Mitzvah Corps Italy
Live on an expansive organic farming estate in the heart of Tuscany. Get hands on experience working with animals, in the garden, and cooking. Work with speciality producers, food activists, and consumers, tracing the path of food from farm to table. Visit local restaurants. Take in the bustling markets of Florence and Siena. Swim in the Mediterranean. Explore principles of sustainability, maintenance of local heritage, equality of access, and the places where public policy, nutrition, and culture intersect.
Issue Focus: Food Justice
The issue of food justice extends beyond simply feeding those who are hungry; it encompasses the fight for justice on behalf of the entirety of the food process, from fair wages for farmers to ethical treatment of animals, from the consideration of the environment to the integrity of the restaurants. The Industrial Revolution provided the Western World with the means to feed a rapidly increasing population using radically less manpower. We now live with the unintended consequence of such advances; food is processed in enormous bulk and shipped halfway around the world before finding its way to our pantries. We find ourselves disconnected from our farms and farmers, and from the story of what we eat. Mitzvah Corps' food justice program in Italy seeks to reconnect participants with the entire process of food production and eating, in the country where family-style, sit-down meals continue to be more the expectation than the exception.
Food culture is a defining part of everyday life in Italy, and Italian cuisine is a global point of reference for food lovers in every corner of the world. Small-scale artisanal production, preservation of heirloom varietals, and a true connection with natural cycles are the hallmarks of Italy’s sustainable agriculture community. World renowned for its culinary influence, Italy is also home to many proprietors who are working to subvert traditional Italian cuisine, and bringing to light both cultural challenges and potential positive environmental and public health impacts of consumer food choice.
Throughout this experience, Mitzvah Corps will gain a comprehensive understanding of the intricacies of the farming and feeding industries, and become advocates for all components of food justice.
In Partnership With: Putney Student Travel
Mitzvah Corps Italy, run in partnership with Putney Student Travel, combines Putney's extensive experience and network in Italy with Mitzvah Corps' deeply rooted Reform Jewish values and commitment to engaging participants in meaningful, relevant Jewish experiences.
Mitzvah Corps is committed to providing sustainable support; all of the direct service projects are initiated by local community members, and relevant context is thoroughly discussed. While specific projects vary, as we work in response to the evolving needs of the community, they typically include:
- Participating in various projects on the farm with animals, in the garden, and in the kitchen
- Learning about sustainable fishing practices from families that have been working the Mediterranean waters for generations
- Leading an on-farm education project for local youth
- Engaging with gleaners to create a wider-reaching network to contribute to local food banks
Mitzvah Corps Italy participants will be living on a certified organic farm in the heart of Tuscany, surrounded by goats, chickens, olive groves, and vegetable gardens. They will be able to take advantage of both the beautiful countryside, and close proximity to Florence, Siena, and the Mediterranean Sea.
There is plenty of opportunity to engage with locals and learn some Italian:
- Interview Italians of different socioeconomic status to assess public opinion about the recent ruling the stealing food isn't a crime if the person is hungry
- Speak with farmers about pressures they face to industrialize and how producers have organized to promote food sovereignty
- Meet with local leaders to unpack the mission of the Slow Food movement in contrast with the kilometer-zero movement
- Hear from restauranteurs and grocers about the impact of new laws making it easier to donate food
- Get a sense of Italian regional food variation and the impacts of food tourism
Additionally, each teen has the opportunity to engage in a personal project to better understand an Italy-specific food topic of their choosing, and to plan, prepare, and plate a four-course final feast to raise awareness about local issues related to food justice.
When not engaging in direct service to support food justice efforts, or relaxing around their Tuscan farming estate, the group will have the opportunity to get a taste of Italian life. Typical activities include:
- Visit local restaurants in Tuscan hill towns like Sorano and Colle di Val d'Elsa
- Take a cooking class
- Explore the markets and food scenes in Florence and Siena
- Sample local pesto and focaccia in the Cinque Terre
- Swim in the Mediterranean
- Make pizza in a traditional wood fired oven
Day 1 - Travel to Italy
The program will commence at one of the airports in New York. Prior to departure, the staff will guide the participants in a series of introductory programs, including getting to know one another, providing relevant background information about Italy, and setting expectations for the next few weeks. Then the group will fly together from New York to Italy. They'll spend nearly a full day in transit, and our partners in Italy will be excited for their arrival!
