A Fruitful Federation-Nonprofit Partnership

Urban Adamah begins long-awaited move

Head over to corner of 6th and Harrison Street in Northwest Berkeley, and there isn’t much too see these days – just a bulldozer churning up a large empty lot.

But when Adam Berman, the executive director of Urban Adamah, gazes at this stretch of nothingness, he sees the future of Jewish life springing from the deep roots of the Jewish value of environmental stewardship.

Adam Berman

Come next spring, this empty lot will be the new home of Urban Adamah (Adamah is the Hebrew word for ground, or earth), the nonprofit farm and educational center Berman founded in 2010 to grow food for the community, teach agriculture and sustainability practices and, in the process, establish a new model of Jewish engagement that connects Jews to both the traditional Jewish value of taking care of the earth – and to each other.

“We see the farm as both a door into universal spirituality as well as the door into the particular cultural and spiritual marking of Jewish tradition,” Berman said.

In 2011, Urban Adamah moved into a temporary location in West Berkeley and began searching for a permanent home to fully realize its vision that an urban farm can be hub for Jewish community and environmental social justice.

Since 2013, the San Francisco-based Federation has been instrumental in not only financially supporting Urban Adamah’s programming and capital campaign but, through its innovative Capital Planning Committee, in guiding the organization through the thorny land acquisition, purchasing and build-out process.

In 2013, Urban Adamah launched Phase I of a three-phase process, with a successful $2.2 million capital campaign, and purchased the 2.2 acre site at Sixth and Harrison (double its current site). The Federation provided a capital grant of $250,000 for that phase and, through its Capital Planning Committee, closely advised the nonprofit on the purchase of the land.

Today, Urban Adamah is in the midst of Phase II, the build-out of the site, which abuts a restored creek and forest habitat. The $5.1 million build-out ($2.7 million has been raised as of October 1) will create a campus that allows Urban Adamah to roughly double its programs and farm production. The plan calls for roughly 12,600 square feet of classroom, farmland, rustic retreat cabins, an outdoor kitchen and administrative buildings to support a sustainable farm, robust education programs, and a vocational school. The new site will grow dozens of crops (Berman says Urban Adamah hopes to become the only local purveyors of Etrog, the ritual lemon used during Sukkot), an orchard with 100 fruit trees, an herb garden, and pens for chickens and goats. This expansion will double the capacity of Urban Adamah’s community food distribution program from 15,000 pounds to 30,000 pounds annually.

Rendering of the new campus. Click to enlarge. Photo: Urban Adamah

In mid-October, a subcommittee of the Federation’s Capital Planning Committee met with Berman and his team to carefully evaluate the nuts and bolts of the build-out and to assess its feasibility. Since the 1980s, the Committee has been providing just this kind of pro bono real estate advice to nonprofit partners of the Federation.

“Nonprofits tend to be mission-related and are wonderful at what they do but, understandably, they tend not to have expertise in real estate,” says Bab Freiberg, the Federation’s Director of Strategic Consulting. “So, over the years, as our nonprofit partners have been buying land, renovating buildings, and constructing new ones, the Federation formed this Committee of roughly 40 experts in real estate, land use, banking, structural engineering, and construction. The Committee provides high-level strategic advice to our partners involved in real estate transactions. We ask the hard questions and offer advice to make sure that these transactions and plans are viable and financially sustainable over the long haul.”

In recent years, the Committee has provided similar services to, among others, the Jewish Home of San Francisco, the Jewish Community High School of the Bay, Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto, and Camp Newman in Santa Rosa.

During the October session with the subcommittee, Berman gave members an overview of Phase II planning. Members peppered Berman and his team with dozens of questions, such as the assumptions behind the budget projections, adequacy of the budget reserves, financing structure, strength of team composition, leadership succession planning, ADA accessibility, and the strategy for raising the remainder of the funds.

Subsequently, on October 27, the full Committee formally endorsed Urban Adamah’s $5.1 million plan to build out its new farm. This endorsement opens the door for Urban Adamah to put forward a request to the Federation’s Endowment Fund for a $480,000 capital grant.

The Capital Planning Committee after endorsing
the capital grant for Urban Adamah


"The Federation is thrilled to offer Urban Adamah the opportunity to benefit from the real estate expertise of members of our Capital Planning Committee,” said Danny Grossman, CEO of the Federation. “We are eager to deploy our diverse tool house of resources to support this truly innovative organization that is pioneering new and meaningful ways for Jews to connect to their Jewish heritage and to each other.”

Berman says he is grateful that the Federation provides this pro bono service to nonprofits.

“The thoroughness of the evaluation process by the Capital Planning Committee is extraordinary," says Berman. "They asked the tough questions which may not have been on our radar screen, and this helped us compile a stronger proposal. This evaluation process, and hopefully, the stamp of approval, speaks to the competency of our project and the depth of community support.”


October 27, 2015


Jackie Krentzman