A local farm now produces matzoh that requires special kosher supervision to be consumed during the Passover festival season.
Park Heights resident Ian Yosef Hertzmark does many things with his time, more than one might think possible.
A mild-mannered farmer, baker, pickle maker and father of four young children, he also has a full-time job running a kosher line at a local meatpacking plant. In that latter role, Hertzmark works directly under Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, rabbinic administrator of the Baltimore-based Star-K kosher supervisory organization.
Last spring, Hertzmark mentioned to Rabbi Heinemann that he was growing “biblical grains” at his farm just outside of Randallstown. The rabbi was intrigued. After a careful inspection, he told Hertzmark that his grains could qualify to be made into the most kosher of kosher ingredients — shmurah matzoh flour.
Shmurah— which means guarded — matzoh must be perpetually observed by special certified kosher inspectors, from harvest to baking and stored under meticulous conditions, to ensure that no fermentation took place and that it is suitable for eating on the first night of Passover.
Several months later, Hertzmark found himself driving his mini-combine through a wheat field surrounded by several area rabbis carefully observing his harvest.
“The rabbis were checking the dew because they needed to make sure that the grain was of a suitable moisture content for storage,” Hertzmark said. “Any exposure to moisture could cause sprouting, which would make any flour produced un-kosher.”
He said that one rabbi in particular kept walking next to him while he was driving and yelled, “Leshem mitzvat matzoh” — “In the name of the mitzvah of matzoh making” — over the engine noise to remind him of their purpose.
An observant Jew, Hertzmark said he is tickled to think of his homegrown grains as serving such a noble purpose. But kashrut isn’t the only ideal driving his farm.
Migrash Farm, which consists of 30 acres under long-term lease, is located just off of Liberty Road and named for the talmudic precept of surrounding every town with an agricultural green space.
Hertzmark has long woven Judaism into his passion for farming and sustainability, having worked at various well-known Jewish ecological centers on the East Coast. A Denver native, he moved to the Baltimore area in 2011 with his wife, Aliza, a civil engineer, to work on the educational farm at the Pearlstone Center in Reisterstown. Their family has grown to include their children Izzy, Fraydam, Nissim and Leeba.
Hertzmark started his milling operation last year in a closet-sized clean room he built into one of the barns at Migrash. Now, he is building a 22-by-15-foot clean area with a reinforced ceiling joist to hold his new double-sized stone mill.
Hertzmark had to upgrade his mill to keep up with demand. Local restaurant Woodberry Kitchen now has a weekly standing order, and other local bakers and restaurants are quickly discovering there is a new source in town for high-quality specialty flours and grains.
While most of the grain he mills is bought from regional farmers, Hertzmark grows small quantities of wheat, spelt, emmer, einkorn, rye and corn on seven of Migrash Farm’s acres.
“What I am trying to do on a meta-level is help develop a local small-grain economy by producing specialty local seed and contracting out other farmers to grow it,” Hertzmark said.
He believes there is a market for the nuanced flavors, textures and sustainability benefits of biblical wheat, just like there’s a market for heirloom tomatoes and heritage-breed turkeys.
“Emmer, spelt and einkorn are grains of antiquity, and they are currently undergoing something of a revival in the East Coast sustainable grain scene,” he said. “The type of grain you grind really impacts the end use of the flour. The harder wheats, like Hard Red Winter [Wheat], are good for leavened breads, while the softer wheats are better for pastries and quick breads.”
All Migrash Farm flours are grown in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and sustainably produced, and most are certified organic. Hertzmark is currently producing up to 1,000 pounds of flour a week and hopes to increase that steadily this year.
Hertzmark dreams of one day growing his business to feature a vegan kosher bakery making baked goods using his flours.
For information, visit migrashfarm.com.
Joshua Rosenstein is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.