Last year at this time, we stared out beyond the sinking candles of our menorahs with eyes as glazed as jelly donuts. We had spent the previous ten winters looking ahead to a farming season of expansion. Each year from our humble garden beginnings in 2003 we had grown to our peak in 2013 with 6 acres of vegetables, 6 acres of pasture for our goat dairy , and a 1/2 acre of maturing berries and orchards. This winter, however, millions of drowned vegetable plants from recent flooding in the Sadeh haunted our memories and we knew that the risk of planting the entire field was too great, no matter how gorgeous the soil.
Between our reliable land on Beebe Hill, the small bit of the Sadeh that we decided to make a go of, and a new patch lent to us by neighbors we would have only three and a half acres to work with in 2014. We were in a pickle! There were just as many Brooklyn potlucks in need of sauerkraut and Hartford CSA members’ shabbat tables in need of broccoli. More people than ever were signed up for Isabella Freedman’s retreats, most of them expecting our fresh produce in their cholent and our kimchi on the salad bar. Fellowship applicants lined up, all of them eager to connect to the land, to their Jewish roots, to their souls, and to each other while carrying fifty pound crates of cucumbers. We had spent ten years building a unique place where Jewish identity, ecology, and individual empowerment are supported.
And so, we did what Jews and farmers have always done. We adjusted to the circumstances before us. Without a temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, Jewish tradition coalesced around reciting blessings over food on our tables. With less land to work with we moved toward bio-intensive methods. This meant planting crops close together, using extra compost, watering often, and tending each square inch of space with extra care. We continued our practices of fighting pests by creating habitat for their predator insects rather than spraying them with poisons. We stayed carefully on top of planting dates to make sure we could get the maximum amount of our double-cropped land into soil building cover crops.
All of this allowed us to grow more than ever per acre while limiting the consequences normally associated with maximizing yield like soil degradation, watershed pollution, or pollinator die-offs. Our 2014 CSA members were incredibly satisfied with their abundant shares. The Isabella Freedman dining hall served more fresh Adamah produce than ever and if you didn’t have any Adamah sauerkraut to bring to the last Brooklyn potluck you went to, its only because you are due for a visit to one of our markets. Twenty-eight amazing young individuals came together in community through prayer, learning, and lugging overly full crates of vegetables.
And so now we look past our menorahs onto the frozen ground, each bit of melting wax bringing us closer to next season and the mysteries it holds. This time our bellies are full of potato latkes thanks to bumper yields of intensively planted spuds, and we are optimistic about the challenge that our limited land presents.
The story of ecological farming is one of ingenuity and balance rather than static prescriptions. The needs of farm communities, customers, and ecosystems are interconnected and require thoughtful systems and consistent flexibility. At Adamah, we are grateful for the ways that the real-life obstacle course of agriculture teaches us to be flexible and responsive to change in the field, in spiritual practice, and in community life. Below, you will hear from one Adamahnik about how this happened for her and you will, no doubt, hear from all of them in the time to come as they emerge as leaders and cultivators.
In the long term, we do hope to expand our growing space so that we can give our current production lands as much rest as they need. In the short term, we have pieced together a way forward that serves the entire web.