Faith-based Urban Farm Opens in Berkeley

by Sarah Henry on June 21, 2011 · 28 comments

in bay citizen,berkeley bites,civil eats,community gardens,food security,growing greens,urban farming

Families enjoying the activities at the Urban Adamah Grand Opening and Farm Festival. Photos: Sarah Henry

Sunday marked the grand opening of Urban Adamah, the first faith-based, modern urban farm in West Berkeley, at 1050 Parker Street near San Pablo Avenue, opposite Fantasy Studios. The one-acre farm with Jewish roots offers a residential fellowship program for young adults, summer camps for kids and teens, and plans to help feed the needy in the community.

On an uncharacteristically warm June day, several hundred people, including many families with young children, turned out to tour the farm, meet chickens, bake pizzas, pickle cucumbers, make ice cream, and whip up bicycle smoothies — as well as learn a little about the philosophy behind the farm, currently boasting greens, squashes, tomatoes, and other summer crops.

Local urban farming icon Novella Carpenter welcomed the newbies to the neighborhood, along with Assemblymember Nancy Skinner and Councilmember Darryl Moore.  Fellow West Berkeley urban farmer Jim Montgomery, who walked his goats over to say hello, was a big hit with the younger set.

“The more urban farms we have in this area to help fill a gap in accessibility and availability to fresh, healthy produce the better,” said Skinner, who grows her own backyard bounty in walking distance of Urban Adamah. Skinner has done so since the 1970s when she lived in The Integral Urban House, a pioneering collective residing in a converted Victorian home that grew its own food and recycled gray water long before the current batch of urban homesteaders took up city farming. ” We need to demonstrate to people that we can grow food anywhere and people need to see where there food comes from.”

Urban Adamah is the brainchild of UC Berkeley graduate Adam Berman, who explained the name thus: “Adamah means earth in Hebrew and also shares the same root word as the word adam which means human. The word connotes the connection between the earth and earthlings. We like that.”

The farm marries Berman’s interest in social justice issues like hunger and food security, with environmental stewardship and spirituality. His own religious practice combines progressive Judaism with Buddhist teachings.

Urban Adamah executive director Adam Berman. Photo: Christina Diaz

Berman spent seven years as the head of the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut, where the seeds for the farm’s fellowship program, known as the Jewish Sustainability Corps., were first sewn. But the 40-year-old, who now lives in North Berkeley with his wife, said he always knew he’d bring the idea back to the Bay Area, where the interest in sustainable food and social justice made it the right fit for the pilot project. “Berkeley feels like home for me,” he said.

Urban Adamah offers a three-month in-house leadership training program three times a year for young adults that integrates urban organic farming, social justice community service, and progressive Jewish practice.

Currently, a dozen fellows, who represent a range of Jewish beliefs, live in a rented house near the farm. The intensive curriculum, in a kibbutz-like setting, is designed to equip fellows with tools to become agents of positive change in their communities, said Berman. As part of the program each intern volunteers at food security organizations in the area, including The Ecology Center’s Farm Fresh Choice, Cooking Matters (formerly Operation Frontline), City Slicker Farms, and People’s Grocery.

Berman said that the Jewish tradition’s core values of ahava (love), chessed (compassion) and tzedek (justice) inform all the activities on the farm, which, he added, seek to strengthen young people’s bodies, minds, hearts, and souls. Urban Adamah also practices age-old Jewish customs such as Bal Taschit (do not waste), Shmita (letting the land rest), Peah (leaving the corners of the field for the poor), and Tzaar Baalei Chayim (preventing cruelty to animals), all carried out amid the environmental and social realities of a 21st Century urban farm.

Most of the farm’s harvest is intended for local food banks and homeless kitchens; Berman hopes the plots produce about 8,000 pounds of edibles this year. In the near future he plans to approach restaurants in the immediate area for food scraps to feed the farm’s chickens and add to the soil.

The annual budget for the farm is around $360,000. Public programs are slated to bring in about $15,000 a year and fellows pay $1,200 each to attend the leadership training, but Berman still needs to raise significant funds to keep the nonprofit farm afloat. To date, core support has come from The Dorot Foundation, Walter and Elise Haas Fund, Nathan Cummings Foundation, Repair the World, Saal Family Foundation and UpStart Bay Area.

Summer crops at Urban Adamah in West Berkeley: Photo: Christina Diaz

Berman got one lucky break: land owner Wareham Development agreed to host the farm rent-free for two years on the previously vacant lot. Hence the mobile feel to the farm: all crops are grown in above-ground pallet boxes, the chicken coops are on wheels, classes are held in tents and the greenhouses can be moved too, should a relocation prove necessary when the current lease is up.

Despite its transitory nature, Berman sees his program putting down roots. “I hope that Urban Adamah becomes a national model for engaging Jewish young adults in environmental sustainability and urban community renewal,” he said. “The program is highly replicable. There could be an Urban Adamah site in a half dozen cities across the country within the next ten years.”

