Eisen smiles, standing among rows of crops in front of the new three-story building
Ari Eisen, director of public programs at Urban Adamah, in front of the farm’s new residency and retreat center (Photo/Maya Mirsky)

New retreat center, new possibilities at Berkeley’s Jewish urban farm

As chickens step carefully through the dirt, and brown goats gaze curiously through the fence, Ari Eisen points to an area of dirt that will become the site of a new building.

“Are we more of a community center or are we more of a farm?” asks the director of public programs at Urban Adamah in Berkeley. “I think we’re both.”

The urban Jewish farm, set between warehouses and close to the train tracks, is in the midst of some big changes — launching a new retreat program, opening new living quarters and planning a new center that will offer more infrastructure while still maintaining the agricultural nature of the site.

“The question of how you’re going to do those things together [has] been a creative tension possibility for us from the beginning,” says Adam Berman, the founder of Urban Adamah and its executive director since it opened in 2010 in southwest Berkeley. Five years later, it moved to a new, creekside location in northwest Berkeley, a few blocks behind the Target store that’s just off Highway 80.

The farm recently completed work on its new retreat center: a three-story, 32-guest dorm with apartments at the edge of the property. In large part, it will give the participants in Urban Adamah’s fellowship program — which teaches urban agriculture, community building and leadership development over 10 to 12 weeks — a place to eat, sleep and hold functions. With bunk beds and nonviolent communication posters on the walls, the facility has a decidedly youthful feel (fellows are generally ages 21 to 31).

A three story building (red, beige and gray) with a red banner on it that says "Love your neighbor as yourself," surrounded by crops and a small greenhouse
The new residency at Urban Adamah in Berkeley (Photo/Urban Adamah)

The current crop of fellows, whose program will end on Tuesday, Nov. 20, won’t be replaced until June 2019, as the farm will be trying out its new retreat program, with the first session to be held from Dec. 7 to 9. The December retreat will allow guests a chance to get an in-depth look at the work of the farm and the precepts behind it.

“It’s basically a condensed fellowship, into a weekend,” Eisen says.

Funded by a Moishe House grant and open to adults 21 to 35, the low-cost weekend will pack as much earth-based Judaism as it can into three days, with Shabbat rituals and workshops on things such as herbal medicine and Jewish learning. Urban Adamah also has a meditation retreat and a teen retreat in the works.

But beyond its own retreats and other programming, the farm also is opening up its site and retreat center for events and celebrations such as bar mitzvahs and weddings. Guests can rent the space, which includes a children’s garden, a yurt, a place to sleep for out-of-town guests and a full kitchen. Or they can set up their own retreats using programming from the Urban Adamah crew.

“In each of those cases, we’re able to provide the approach to Jewish learning, community building [and] farm education, and to offer our holistic approach,” Berman says.

Part of it also is about financial stability, Berman adds, noting that a few celebrations already have been booked.

But in order to host all of these potential new programs, the farm also is building a two-story, glass-roofed, semicircular building on side of the property opposite the residence. Fundraising just finished, and Berman says the bulk of it came from an anonymous donation and the S.F.-based Rodan Family Foundation.

Urban Adamah moved to its current site in 2016 after raising money to purchase a two-acre site. Now, with this new building up of programming, the farm is hoping to touch even more people and get them hooked on earth-based Judaism.

“I want people to feel excited about using our space as a community space,” Eisen says.

Urban Adamah Young Adult Weekend Immersion. Friday, Dec. 7-Sunday, Dec. 9 at Urban Adamah, 1151 Sixth St., Berkeley. $60 includes dorm housing and meals; $50 nonresidential option. Ages 21-35. urbanadamah.org/events

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.