Up on the roof at the JCC: worms, mushrooms and seeds

David Gardella has been on staff at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco for seven years, but during that time his job has changed quite a bit.

Originally hired to work in customer service, he soon began teaching art in the after-school program. While Gardella is still doing some of that, now — as the JCCSF’s urban agriculture specialist — he is overseeing the facility’s rooftop garden and teaching adults about subjects such as worm composting, how to cultivate mushrooms at home (he’s also vice president of the San Francisco Mycological Society) and how to make mead, a fermented beverage made from honey.

Before moving to San Francisco, Gardella lived in Arizona, and while obtaining his art degree he worked on a farm. When he moved to the city, he downsized from helping to tend 6.5 acres, to tending a 400-square-foot studio apartment. “I still wanted to have a garden in a smaller space,” he said, so he learned about urban agriculture, taking classes and experimenting with container gardening.

The JCCSF has had a rooftop greenhouse for several years, but related programming was expanded last fall. Gardening activities were brought to children of all ages in the JCCSF programs, and adult classes started this past summer.

David Gardella

“I was a natural fit [for the teaching position] since I was already doing a lot of education,” Gardella said. “It was a natural transition since I had a lot of ideas to be put in place.”

In addition to composting and container gardening, Gardella also has taught about preserving your harvest by way of fermentation. And he’s excited about having a seed library, which recently opened. Members can take home vegetable, herb or flower seeds, grow the plants at home, then bring back the seeds for others to use.

The JCC is a perfect place to learn about such topics, Gardella believes.

“Just as people can come for Hebrew or tango or ceramics, now they can learn about gardening,” he said. “It’s great that we have the space and we’re implementing these programs, and it’s exciting that other organizations are doing the same thing.”

Next up:

“Urban Composting: Beyond the Green Bin,” 1-3 p.m. Oct. 6.

“Pots and Plants” (a gardening and ceramics class). 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 13-Nov. 3.

“Mushroom Cultivation for the Home and Beyond,” 1-3 p.m. Nov. 11.

“Small Scale and Container Gardening,” 1-3 p.m. Dec. 15.

For details on registration and fees, visit



For several years, educator Anna Martin has offered a multicourse gourmet meal as an auction item for Berkeley Midrasha. She has always made Moroccan food, but this year she decided to cook mostly from recipes in “Jerusalem,” the cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

“I instantly fell in love with it,” said Martin, of Berkeley. “The photos make you want to make almost everything, which is great incentive to actually getting in the kitchen and making something you wouldn’t normally make.”

I, too, fell in love with it, and it turns out, we’re not alone: A Facebook group called “Tasting Jerusalem,” for fans to discuss the recipes, has more than 800 members. One of its founders is Beth Lee, a San Jose–based food blogger (www.omgyummy.com).

Lee, a member of Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, said she and her friend Sarene Wallace started the Facebook group “because we were enamored and excited by the cookbook and its beautiful interpretation of Middle Eastern cuisine. Learning how our Ashkenazic upbringing fits into the amalgam of food cultures in Jerusalem is quite fascinating. We also wanted to learn about the region’s cuisines and influences on each other.

“One of the benefits to the group is that we all learn so much from each other: People have questions, suggestions and recipe adaptations, which is fascinating because the recipes reflect the stamp of each cook.”

“Jerusalem” fans can rejoice: A new cookbook is out from the authors, called “Ottolenghi: The Cookbook.” It’s an American edition of the first Ottolenghi book published in the United Kingdom in 2010.


We’ve all heard by now about the food blogger who blogged her way to a cookbook deal, but have you heard about the food blogger who blogged her way to a television series? That’s what happened to Gabi Moskowitz, author of “The Brokeass Gourmet Cookbook” and the forthcoming “100 Delicious, Unexpected Things to Make with Pizza Dough.”

The 31-year-old San Francisco resident (who enjoyed a stint as a J. food columnist) was approached two years ago by an agent whose wife was a fan of her blog, “The Brokeass Gourmet.” He saw some story potential, and many meetings later, Moskowitz learned that ABC Family was interested in producing a pilot.

The show is called “Young and Hungry” and will feature a young personal chef/blogger named Gabi Diamond, who is loosely based on Moskowitz. If the show goes to series, Moskowitz will serve as a creative consultant, which she has already been doing thus far.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."