Building a community of Jewish Educational gardens

On Nov. 3rd, 2013 a handful of local Jewish Educational gardeners came together to start building community and learning from each DSC02971other. As our gardens are mostly put to bed for the season, we gathered to reflect, celebrate and bring closure to our New England agricultural season.

This is the first gathering of this type in the Boston area that we know of and Ganei Beantown was honored to facilitate. We had robust conversation around engaging families, as well as what to do in the gardens during the summer months when less people are around. During our “ask the farmer” session, questions ranged from powdery mildew to the best New England carrot to grow. Art Newman, of Temple Israel of Sharon, coordinates a gleaning project at a local farm as a way to build interest in their local synagogue garden. They helped harvest at Sharon’s Moose Hill CSA organic farm in exchange for gleaning fresh produce for local food banks.

I especially enjoyed the camaraderie, and loved hearing the passion and creativity of my peers. Leann Shamash, the Education Director at Congregation Beth Elohim in Acton reflected, “I was inspired to sit with people who love and appreciate our connection with the land and would love to meet again at some point.”

We also considered the upcoming winter season as a time to reflect on produce and programming, as well as build momentum for next year’s growing season. We talked about Chanukah and Tu Bishevat, and ways to make their celebration meaningful and relevant in 5774. Tu Bishvat is a biblical New Year used as the “birthday” for determining the age of fruit trees as they relate to tithing expectations. How do we as gardeners reclaim relevance to this holiday in the midst of a New England winter? When we look at the origins, we see expectations of reverence for Hashem as well as communal responsibility. How do we build these values into our local Jewish communal structures? Leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments.

Hosted at Temple Israel of Boston, representatives from Temple Israel of Boston; Temple Israel of Sharon; Temple Shalom of Salem; Temple B’nai Abraham of Beverly; Temple Beth Zion; Temple Shalom in Newton; Congregation Beth Elohim of Acton; Congregation Shirat Hayam of the North Shore; FJECC are all engaging in sharing success and struggles and resources and experiences. What an impressive line-up! Tom Cheatham of Temple Shalom in Salem summed up his experience in saying “I believe Jewish gardens are a hook that help create communities with a common purpose.”

Thanks to a Hazon NY Ride mini-grant and a Venture Grant from CJP’s PresenTense Boston Fellowship for investing in this community building. As our community of Jewish educational gardeners grows, and we engage more people in a vision of feeding the world in a just and sustainable manner, we invite you to join us.