Days 2-9 - Living on an Organic Farm
The group will settle into the program's base, an organic farm in the heart of Tuscany, and get to know the other inhabitants - goats, chickens, olive groves, and vegetable farms. They'll also continue getting to know one another, and begin to discuss the topics in food justice that will drive their time in Italy.
Days will include:
- Hands-on, farm-based rotations working with animals, in the garden, and cooking
- Workshops with specialty producers, food activists, and consumers
- Engaging in numerous direct service projects
- Learning from local leaders about new laws and movements related to food justice
- Visiting local restaurants and sampling various Italian cuisine
- Meeting Italians from various industries and socioeconomic statuses
Days 10-14 - Exploring Florence & Tuscany
The group continues on to Florence, the capital of Tuscany, to explore the city's markets, restaurants, and incredible history. Participants will have the opportunity to take day trips into the towns and specialty farms dotting the surrounding countryside and the coastal villages of Cinque Terre, explore the consumer side of the local food scene, take formal cooking classes, and see how issues of food justice play out in the city.
Days 15-20 - Final Feast on the Farm
At the end of the program, participants will plan, publicize, prepare, and plate a four-course final feast that raises awareness about local issues related to food justice. Inviting local friends and community members to share in the bounty, they'll create a meal using only food destined to be wasted, or design one focused on foods that are the least energy-intensive.
Day 21 - Return to the United States
The group will fly together back from Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport in Rome, to one of the New York City area airports.
Each Mitzvah Corps international program commences at a U.S. gateway airport. Participants are responsible for their transportation to the gateway city, where they will be greeted by their Mitzvah Corps staff. The entire group will travel together from the gateway airport to their international destination, and return together upon conclusion of the program.
Domestic Travel to New York City
Mitzvah Corps Italy will commence at one of the New York City area airports (Newark, LaGuardia, or JFK).
Participants are responsible for their own transportation from their home to the airport. Travel parameters are provided upon registration; once confirmed, participants will submit their domestic travel plans to Mitzvah Corps.
The cost of domestic travel is not included in tuition, nor does Mitzvah Corps make arrangements for any domestic travel.
Domestic carriers have varying regulations regarding unaccompanied minors (read specific policies and fees of major domestic carriers Southwest, United, Delta, American, and JetBlue). Please refer to the protocol of the chosen airline, and notify Mitzvah Corps in advance of the program so that we can provide the contact information for the staff member who will greet the teen upon their arrival, and coordinate a smooth travel experience.
International Travel to Italy
Participants and staff on Mitzvah Corps Italy will depart together from a New York City airport, and return to the same airport when the program concludes. All participants must travel with the group.
The cost of this round-trip airfare is estimated to be about $1,600 and is not included in the program tuition.
Mitzvah Corps handles booking and purchasing seats for each participant on the group flight. When the seat is ticketed in the spring and the cost is finalized, that charge will be added to your Mitzvah Corps bill, and you will be required to pay it in full by April 1st.
If you have access to points or miles that you'd prefer to use instead of dollars, and there is reward availability on the group flight, that method of booking may be available. Please contact us to discuss this option.
Obtaining a Tourist Visa
United States citizens are not currently required to have a visa to enter Italy.
Non-U.S. citizens must check local visa requirements, including requirements for countries passed through in transit.
Global Traveler's Insurance
Traveler's insurance is included in Mitzvah Corps tuition; policy details are available upon request.
Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions about international travel!
What are the housing accommodations like?
Group accommodations are carefully selected to emphasize convenience, a positive group environment, and wholesome interaction with local people and fellow travelers. Throughout the program, participants stay in double and triple rooms in restored, centuries-old farm buildings, small hostels, and simple, comfortable villas. Rooms are separated by self-identified gender. Participants have access to common space as well as ample outside space at our accommodations for community meetings, pick-up games of frisbee, etc. Staff reside in the same residence as participants throughout the program.
What are the physical requirements for participation on this program?
