January 24, 2011
Growth spurt: More farms at Jewish buildings seeding food awareness
(Page 2 - Previous Page)
Today the land, called Pushing the Envelope Farm, is organic, and is used for a wide range of purposes. A Jewish Sunday school meets on the grounds, plots are tended by factory workers and Burmese refugees, and a Sukkot retreat was held last fall.
While impetus for establishing the gardens varies, many trace their inspiration to Hazon, the country’s largest Jewish environmental organization and a leader of what it calls the “new Jewish food movement.”
It was after attending a Hazon event in California that Rabbi Hyim Shafner of the Orthodox Congregation Bais Abraham in St. Louis, Mo., decided to start a garden on the shul’s grounds. Besides the educational potential, Shafner hoped to use the produce to feed the needy. But things didn’t quite pan out.
“It was a bad year for tomatoes,” Shafner said. “But we got a lot of other things.”
At the Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor, Mich., a small garden at the early childhood center grows horseradish for Passover, potatoes for Chanukah latkes and ornamental gourds to decorate sukkahs. Last season, the beds produced 100 pounds of vegetables.
“I was surprised how involved the teachers became and how involved the parents became,” said Noreen DeYoung, the director of early childhood programs.
Among the many benefits, organizers of the gardens invariably cite the success they have had in building bridges beyond the Jewish community. In Denver, 40 organizations have been involved in Ekar, and about half the participants have been non-Jews, according to Ilan Salzberg, who runs the farm. Ekar offers small community plots where, for a modest fee, anyone can plant vegetables of their choosing.
“I think it’s the right idea at the right time,” Salzberg said. “People love to work on something that is meaningful, that has tangible results and that connects you to the soil, connects you to the land, connects you to other people. This does all that.”
That diversity of applications is also what fired up Kostin’s imagination.
In his vision, Jessie’s Community Gardens will have elderly residents at the Jewish nursing home wheeling their chairs underneath raised plant beds, needy local families enjoying fresh produce grown on Jewish property and Jewish children learning about their own agricultural traditions. He also sees the potential for using the gardens to help families like his who are struggling with grief.
“It really resonated with us on multiple levels,” Kostin said of the garden idea. “All these kinds of things form the basis of what we’re doing.”
(JTA intern Lauren Greenberg contributed to this story.)
1 | 2