Urban Adamah: Growing Hearts and Community in a Time of Scarcity

As an urban farm imbued with Jewish values, Urban Adamah has always mixed the physical with the spiritual. “Getting your hands dirty” was literally a huge part of the experience… and the fun.

Then came COVID-19. And with it, the realization that Urban Adamah needed to create new ways to bring the farm to the people when the people couldn’t visit the farm. “So we did a few things,” said Executive Director Adam Weisberg. “The first was to ask ourselves: How, despite present circumstances, do we double down on the farm aspect of our work? And how in this moment, when food scarcity and insecurity is an even more pressing need, can we step up so that we don’t miss a beat?”

Urban Adamah Executive Director Adam Weisberg

There wasn’t just one answer to that question: there was a bounty. Some of the answers involved programmatic adaptations to our world’s new reality. And some meant considering new approaches, including:

  • Pivoting from having a weekly free farm stand to new collaborations with community partners such as Berkeley Food Network, Berkeley Food Pantry, and the Sogorea Te Land Trust, that had the capability to distribute Urban Adamah’s produce throughout the Bay Area;
  • Serving as a distribution point for a USDA-funded program to provide 250 to 300 pounds of Urban Adamah’s produce harvested weekly, plus 100 additional boxes of produce from the USDA;
  • Partnering with Wilderness Torah, co-leading online Kabbalat Shabbats and other communal activities that keep people connected;
  • Conducting a series of programs around social and racial justice in the Jewish community and beyond; and
  • Offering online grief programming by former Urban Adamah staff member, Chloe Zelkha, designed to help young people and others who are struggling through these challenging times to facilitate healing and growth.

Their creative response to COVID-19 was fueled in part by two $25,000 Federation grants. The first was created to support organizations impacted by lost revenue to facilitate a safe and healthy re-opening, assist with startup costs, or resume operations. And the second was to implement a new delivery of farm-grown produce to home-bound seniors and the disabled.

Nir Berenzovsky, an Urban Adamah volunteer, drops off fresh produce at the home of Lorelai Kude. (LORELAI KUDE via J Weekly)

“All of a sudden one-third of our budget was wiped out for this year,” said Weisberg. “So while the Federation has always been a really thoughtful and generous partner, the fact that they came through with emergency grants and recognized that what we were doing was worthwhile and important… that level of support meant a great deal to us.”

With its new funding in place, Urban Adamah has been empowered to continue collaborating with its community partners, despite not always being able to share the same physical space.

"Partnering with Urban Adamah is a continual blessing,” said Rabbi Zelig Golden, Executive Director of Wilderness Torah. “When we find the right partnership moments, such as our Kabbalat Shabbat gatherings, we lift up each other’s work with our shared values.”

“I have had a little note up on my office door that says ‘the key Jewish question is not, why me? It's what do I do now?’”

~Adam Weisberg

Embedded in Urban Adamah’s devotion to social justice, mindfulness, and sustainable agriculture is a commitment to the future of the community and the values that sustain it.

“You know people will come to visit for the first time and ask, ‘So what do you grow?’ And the obvious answer is, carrots, radishes, lettuce and organically sustainably raised produce,” said Weisberg. “And while it’s true that we grow all those things, the answer we generally give is that we grow hearts and we grow community.”

View more information on Urban Adamah and details about the Federation’s COVID-19 response.

Categories: Community, Grantees


September 16, 2020


Jon Moskin