Jewish Farming in San Francisco
By Sara Bloch
Back in September 2015 I went to San Francisco for three months to take part in the Adamah Fellowship: a programme which combines sustainable agriculture, Jewish tradition, mindfulness, and social justice. The program centres around a Jewish community farm in Berkeley, California in what was previously a disused warehouse. Fellows, staff and volunteers work together to grow a range of crops which are harvested and offered to the local community free of charge in a weekly farmers market. Urban Adamah is not only a functional organic farm where they actively contribute to increased food security in the local area, it is also a thriving educational and community space where they hold summer camps, family activities, dance parties, urban agriculture workshops, and services for Shabbat and chaggim. As a fellow I got to be part of all aspects of farm life from milking goats, to facilitating pickling workshops for children.
We lived as a group of twelve in a co-operative house. We cooked meals for each other, divided up house and farms chores, and made household decisions as a collective. Our days comprised of farming, creative services, workshops – both discussion and practical based. When were weren’t farming we were given the opportunity to take part in a huge range of enrichment classes and debate on topics such as; privilege and oppression, medicinal herbs, and lip balm making, to name just a few. Even though our days were jam packed physically, the program allowed me the headspace to ask myself ‘big picture’ questions with a philosophical resonance. We were challenged to look into what makes us feel loved, what do we get most joy from, and what is our sense of who we are and what do we want to be in the world? I did not to come out of the program having figured out answers to these questions as I feel they are ever changing and evolving. However having these questions thrown at me at a time when I had space to think about them has allowed me to make informed choices about my career and lifestyle which are aligned with my values.
Since leaving the US I have found a community where I get the best of both worlds. Much like in Berkley where we could dip in and out of farm and city living, when I returned to London I found a similar combination of urban and rural – an enigmatic green community space in Kings Cross. I have been working at the Skip Garden in a youth charity where they give young people from varied backgrounds, hands on opportunities to engage with the natural world. Their aim is the young people will begin a journey of self-development, confidence, and appreciation for our planet by planting, cooking, and camping in the countryside.
I have started my own pickle business also – ‘Bloch’s Pickles’ where I sell homemade seasonal pickled vegetables to my local community. I really enjoy reclaiming preservation techniques that we have neglected and which we instead outsource to factories. I use the pickles as a tool to bring community together and discuss the importance of sustainability to our environment. I am also the Marom Young Adults Community Organiser and I hope to bring the creativity and vibrancy of the Urban Adamah to the work that I do with the Marom community.
During my time spent in sunny California I was given an insight into the earth based approach to Judaism which has taken off with great success in the US. Urban Adamah, along with other US based programs such as Wilderness Torah and Hazon, offer an approach to Judaism that puts nature and sustainability at their heart. Even though nature as a stimulus for spiritual engagement is not new to Judaism, I had little experience of this kind of Jewish spirituality prior to the Urban Adamah Fellowship. This combination allowed me to access my Jewish practice in a way that I had previously struggled to find in the confines of the synagogue. I found that working with the land was a physical way with which I could connect with my Judaism. In one of our classes on the farm I was surprised to learn that one sixth of all Jewish law is about farming. Through sowing seeds, harvesting vegetables and feeding chickens I felt deeply rooted in my Jewish heritage. I understood that by being part of this farming community we were giving our Jewish agricultural traditions a new vitality. Upon my return from the US I have been working with a group of UK based Adamah Alumni, led by Talia Chain, to start a similar program in England called Sadeh based in Skeet Hill House. We are aiming to bring a Jewish farm and community centre with programming for all ages to the Anglo Jewish community. Our fundraising campaign will start in October.
I will leave you with the mantra that our group started our days on the farm with. ‘May wisdom shine through me, may love glow in me, may strength uplift me, that in me may arise, a helper of humankind, a partner in holy things, mindful and true. Blessings on our work and each other.’
To find out more about Bloch’s Pickles, place and order, and read my monthly blog ‘Notes from the Picklearium’ check out my website, www.blochspickles.com.
Sara Bloch is this year’s Marom Young Adults Community Organiser.