Kayam Farm

by Bonnie North

The words of the ancient Midrashim have a special meaning for Jakir Manela, the resident farmer and director of Kayam Farm at the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center. Kayam is a Hebrew word which can be loosely translated as "exist, sustain, firmly establish, and everlasting," a fitting title for this extraordinary enterprise out in the bucolic environs of rural Reisterstown. Jakir, his wife, Netsitsah, and their two-year-old son, live in a log-framed cabin on the grounds at Pearlstone. He and his wife, their co-workers, volunteers and students have created a testament to their commitment to the health of the land and the exploration of their heritage.


God said to Adam, "See my works how good and praiseworthy they are? And all that I have created I made for you. Be mindful then that you do not spoil and destroy My world-for if you do spoil it, there is no one after you to repair it."    -Kohelet Rabbah1 7:13


Recruited in 2006, Jakir came to his position by way of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He had a teaching stint with the Teva Learning Center teaching social and ecological responsibility. Integrating environmental issues with Jewish prayer, parables and values, Teva teaches about the soil cycles, the water cycles, and energy cycles by getting hands in the dirt and bringing life to the land.

"We could have set out to simply grow as much as we possibly could on this land. But we want to do much more than that. Kayam Farm is the means to an end-it's Jewish education and environmental education. It's about trying to help people reconnect to the land and realize their responsibilities to it-to have respect for it, to feel grateful for it..." Jakir insists, with an evident and deeply held passion.

Despite his modest admission that, "This is only my fourth year as a 'seed to harvest' farmer," during Kayam's very first season in 2007, nearly 3500 pounds of produce were grown on less than one half acre of land and distributed through Kayam's Community Supported Agriculture program-and even more impressive, almost 3000 people participated in Kayam's educational programs.

Many of the educational programs at Kayam are experimental and unique. There are deep metaphors embedded in each of the smaller teaching gardens. "We attempt to use the landscape as a lens through which people can  experience their heritage," Jakir begins, as he leads us through an afternoon's tour of the gardens in progress. "Here we are getting ready to plant twelve trees in a circle representing the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve sons. In the center we'll plant two fig trees, the 'Tree of Life' and the 'Tree of Knowledge.' To make the story real we selected different fruits for the different brothers. So...for example, in the Torah it's told how two of the brothers commit murders, so to represent them we have chosen blood cherries. We're trying to create a way to tell that story through the landscape that is more than just symbolic... We want to bring these biblical stories to life by creating spaces where people can come and be within them, to hold drama games, to experience the stories made real right here in the land."

Walking the gently sloping hillocks that hold the educational gardens, Jakir patiently details the purpose and meaning behind each one: "These are five vegetable plots representing the five books of Moses. Plot One is named after the first book, Genesis. In Hebrew the word is B'reishit, so we call this plot B'reishit"

Gesturing to the top of the nearest hill he points out the Women's Orchard. "This is a women's communal effort my wife is helping to lead. They are working on creating a permaculture-style 'forest garden' with four different types of fruit trees, each standing for a specific Biblical matriarch and also representing phases in a woman's life. They'll be surrounding the trees with medicinal herbs and flowers chosen to complement these energies."

Separated by the specific distance defined in the Talmud, is the Patriarch's Vineyard where three different types of grapes represent the three ancient patriarchs, and down the hill sits a line of curious little raised beds with careful patterns marked out by lengths of string. Jakir explains their significance: "These boxes are more straightforward translations of ancient Jewish texts. Not many people realize this, but one sixth of the Talmud is actually devoted to agriculture. The laws of Kilayim deal with 'keeping things distinct.' In Chapter 3, Mishnah 1, the rabbis try to determine how many different species one can plant in a small square area, 18 inches on each side. There are actual diagrams in the Talmud showing ways to do that. So we have translated that text into the ground-here we have dill, kale, chard and cilantro on the outside, and chicory in the center. But there are numerous interpretations and geometrical planting configurations in the text-so we have a total of five demonstration boxes showing these different rabbinic interpretations. We're trying to explore without an overbearing agenda. We can try to guess what the rabbis were thinking and what purpose these laws originally served. They definitely had botanical knowledge, but many of these laws remain a mystery to us. That's why exploring them is so amazing and powerful."

Another educational plot is planted with wheat that Jakir hopes to have students harvest by hand and winnow in the traditional manner. Other fields, along with the beautiful Rose Winder Greenhouse, are devoted to growing vegetable crops for the CSA, which has grown from 11 members last year to 25 this season. "The CSA is very important to our economic sustainability," Jakir reminds us, "and the farm has grown tremendously in the past year. Now that we've hired a full-time Education Director and a full-time Volunteer Coordinator, it allows me to increase the productivity of the farm."

Not all of Kayam's educational efforts take place within the confines of the gardens. They offer a seasonal Chesapeake Bay Watershed Pilgrimage where participants hike, canoe, camp, and bike from Pearlstone to the Inner Harbor over the course of three days. "We call it a 'Human Powered' excursion," Jakir laughs, "It's a powerful experience that teaches ecology, history, and spirit by journeying through our beautiful watershed."

Yes, you can be a part of it-get your hands dirty. Outside...in the dirt.


1
Kohelet Rabbah, composed somewhere between the sixth and eighth centuries, is from the rabbinic literature collectively known as Midrashim-stories, homilies, parables, and legal exegesis based on ancient biblical texts.

 

-Bonnie North


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User Comments

Steven says
August 19, 2009
Awesome!



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