The heimish way
At Adamah and Pearlstone, farming with other Jews is a heimish – but definitely not Amish - experience.
Jewish farming Photo: Paul Foer
Nadav Slovin cultivates the fields of potatoes and other crops in the rural
Litchfield Hills of northwestern Connecticut. As he moves between the
rows, he could be mistaken for an Amish farmer, especially with his reddish
beard and straw hat. Then again, maybe he looks more heimish than Amish –
especially when you notice the tzitzit protruding from his pants and the kippa
beneath his hat.
The 22-year-old Slovin, raised in a Conservative Jewish
home in Worcester, Massachusetts, is among a new breed of Jewish youth learning
farming skills – as well as Jewish sensibilities and teachings – as a fellow
with the Adamah Farm, a unit of the Isabella Freedman Center.
blazing Friday afternoon this summer, about a dozen Adamah fellows joined in a
circle in the shade to go over the week’s work and plan for Shabbat and Sunday,
the annual farm day open to the public. They went off to the mikve, enjoying a
tributary of the Housatonic River that served to irrigate not only the fields
but also their souls.
Separated from the women, the men stripped down to
the suits given to them by nature, slid down a path to the refreshingly cool
water and gathered in a deep bend of the river, immersing themselves
The river was perfect for a hot July afternoon. That same
river, however, had flooded the previous summer, wreaking havoc in the fields
around harvest time.
Whatever the weather brings, the Adamah staff and
fellows work together to produce food for their Community Supported Agriculture
(CSA) members, who buy shares in the Adamah Farm produce.
In addition to
produce, they sell pickles, cheese, berry preserves and other items produced on
the farm, and they also provide food for the kitchen of the Freedman Center,
which hosts Jewish groups and conferences.
Early one morning, Rachel
Stern gathers eggs as if she were an old pro – the Goucher College senior did
grow up on a small Vermont family farm. However, other than some Passover and
Hanukka observances, mainly with her grandmother, she says, “Judaism played a
very small role in my upbringing.” She began to explore and study Judaism in
college and now majors in religion, which helps her find “more and more meaning
in Judaism in my personal life.”
“My decision to attend Adamah came out
of my personal journey with religion and a craving to experience life in a
Jewish community,” she says. “While I was there, my most exciting discovery was
the incredible meaning to be within an intentional community that rests upon a
Slovin, who arrived at Adamah with a stronger
Jewish background than Stern’s, was searching for a deeper relationship with
what he calls “my source, myself and my surroundings.”
the land, the physical source of my sustenance, is connecting with my Creator,”
he says. “Working the soil, for me, has become play, a creative dance that
magnifies Hashem’s [God’s] gifts.”
But the summer at Adamah “was by no
means Pleasantville,” Slovin says.
“Conflict grew as profusely as the
flowers of a cucumber plant,” he says. “Yet out of the flowers grew cucumbers,
glorious relationships and learning experiences that taught me how I fit into a
community, how I relate to Judaism compared to my peers, how I can improve upon
myself in order to be a more appreciative and caring individual.Ultimately,
learning how to be a more responsible, caring, humble person is learning how to
be a better Jew. My experiences at Adamah have deepened my connections with my
source, my self, and my surroundings.”
ADAMAH’S DIRECTOR is Shamu Sadeh,
the son of Hungarian Jews, who moved with his family from Washington to a rural
area in Maryland, where they enjoyed fresh produce and milk and cheese from
their goats. His mother is a weaver; and his father, a writer and
horticulturalist, descends from Jews who farmed in Europe.
wife and children live near the farm, but he does much more than merely overseeing the farm. Adamah provides a setting for work, study and
reflection for the fellows who come to participate in a three-month
leadership-training program called the Adamah Jewish Environmental Fellowship.
The program for Jewish adults ages 20 to 32 “integrates organic agriculture,
farm-to-table living, Jewish learning, community building and spiritual
practice.” Fellows work in the farm, the commercial kitchen and the goat
pasture, and in the evenings they learn about Judaism and sustainability,
building community and cultivating leadership skills.
Adamah says it
“connects people to their roots, to the land, to community, to Judaism and to
themselves by providing educational programs to build a more sustainable world.
Cultivating souls and soils, harvesting people and pickles.”
They are not
kidding about the pickles. On Adamah’s annual Farm Day, a group gleaned
cucumbers from the fields to pickle them in small jars.
On Farm Day, Jack
Wertenteil and his two children, Pinny and Sara, all observant Jews, enjoyed
pizza baked in an outdoor wood-fired oven while learning about a farm truck
powered by vegetable oil, and they made pickles to take back home to New Jersey.
Other friends and supporters enjoyed fresh fruits and vegetables and milked the
Jon Greenberg, an agronomist specializing in the study of plants
and nature in Torah and Jewish tradition, led a Torah and Flora tour of the
nearby farm fields and orchards, peppering his narration with Midrash and
exegesis about the plants they encountered (see
Two weeks later, at the similarly
Jewish-focused educational farm of the Pearlstone Center just northwest of
Baltimore in Reisterstown, Maryland, Morris Panitz – a graduate of Adamah – was
showing a group of Jewish educators how to make pickles so they could teach
their young students when they returned home.
Similar to Adamah’s
mission, the Pearlstone farm says that it “embodies and inspires vibrant,
healthy and sustainable living through experiential education grounded in
Judaism, agriculture and ecology.” Pearlstone is not quite as rural and is more
“upscale” than Adamah, but among its staff are graduates of the older and more
established Adamah program.
That afternoon, about 50 teachers were led
past goats and into the fields and greenhouses to gather the evening
An hour later they returned with eggplants, tomatoes, peppers and
other produce, splitting into groups to prepare Israeli salad, grilled
vegetables and other dishes. One group stirred a pot of warming goat’s milk to
make cheese seasoned with fresh herbs. Two huge pans of Israeli meatless
shashlik, made with freshly gathered eggs, were brought out as the crowd
gathered to enjoy a communal farm meal.
So what’s more Jewish than Jewish
food, especially pickles? At the Adamah and Pearlstone farms, growing,
harvesting and enjoying pickles, vegetables and cheese with other Jews in an
environmental, educational and spiritual setting makes those activities even
more heimish – but definitely not Amish.