Mitzvah Corps Italy requires light to moderate physical activity (extensive walking, digging, harvesting, working with animals, etc). While, as with all Mitzvah Corps programs, participants are expected to be independent and not require consistent one-on-one care, this program does not have any specific physical requirements. However currently, due to the accessibility limitations of the small villages we visit and live in, this program is not ADA compliant. Mitzvah Corps offers wheelchair accessibility on our Civil Rights Journey, as well as in Chicago, New Orleans and the Pacific Northwest.
Will participants receive documentation of community service?
Yes! Mitzvah Corps awards 80 hours of community service for participants on the Italy program. Please note that this number is inclusive of all social justice community engagement; participants who are looking to document specific, traditional direct service hours should contact Mitzvah Corps in advance with any questions.
What kind of clothing should participants pack?
Mitzvah Corps Italy participants should pack casual, comfortable clothes, including outfits that can be worn and dirtied while working on labor intensive projects. Closed-toed shoes and hats are a must.
The Tuscan sun beats down strongest in July, with an average daytime temperature in the high 80s with humidity, cooling to the mid 60s at night. We’ll vary our work schedule to avoid strenuous activity during the hottest parts of the day. Skies are most often clear and cloudless, though recent summer droughts have Italian farmers hoping for the return of occasional summer rains.
What is NOT included in the program tuition?
International airfare from New York to and from Italy (approximately $1,600) is not included in program tuition. However, families do not need to take any action to secure international airfare. These flights are obtained by Mitzvah Corps on behalf of all participants, and the charges are added to each family's bill in the spring.
If non-U.S. citizens require a visa for entry into Italy, the cost of the visa is not included in program tuition. U.S. citizens do not require a visa for entry.
Do teens need spending money? Will there be a chance to exchange currency?
All necessary expenses (meals, housing, transportation, etc) are covered by Mitzvah Corps tuition. However, some families may choose to send their teen with extra money in order to purchase snacks, souvenirs, or gifts. The amount varies depending upon each family's budget, but typically $30-$40 per week is sufficient.
There will be opportunities to exchange dollars to euros upon arrival in Italy, and numerous opportunities to withdraw local currency using a debit card throughout the program.
How will laundry get done?
There will be opportunities for participants to wash and hang-dry clothing. Quick-drying fabrics are encouraged for convenience.
How will teens get to and from Italy?
The program will commence in a New York City area airport. From there, the group will fly together with their staff to Italy. The cost of the international airfare is not included in tuition; however, Mitzvah Corps makes arrangements on behalf of the participants and passes the true cost on to the families. Please visit our "Travel" tab for more detailed information.
How does Mitzvah Corps handle teens who become ill or injured?
The participants’ health and safety is our primary concern during the summer. In all instances where the health of a teen is in question, parents/guardians will be contacted.
The Mitzvah Corps staff are First Aid/AED and CPR certified, and will carry a variety of supplies and over-the-counter medications at all times; parents/guardians have the option to give permission for the staff to administer these medications while completing the health history forms.
If a teen needs medical attention beyond what can be provided by the staff, or there in event of an emergency, the group always has access to quality professional care.
How do meals work?
Italian cuisine is characterized by its simplicity and regional variation. Typical meals include pastas, rice dishes, stews, cheeses, fish, cured meats, soups, and salads. The group will prepare many of their meals at the organic farm for the bulk of the program, and others will be taken in restaurants. They'll also put together healthy picnics full of fresh fruits and vegetables. Throughout the program, vegetarian and vegan food is readily available.
Are there any additional vaccinations required to travel to Italy?
Please visit the Centers for Disease Control website and consult your doctor for more information about vaccinations that may be applicable for travel to Italy.
Additionally, the Union for Reform Judaism requires that all camp and travel program participants, staff and faculty must be immunized. Medical exemptions are granted in rare cases; please contact us regarding any potential exemptions prior to registration. For more information, please refer to the URJ Policy Statement on Vaccine Status.
Is it necessary to purchase a special visa or traveler's insurance?
United States citizens are not currently required to have a visa to enter Italy. Non-U.S. citizens must check local visa requirements, including requirements for countries passed through in transit.
Traveler's insurance is included in Mitzvah Corps tuition; policy details are available upon request.