Jewish farm brings spirit to the art of cultivation
“We made challah in a solar panel oven,” said one enthusiastic third-grader who visited Urban Adamah.
by Paul Epstein on November 10, 2011
Students are getting their hands dirty at Urban Adamah farm in Berkeley.
Photo (c) Edwin Bernbaum
Urban Adamah is a one-acre farm and Jewish environmental education center that recently opened in West Berkeley, just a stone’s throw from Interstate 80. Named for the Hebrew word for “earth,” Urban Adamah provides local food banks and community organizations with fresh produce while accommodating 500 visitors a month.
The farm approaches agriculture from the standpoint of spirituality, environmental stewardship and social justice, said Adam Berman, Executive Director of Urban Adamah.
“Our hope is that people walk away with a visceral understanding of where their food comes from and the elements that conspire to produce it,” he said.
Urban Adamah offers programs for all ages and religious backgrounds, delivering lectures and workshops on topics such as “Introduction to Backyard Chickens” and “Palette Bed Building” to people interested in the promise of urban farming.
Third-grader Eli Bamberger, who attended summer camp this year, learned not only how to make challah in a solar powered oven but also how to clean a chicken house, where he handled the squawking and reluctant birds. “I was the only one brave enough to do it bare-handed,” he said.
Urban Adamah consults with local Jewish schools to brainstorm and develop Jewish environmental education curriculum. Through one such partnership, Urban Adamah works with four Midrashot, weekly Jewish schools for high school students. The result has been an elective on Judaism and Urban Agriculture; twice a semester students from the campuses visit the farm to get their hands dirty and practice Tikkun Olam, Hebrew for “repairing the world.”
“When Urban Adamah was created, we were delighted to have it in our community, teaching about the connection between Judaism and ecology,” said Diane Bernbaum, director of a Jewish high school called Midrasha in Berkeley. “To have a nearby hands-on lab where kids could learn the importance of food justice and Biblical agricultural principles, and the connections between them, was significant to us.”
The Midrashot students have made pickles and concocted bees wax lip balm to tie-in with the Jewish value of Shmirat HaGuf, or caring for the body. Recently, a group of students harvested basil from the herb garden and made it into pesto using a bike-powered blender.
“ Everyone who tasted it agreed that it was surely the best pesto ever to have been made in the entire world,” said Suzie Rose, a teacher at Oakland Midrasha.
The curriculum also aims to educate students about the problems posed by conventional agriculture and how sustainable urban agriculture can be a solution.
“We are interested in helping to reprogram and re-orient Jewish teens and the community,” said Day Schildkret, a teacher at Midrasha in Berkeley and director of another Midrasha in Pleasanton. “How can we live in a sustainable environment, not separate from nature, but as a touchstone, congruent with nature?”
Rebecca Herman, a senior at Midrasha in Berkeley, was impressed by her recent visit to the farm.
“It was really funny and strange to see half a block devoted to a farm in the middle of Berkeley,” she said. “It kind of opened your mind to possibilities that you had automatically ruled out for no reason.”
Learn more about the farm and its programs at urbanadamah.org.