Monday marked the first day of summer camp at the farm. On Wednesday evening Urban Adamah will kick off a series of movie nights with the funny and informative food documentary Food Stamped, shot locally by a couple who attempted to eat healthily on food stamps alone. Read a review on Lettuce Eat Kale. An optional farm tour starts at 6:30 p.m.; the screening begins at 7:00 p.m.

This post originally appeared on Berkeleyside, was republished on The Bay Citizen and Civil Eats and featured on Food News Journal. Find more of Christina Diaz’s images here.

You might also like:

Urban Farmer Willow Rosenthal Plants Seeds in Berkeley
Joy Moore Community Food Reformer
Garden Teacher Kim Allen Offers Youth Space to Grow
Urban Farmer Jim Montgomery of Green Faerie Farm
Adventures of an Urban Farm Gal
The Urban Homestead: An Old Idea is New Again
Operation Frontline: Teaching the Needy to Cook


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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Living Large June 21, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Urban farms are so important. Fresh fruits and veggies are more expensive than processed foods and urban farms not only give children a chance to see where food originates, but it makes it accessible as well.


Sarah Henry June 21, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Agreed, Living Large. My son and his peers have grown up plucking kale, sour sorrel, and amaranth out of their school gardens. They’ve come to see urban community garden plots, like the one just down the street from us, as a normal part of city life. Every child should have such opportunities.


merr June 21, 2011 at 1:20 pm

So interesting the intention behind work, and also behind food – and eating. Enjoyed discovering this post.


Sarah Henry June 22, 2011 at 9:42 am

Yes, merr, a lot of thought has gone into getting this project off the ground (or, in this case, into the ground.)


ruth pennebaker June 21, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Agree with Living Large — these city farms are exactly the kind of diversity our cities need.


Sarah Henry June 21, 2011 at 2:11 pm

And it looks like this one is being embraced by the neighbors too, Ruth.


Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart June 21, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Very cool. Loved seeing the goat too.

My own garden is just seedlings right now (very late planting due to late snow), but I’m looking forward to our first harvest … at some point.


Sarah Henry June 22, 2011 at 7:20 am

Seems like the harvest is late in many parts of the country, Roxanne, due to weather. I didn’t even try tomatoes this year — we had torrential rain in early June!


Sheryl June 22, 2011 at 5:00 am

Such a great thing for kids to be around, and learn about, how to grow foods. I think it is important not only from a health perspective but a social one as well.


Sarah Henry June 22, 2011 at 7:22 am

Good point, Sheryl. Kids learn so much about many aspects of life from tending and harvesting their own food.


Kerry Dexter June 22, 2011 at 11:39 am

I enjoyed reading about this project and the intentionality behind it, Sarah, thanks. I’d hope at some point they’ll consider extending their internship and leadership training to older adults, as well. With so many people seeking meaningful ways to make changes in their lives at all ages, I think that would be just as beneficial a way for them to extend their mission as training younger leaders is.


Sarah Henry June 22, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Great idea, Kerry, and one I’m sure the founders of the farm would consider. Like any non-profit start-up, they’re taking small steps on the program front so they can grow something sustainable for the future.


cheryl June 22, 2011 at 1:23 pm

What a unique twist on the typical urban farm. I applaud Berman for what he’s doing and you, always, for spreading awareness. One question, though: what on earth is a “bicycle smoothie”??


Sarah Henry June 22, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Ha! Perhaps I should have more accurately written “a bicycle-powered blender that makes smoothies” (see collage image for explanation). Most kids in Berkeley are pretty familiar with this contraption: They peddle hard and are greeted with a delicious drink, the fruits of their labor, as it were.


Jennifer Margulis June 23, 2011 at 9:39 am

Jewish farming has a long tradition. This is inspiring!


Sarah Henry June 27, 2011 at 10:14 am

Agreed on both counts, Jennifer.


Jane Boursaw June 25, 2011 at 12:01 pm

What a great program and a gorgeous farm.


Sarah Henry June 27, 2011 at 10:15 am

It’s amazing what they’ve been able to do in such a short time, in a portable way, and with limited resources.


Kris @ Attainable Sustainable June 27, 2011 at 11:50 am

Wouldn’t it be great if every religious community would embrace the idea of teaching their followers about good food?


Sarah Henry July 6, 2011 at 11:50 am

Indeed, Kris. Maybe the idea will grow roots in the religious community.


MyKidsEatSquid June 27, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Look at all those smiling kids–what a great program. I hope it can make it. Does he plan to raise all the operating funds from donations or would he possibly sell some of the farm’s yield (beyond of course the income from fellowships)?


Sarah Henry July 6, 2011 at 11:52 am

Adam Berman is committed to giving away the farm’s harvest, as it fits with the overall philosophy of its teaching and spiritual underpinnings. It just takes one or two large foundations or individual donations to help get the ball rolling. I hope such sources of financial security emerge soon.


Donna Hull June 30, 2011 at 6:49 am

What a wonderful program. It’s great to see urban farm programs of this type sprouting up. I hope there will be more of them in other cities.


Sarah Henry July 6, 2011 at 11:53 am

Urban Adamah will likely be watched closely by other faith-based and secular communities, with an eye to replicating what works in their own areas.


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