Register Today: How to Start a Food-Producing Garden

What’s been growing at Temple Emanuel in Dallas, TX? Besides cabbage, cucumbers, and pumpkins, a new love for the Earth has blossomed among preschoolers at this URJ congregation. Connecting preschoolers with Judaism through nature, the Gan Shalom Chai garden serves as the preschool’s outdoor classroom for lessons in planting, ecology, nutrition and animal science.

Temple Emanuel is just one of dozens of Reform congregations that have started food-producing gardens in their backyards. Whether congregations are looking to create a hands-on learning tool for people of any age, broaden their social justice work by donating the produce to those in need, or establish a shared space for worship and celebrations, gardens can transform congregational life. If you are interested in bringing this amazing project to your synagogue, join us on April 3 for a special webinar “Planting to Pe’ah: How-To’s of Starting a Food-Producing Garden at Your Congregation” to learn how to get started!

For a preview of what you can learn on the April 3rd webinar, Heidi Kutchin, Garden Educator at the Temple Emanuel Early Childhood Education Center, describes how the Gan Shalom Chai garden began and how gardening activities are integrated into the curriculum:

In the fall of 2004, the Temple Emanuel Early Childhood Education Center Parent’s Association sponsored an initiative to establish a children’s garden and nature center.  In addition to committing all the proceeds from a silent auction and carnival, this very dedicated group of parents rallied support from other Temple organizations, including Sisterhood and Brotherhood, to turn an unused space into a functional learning site.

After navigating the congregational approval process, the Garden Committee hired a landscape architect.  The committee was comprised of stakeholders including parents, teachers, school administration, and congregational leadership.  Based on the committee’s goals and objectives, the landscape firm created a design, and construction began in June 2005.  The dedication was held in October of that same year.

Our space has several hardscape elements, or paved areas, in the design.  This was intentional to provide both aesthetic appeal and multipurpose functionality.  Of course, these design elements raise the cost of the project and are not essential to a learning space.  A simple raised-bed design can afford a multitude of learning opportunities at minimal cost.

From the beginning, the Early Childhood Education Director decided to add a staff position of Garden Educator.  Toddler through PreK classes have a specified time to work with the Garden Educator, and the program has developed into a comprehensive year-long curriculum incorporating Judaic concepts with secular academic criteria.

What potential lies in your congregation’s backyard? Click here to register for our webinar “Planting to Pe’ah: Starting a Food Producing Garden” and learn some tips for getting started!

Image courtesy of Temple Emanuel Early Childhood Education Center.

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Susan Paykin

About Susan Paykin

Susan Paykin is a 2011-2012 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. She is a native of Oakland, NJ, and recently graduated from Brandeis University.

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