Urban Adamah’s new Berkeley farm could become model

When Urban Adamah hosts its annual “Eat, Pray, Lulav: Sukkot Harvest Festival” later this month in Berkeley, attendees will be able to celebrate at the group’s new home.

A recent tour of the site showed empty fields, one greenhouse built but empty with all its plant starts sitting nearby, another partially constructed greenhouse where its aquaponics system will be housed and a partially constructed yurt.

Adam Berman photo/cathleen maclearie

But by Oct. 23, the day of the festival, things will look different.

“The crops will all be in the ground, the fruit trees will be planted and the parking lot will be done,” said Adam Berman, who founded Urban Adamah in 2010 and is the group’s executive director. “The greenhouses will also be completed, and the chickens and goats will be here.”

Urban Adamah is a fellowship for Jewish young adults to combine their passion for tikkun olam in the form of organic farming with learning about Judaism. But it’s also a summer camp for kids, an event space for the Jewish community where holidays and Shabbat are regularly celebrated and an all-around gathering place for Jews in the East Bay.

Its programming especially appeals to young Jews who don’t feel drawn to more conventional spaces like synagogues or other mainstream Jewish organizations.

When Berman founded Urban Adamah, he was lucky to find a landlord willing to lease him, for free, a one-acre empty lot on San Pablo Avenue and Parker Street in Berkeley. But by 2012, knowing the group would eventually have to move, the board began to consider buying its own piece of land.

In July 2013, Urban Adamah found its current home, a 2.2-acre space abutting a restored creek and forest habitat in northwest Berkeley at Sixth Street and Harrison (across the street from Covenant Wines, a kosher winery, and Fieldwork Brewing Co.).  The group launched a capital campaign, and bought it in December 2013.

Phase two of the $7 million capital campaign is nearing completion, with about $1.5 million more to raise before the end of this calendar year.

Plants outside one of Urban Adamah’s greenhouses a few weeks before the official opening of the group’s new farm photo/alix wall

“We have a lot of momentum, but if we don’t get there, we’ll build out phase two as the money comes in,” Berman said.

Phase two includes housing for the fellows — they’re now living in a rented house about two miles from the farm — and an outdoor kitchen. Phase three will feature a farm-to-table café and a retreat center, which will sleep 42 participants. Berman is particularly excited about that.

“I’m not sure there’s another urban Jewish retreat center, and that’s what we’re creating in the lodge,” he said. “The ability to create an experience for Jewish kids and adults, and to have a retreat immersion in the city, on a farm, along a creek, and do the kind of programming that   really moves the spirit and the heart is beyond exciting for me.”

The Sukkot festival, for families with kids of all ages, is from 1 to 4 p.m. and will include music by Melita Silberstein and Isaac Zones as well as the Banana Slug String Band.

An adults-only celebration that evening will begin with a tour of Covenant Wines at 5:30 p.m., followed by events on the farm starting at 6 p.m. The band Bolo will play from 7:45 to 9 p.m., preceded by a dessert potluck, art creation in the sukkah facilitated by the Jewish Studio Project and a community Sukkot ritual.

With the official opening of the new site less than 10 days away, Berman is looking forward to Urban Adamah becoming a model for similar projects.

“There are now a dozen other major Jewish community farming projects across the country, but this is the first in a truly urban area,” Berman said. “It will be the largest stand-alone Jewish community farm, and my prediction is that in the next 20 years, there’ll be 20 more of them because what we do resonates for so many people.

“We’re bringing Jewish tradition to life in a way that provides depth and meaning and joy to lots of people who can’t find it in other places.”

Oct. 23 festival tickets are $10 ($15 at the door) at urbanadamah.org/events/eat-pray-lulav-5777.  Tickets for the adults-only party are $5 ($10 at the door) at urbanadamah.org/events/party-in-the-sukkah-5777.

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."