It seems an unlikely place to find in Kent’s greenbelt, but Europe’s first kosher ecohotel is putting itself on the map with a mix of kibbutz-like vibe, Jewish values and environmental evangelism.
Sadeh Farmhouse (sadeh means field in Hebrew), in a 17th-century manor house just inside the M25 near Orpington, opened recently after major refurbishment transformed it from a residential activity centre for city schoolchildren to a rural ecoretreat for families.
Dormitory bedrooms have become family suites above a restaurant, music room and lounge. Beyond the house, in grounds of almost three hectares, there is an indoor pool, tennis courts, zipwire, children’s playground, chicken coop and vegetable garden.
The meat-free kosher restaurant serves the kind of food you find in Israel and neighbouring countries: baked aubergines, roasted vegetables, salads, pickles, hummus, tahini, flatbreads. An on-site microbrewery produces beer, cider and elderflower wine.
Talia Chain, Sadeh’s 32-year-old chief executive, was inspired to create a Jewish community farm after visiting a similar enterprise in the US. There she learned about the climate crisis and the religious imperative to take care of the planet. She returned from her trip “desperate to live and work on a Jewish farm, but there weren’t any in the UK”.
A perfect candidate was Skeet Hill House, which had been bought by the Jewish Youth Fund in the 1940s to provide respite for deprived children from London’s East End. Chain took over running the centre, but then the pandemic put an end to school visits. Driven by her determination to champion “the cause of our generation”, she proposed an ecohotel on the site.
With pre-Raphaelite curls, nose ring and maxidress trailing through mud on a wet June day, Chain looks like a hippy kibbutznik. But she resists the analogy. “I can see why people might compare Sadeh to a kibbutz. But we are similar to other land-based community movements, not specifically kibbutzim. And we are here in Britain, not in Israel; this is our country.”
Her Judaism is a “huge part of who I am and how I relate to the world. Judaism is at my core, and I can’t imagine living in a community that didn’t have Judaism at its core”, she said.
The Jewish principle of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, is at the heart of Sadeh’s mission. Its duvets, pillows, curtains and carpets are made from recycled materials; it uses environment-friendly cleaning materials; what little food waste there is gets composted or fed to the rescue chickens.
Sadeh runs a fellowship programme, hosting up to five people at a time to work on the land and study good environmental practice, alongside the guesthouse. It welcomes Jews of all traditions and non-Jewish visitors.
British Jews have become more environmentally conscious, Chain says. “When I came back from the US in 2014, [the climate crisis] just wasn’t part of the discourse. People looked at me like I was crazy. But the world has woken up, and so has the Jewish community.”
Evidence of that was the presence of Ephraim Mirvis, the chief rabbi, at Sadeh’s formal opening on 28 June. The centre was “an inspiration” to the Jewish community, he said.
“We are late in terms of our reaction to the environmental crisis,” he added. “The challenge for all of us is to move from talking about climate change to actually doing something about it, which is exactly what Talia and Naomi [Verber, Sadeh’s head of hospitality] have done with their passion and motivation.”
• Family rooms at Sadeh Farmhouse start at £80 a night, sadehfarm.co.uk