I have a confession. I’ve been planning my garden in Bushwick and writing about it as if it were the only thing on my mind for this summer. But all the while I’ve had my true hopes set elsewhere, far away from here, in the magical quality-of-life land, Northern California.
Throughout February, I suffered through the irrational anxiety that came along with a 3-page fellowship application and 3 requests for references from old mentors, and in mid-March, I found out I’d been accepted to the Urban Adamah program in Berkeley. (“Adamah” is Hebrew for “earth” — like Adam, created from the Earth.) It’s a three-month live/work/learn fellowship in urban agriculture and food justice, based on traditional Jewish values like the sanctity of food and responsibility for the community and the natural environment. I’ll be working on a newly established farm on a small lot in West Berkeley, interning at a local non-profit to bring healthy food to underserved neighborhoods, and learning about the theory and practice of sustainability in relation to Jewish teachings.
Ever since I discovered the urban farming movement about a year and a half ago, I’ve been reading the blogs, attending the lectures, and meeting the people who make it all happen. But it was always as an outsider, an interested layman, rather than someone actively involved in growing food. And I felt unfulfilled. I felt a yearning to actually get my hands dirty, not just for a few carefree hours on a Saturday, but as a real participant in this movement. I felt there was lingo being slung around my head that I couldn’t truly grasp, and ideas that I’d read about but which wouldn’t quite stick because — what’s really involved in turning compost, anyway?
That’s where my decision to start a garden came from. Not just as a hobby, and not just as a challenge, but as an experiential education. How could I be advocating for food production in cities, and agricultural education in city schools, if I’d never done it myself? (I may be overselling my novicehood a bit. I did actually spend 4 months on a farm a few years, ago, Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in Israel — a short amount of time, but way more than nothing.)
I wanted to keep doing the lectures and the volunteering, but to also see if I could grow some food in my own limited space and then encourage others, through my actions, to do the same.
At the same time, however, I was working hard on my Urban Adamah application. Because here was a chance to immerse myself not only in the act of urban farming, but in all the auxiliary activities that make it something worth doing. At its core, urban farming is about reconnecting people to the sources of their food by bringing one of those sources right into their own neighborhood: so while the produce from an urban farm is important, it’s the experience of the farm that has the most impact. Urban Adamah places a huge emphasis on education: not only will the fellows be learning learn how to grow food, they will be working with community partners like City Slicker Farms and Cooking Matters to spread the good food gospel (and some good food!) to others.
With my mind, and soon my body, on the West Coast, I’ve had to scale back my ambitions a little, but I’ll be growing some stuff here in Brooklyn in the weeks I have left. I’m going to do everything as simply and as quickly as possible, which led me to three constraints:
- Early plantings – I needed to choose crops that would start growing before the last frost, so I could get start planting as soon as possible.
- Fast growing – From the time I accepted the fellowship on March 23, I had about 70 days to choose and buy seeds, build my sub-irrigated planters, sow the seeds, care for the plants, and finally, harvest. So I aimed for things I could harvest in 60 days or less.
- Direct-sowable – In my truncated garden project, I had neither the time nor the energy to line all possible window sills with little seedlings. I needed things I could sow directly into the
More on my crop selections and my planting progress in the next post — teaser pic below!
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