On a little two-acre plot of land in Briarcliff Manor, New York, a farm is growing—a collaboration between Congregation Sons of Israel and UJA-Federation of New York’s Engage Jewish Service Corp. Rabbi Steven Kane of CSI explains the farm’s humble beginnings. It was an idea conceived two years ago by several congregants and key players working alongside Rabbi Kane. After having a good look at synagogue life and realizing that there was unused land in the back, an idea emerged that perhaps land can be cleared—maybe “a quarter of an acre,” Rabbi Kane said.
Now, two acres later, with the help of key players Fred Schulman, who grew up on a chicken farm; Ryna Lustig, a landscape architect; and Michael Yoken, an organic farmer, the farm is a thriving place that serves the community, even if they are not Jewish. Rabbi Kane explained that the synagogue was built on what was formerly a farm with few trees, making clearing the land easy.
“It was a community project,” he said, and several got involved. CSI serves a very diverse Jewish community, including those who are married into the faith but do not know much about it. “Part of the idea was giving everyone no matter what background a chance to participate,” he said, “as a way to enter Jewish life besides the traditional ways of just going to a synagogue or Hebrew school.” With that, it turned “from a garden into a farm.”
With increasing interest in organic food, the farm became organic as well. It was built with the help of wood chips and a “lasagna method” of layering different organic materials to cause fewer weeds to grow. Different beds of land were associated with different initiatives, with some growing fruit, such as apples, pearr, blueberries and a grapevine that will be used to make wine; others growing vegetables, including peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplant; and others housing animals—there are 10 truly organic free-range chickens living on the farm right now. A walking path takes congregants and visitors to various parts of the farm so that they can experience the diversity of the lands, and CSI has added outdoor education and prayer. Recently, Rabbi Kane spoke on the farm about “The Ecology of Judaism,” and then members went off to working groups to plant herbs and flowers that will be used for future kiddushim.
The farm was inaugurated with a barbeque in the fall and 1.5 acres are being used for semi-commercial purposes. CSI is working with individuals and businesses who sell organic products professionally to utilize what is grown and give the synagogue some degree of income. The remainder of the field is “set up to have different beds to members of the community for small rental [fees] and for the religious school or nursery school,” he said. “Everyone who works on it gets to decide what they want to do and how to use it.”
UJA became involved through a grant that was issued through its Engage program, a program specifically for baby boomers to become integrated into different projects throughout the community. This became official in early June.
“We hope Jewish families who were unaffiliated should be attracted to it,” Rabbi Kane said. “Anyone can become involved.” Thus, he added, “We think this is a revolutionary concept” especially for its size. “We emphasize the Jewish connection to the earth, like the kibbutzim of Israel. It is a a new way to expand what it means to be Jewish.”
The farm is at Congregation Sons of Israel, which is at 1666 Pleasantville Road, Briarcliff Manor. For more information, visit http://www.csibriarcliff.org/farm/.
By Tamar Weinberg