Escape the City at Berkeley’s Urban Adamah Farm
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to visit Urban Adamah, a sustainable farm in Berkeley, California founded by Adam Berman in 2010. It’s a green space in the midst of a city — a haven of lush, green plants, bleating goats, buzzing bees, clucking chickens, and the warm, earthy smell of soil and straw. Although organic and sustainability aren’t unique words in a place like Berkeley, Urban Adamah still manages to bring something decidedly fresh to the community by integrating Jewish traditions.
“There are a lot of different ways that people can experience the Jewish content here,” explained Ariela Ronay-Jinich, the Senior Farm Educator and Hebrew School Director, as she walked me around. “The Torah is full of connections to nature because that’s what everything was before modern life and industrialization. It’s not very hard to reach into the tradition and find something that gives you a way to connect.”
One of those traditions is the adherence to the Jewish law of pe’ah which means “corner” in Hebrew. Every Wednesday Urban Adamah operates a free farm stand for people who otherwise don’t have access to organic produce. About 70 to 90 people visit every week to pick up fresh veggies that were still growing that morning, as well as bread, eggs, milk, and hot food donated by other local business. While the free farm stand is incredibly popular with the community, many people may not realize the reason why Urban Adamah gives away its food.
The answer lies in the Torah’s agricultural and social justice laws. Jews are required to make grain and produce that were left or forgotten during the harvest available to the poor. The corners of the fields — pe’ah — are also designated for the poor. The source of these laws comes from Leviticus 19:9-10:
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner.
“We kind of took this to the max,” said Ronay-Jinich. “We didn’t just leave our corner unreaped; we harvest all of it and we donate all the corners. It’s one way that we’re taking an ancient tradition and using it in a contemporary context.”
Another way Urban Adamah interprets ancient Jewish traditions is through its reuse principles. The commandment of Bal Tashchit — do not destroy or waste — has long been considered central to a Jewish environmental ethic. And like Urban Adamah’s adherence to the concept of pe’ah, they follow Bal Tashchit to the max.
Everything at the farm, besides the solar panels and the soil, has been reclaimed from the urban waste stream. The planter boxes and some tables all come from pallet beds from the port of Oakland because they don’t reuse them. They were able to build their aquaponics system and greenhouses from discarded materials. Even the site of the farm itself can be considered a reuse of wasted space. Berman convinced a nearby commercial landowner to let him lease their undeveloped lot as a temporary site for Urban Adamah.
“This is concrete,” Ronay-Jinich reminded me pointing to the surrounding parking lot and ground. “You can turn concrete into a farm. It’s not so hard.”
It is easy to forget the surrounding city as you walk past the jungle of towering sunflowers and peek behind a tree to discover a robin’s nest. Watching the people on the farm interact directly with plants and animals and soil just seems, well, natural. Even the compost system with its poop and worms, inspires curiosity instead of disgust.
“There are so many things in our society that we have made into yuck and being on a farm just reintegrates all those things into life,” said Ronay-Jinich.
Urban Adamah is an escape from our modern, city lives — a place where you can look at life through new eyes. Whether its just walking around and experiencing the farm, or feeling a deeper connection between Jewish tradition and nature, it’s a hard place to forget. If you’re in the Berkeley area, stop by to pick up some produce and experience the farm yourself. Their doors are always open to the curious.
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