By Persephone Rivka and Sophie Vener
In permaculture, Bill Mollison advises all gardeners and farmers to live in a tent on their land for a year before they start their design for one reason: observation. When immersed in a place, one can best observe important elements such as the amount of rainfall, where the water flows, the minimum and maximum temperatures, how the plants, animals, and humans interact on the site, the wind direction, sun-path and shading, micro-climates and the general topography, the resources on hand, the skills and knowledge of the people present, the physical and fiscal boundaries, and the history of the land.
So I, Persephone Rivka, and my comrade, Sophie Vener, have been living at Camp Newman after the summer-camp season ended, for six months now, observing the land and helping camp develop Kibbutz Yarok. Three summers ago, Sophie and I met each other at URJ Kutz Camp, not knowing that in the following year both our paths would lead us to Kibbutz Lotan’s Green Apprenticeship program, that our lives would be rocked forever, and that we’d come out of the program with a passion for building Eco-Villages at Jewish summer camps. Well, that’s the dream at least.
Eco-villages are communities that support the fullest expression and exploration of sustainable living. We believe that the success of eco-villages depends on their ability to live out their ideology while remaining open to the broader community, creating a channel so that mainstream society can learn from these models and integrating them into existing cities, towns, or even backyards. To have a smaller ecological community within a summer camp is a micro-example of how Eco-villages currently fit within the fabric of global society. For example, if goats are grazing and clearing poison oak at Kibbutz, maybe one day they will roam all of camp instead of mowing or using herbicides. That’s just one idea. Perhaps the biggest dream is that the fruits and veggies grown by the kids at Kibbutz will be so abundant that they will help feed the six-hundred kids who fill the Hadar Ochel (Dining Hall) each session.
For now, we’re taking Bill Mollison’s advice and starting slowly, from the ground up. What is particularly unique about Kibbutz Yarok is that the bulk of the work is in the hands of the fifteen and sixteen year-old Avodahniks who come to camp for a summer of service-learning and leadership. In its formative years, the Avodahniks, who will be sleeping out at Yarok for the first time this summer, are responsible for building various pieces of the whole. Last summer the Avodahniks built Yarok’s first small organic garden and were able to delight in their own salads and zucchini cakes. We built a mud bench out of recycled tires and camp’s landfill waste to create a contemplative spot for prayer, overlooking the lake. This summer the Avodahniks will help expand the garden, come up with creative ways to recycle camp’s waste, care for goats and chickens, and live together in a beautiful, serene location a bike-ride away from main camp.
Through this work we connect ethics of Judaism to ethics of permaculture. The ethics of Earthcare, peoplecare, and fairshare are reflected in the Jewish principles of Shomrei Adamah – Guardians of the earth, Tikkun Atzmi – healing of oneself, and Tzedek Tirdof – the pursuit of justice. When we take a juice break and watch the birds circle in the sky overhead, after working side-by-side with our friends to harvest food grown with our hands and with the knowledge of every step of the process, from marking the contour lines in the slope of the hill, to digging and turning the soil and creating the beds, to planting, tending, and harvesting, we experience the expression of these ethics. It is in this process that we learn to really listen to and observe our surrounding environment, the people we are working with, and our own inner creativity.
Persephone Rivka and Sophie Vener are graduates of the Kibbutz Lotan Center for Creative Ecology’s Peace, Justice and Environment College Semester, Green Apprenticeship Permaculture and Ecovillage Design Course in association with Living Routes, UMass Amherst and GAIA Education. They now serve as the Project Coordinators for Kibbutz Yarok at Camp Newman and are currently enrolled in the school of life. This post was originally published on the Jewish Daily Forward blog.