Webinar Recap: Get Out & Garden Today

The weather was perfect yesterday in Washington, D.C.: sunny skies, a warm breeze, and budding tulips and cherry blossoms everywhere you go.  Nature is slowly emerging from the darkness of winter.  I can’t help but think about how Passover, celebrating the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt and the shackles of slavery thousands of years ago, falls at the perfect time each spring to re-energize for the coming year. And this year, Reform congregations are celebrating Passover by not only renewing their souls but renewing their land as well: starting food-producing gardens, a contemporary twist on an ancient agricultural tradition.

Yesterday approximately 40 participants joined the RAC for a special webinar, “Planting to Pe’ah: Starting a Food-Producing Garden at Your Congregation.” This presentation focused on sharing the “how-to’s” of starting a garden, from literally digging down and getting one’s hands dirty to integrating garden-based educational programs and social justice projects into congregational life. We were lucky to have two incredible speakers lend their expertise and advice during the session: Robert Nevel, Director of the URJ Fain Award-winning KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation Food Justice Program, and Barbara Lerman-Golomb, Social Responsibility Consultant with the JCC Association and member of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism.

Robert started off with presenting a comprehensive overview of the lifecycles of three gardens built and maintained by his KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation Food Justice Program over three years.  He laid out the tools, time, and money it takes to start your first garden. Robert said an important first step is determining the purpose of your garden – for example, will you donate produce to shelters, use the garden as an educational tool, work with interfaith communities? Another important part of getting started is being passionate and taking the lead. Once others see your passion and commitment, Robert observed, they will be more likely to follow suit and get involved.  He then shared invaluable advice on what the first full year of starting a garden might look like (this timetable will be available in the URJ Archives shortly).

Next, Barbara delved into the many ways that gardens can be meaningfully integrated into congregational life. A unique aspect of gardens is that they are intergenerational and engage people of all ages, which not many activities do. And with the URJ having recently launched its Campaign for Youth Engagement, an effort to engage young Reform Jewish after their bar/bat mitzvahs, the garden is a great way to not only teach young children about smells, tastes, shapes, and colors, but also get teens and youth groups involved with planting, cooking, and taste-testing.

Food plays an essential role in almost every Jewish holiday: nourishing us, connecting us with our heritage, and symbolizing our people’s struggles and successes. Barbara also emphasized the benefits of celebrating Passover with karpas (parsley) and maror (radishes) grown in your synagogue’s backyard, or hosting a Sukkot celebration with figs and berries from the garden.  Incorporating these foods gives new meaning to our Jewish celebrations and our understanding of our ancestral relationship with the Earth.

During the Q&A session that followed these presentations, one of the most common requests was for more information on how to fund these exciting projects, especially when looking for funding from outside the synagogue.  For starters, the URJ Incubator Grants provide seed funds for innovative projects designed to engage new audiences in Reform congregations. Local Jewish Federation and city and state agencies may also give grants for greening projects, and the National Gardening Association lists some available grants as well.  Additionally, congregations can set up a garden fund to attract gifts from donors and encourage bar/bat mitzvah or confirmation students to dedicate their mitzvah project funds. For more ideas, check out Greening Reform Judaism’s Funding Sources page.

Couldn’t make the webinar, or want to review some of what you saw yesterday? You can view the complete recorded webinar in the URJ Webinar Archives. And if you want to stay in the loop about upcoming food-related events like yesterday’s webinar and learn more about gardening and food justice issues, join the URJ Food talk listserv.

Image courtesy of KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation Food Justice Program.

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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.

One Response to “Webinar Recap: Get Out & Garden Today”

  1. Our KAM Isaiah Israel garden’s success is due to the incredible devotion, time and energy people of many faiths have given to its growth. Robert Nevel’s leadership and passion for turning grassy areas of congregations into food producing land that feeds many is incredible. I am proud to be part of his team, and believe that sustainable land use is not only a social justice issue but a spiritual one for all of us. Each tiny seed planted with our own hands produces food that sustains life of many.
    Gloria Needlman

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