs].