NORTHAMPTON – When synagogue members, Hebrew school students, teachers and neighbors join forces next month to wield shovels and hoes at Congregation B’nai Israel’s newly reenvisioned garden, they will actualize ethics as ancient as those embedded in biblical laws, and as modern as today’s movement toward locally sourced food.
Abundance Farm, an innovative collaboration amongst CBI, the Lander Grinspoon Academy, and the Northampton Survival Center – all of which ring the same parking lot – will soon be a focal point for the promotion of greater food justice in the Pioneer Valley.
The one-acre parcel of land, which has been used as a congregational garden for three years, will evolve into an urban oasis, intended to draw people of all faiths and ages for sustenance, kinship, and learning. Abundance Farm will be officially launched under its new name at a work party on Sunday, May 18, coincidentally this year’s date of Lag B’Omer, a festive agrarian holiday.
According to Rabbi Jacob Fine, CBI’s Director of Jewish Life and newly-named director of Abundance Farm, the project has three objectives.
Rabbi Jacob (as he likes to be called) is enthused about the possibilities of this venture; he sees the concept of stewardship as a central ethic of Judaism. “It’s really a profound social practice that speaks to the idea that no one person owns the land,” he says. “We usually associate that kind of ethic with Native Americans. But being stewards of the land is a core piece of Torah theology.” He calls Western Mass. “an epicenter for small organic farming” and envisions the new farm becoming a vehicle of deeper engagement with the Jewish community, for those who aren’t strongly drawn to ritual observances.
“There’s definitely a buzz about this in the community,” he says.
CBI and the Lander Grinspoon Academy are forging exciting new bonds through their collaboration on the project. LGA has developed a sixth-grade environmental education curriculum, which will have both a textual component (studying Jewish agricultural laws and social justice ethics) and a hands-on one. Students have been working on a legacy project, researching the fruits and berries that they will plant this season. (The Survival Center’s food pantry has reported a dearth of berries in the fruit supplies they receive; students are hoping to address this in their planting strategy.)
The plan for the expanded garden is ambitious; spaces have been allotted for growing, gathering, cooking, celebrating, learning and contemplating.
Much of the farm will be enclosed with a new wooden fence (mainly to keep out deer), but the corner that abuts Prospect St. will extend beyond the enclosed area and will be open to the public for harvesting grapes, perennial fruits and nuts. This open area is meant to heed the Biblical exhortation that farmers leave a corner of their fields unharvested, so that “the owner does not do the gleaning to give it to the poor and needy, he only makes it available for them and they come and glean it for themselves” (Deuteronomy 24:19-22).
A fundraising campaign called “100 Bowls of Abundance” is already in the works; its goal is to raise $10,000 by receiving 100 donations of $100 each. All contributors at this level will receive a richly decorated, handmade earthenware bowl, crafted from local clay by noted Judaica potter Emmett Leader. It was Leader who spearheaded the original CBI garden; he has also crafted whimsical tzedakah boxes for both CBI and LGA, and stunning 3-dimensional ceramic wall installations for the CBI and River Valley Market Food Coop entryways.
A groundbreaking celebration for Abundance Farm will be held on May 18, and all are welcome. Morning work projects will include building garden beds and planting fruit trees. In the afternoon the community will come together to herald the emergence of the new farm and to celebrate the joyous festival of Lag b’Omer.
For more information, visit abundancefarm.org or call (413) 584-3593, ext. 203.
Judy Polan (www.judypolan.com; madformodblog.com) is a freelance arts and culture writer.