Here I am, in the middle of the forest in West Connecticut, in a tent on a hot humid night and I can hear the sound of the torrential rain hitting the plastic of the tarp above me. Thunder, lightning, birds chirping and mosquito humming are all entering my tent as the fabric walls of my new home reflected noise all around me. The humidity and rain and no time to shower had me feeling like I had just gotten out of a hot shower and into the sauna. Sprawled out like a starfish for better airflow I started to smack my forehead repeating out loud to myself, “WHAT AM I DOING HERE???”
It got better—don’t worry—but all good intros need a little bit of drama!
What am I doing?
I am living at Isabella Freedman Retreat Centre in Falls Village, Connecticut, which is a home for Jewish culture and expression; it is also the home of the Adamah farm, an organic farm with goats, chickens and seasonal vegetables. It feeds the retreat centre and also the local community with a local co-op and a successful pickle and jam company. I am here on a 3 month fellowship to learn how to cultivate soil and soul through community, Jewish tradition and sustainable agriculture.
As you can see, on the first night I had my doubts… but as we know, all good things take time and it was simply a matter of days until I found the magic of this place and started to tap into the potential of what it can offer the community back home in Sydney.
I am here to learn about Jewish agriculture so we can develop a big project in Sydney, a Jewish Urban Educational Farm called Adamama. @adamama_farm (insta). Bringing people closer to each other and community has always been a passion of mine, so now I am looking for and learning ways in which I can connect it to nature, Jewish culture and sustainability.
An average day
On the average day I set my alarm for 5am (snooze until 5:15, obviously) and make my way to the drop toilet in the forest—it is only 20m away but I do have to climb over a big fallen tree in the path and awkwardly hug it while I roll my body over its mossy and wet circumference to the other side. I get to the Red Yurt (a big tent) where my fellowship cohort (12 Americans aged 20-37) all meet to do Avodat Lev (work of the heart), affectionately shortened to just “Lev” (heart) in day to day conversation. Here, different farm staff members run a variety of guided meditation, group chanting, and Jewish songs. It is a way to come together to start the day with intention and gratitude as we sing Modeh Ani, giving thanks for all that we have.
We then move onto chores for the morning. I am responsible for the chickens this week. In short, they stink and are a little bit dumb but I would never say it to their faces; they seem like the type to hold a grudge. Chickens give the fellows eggs and manage the compost by using it as feed. Every morning at 7am I let them out of their coop, clean it up, and collect their eggs for a yummy breakfast.
By 8:30 we are all in the field for a work session. This can include, weeding, harvesting, planting, composting, and many other projects needed to be done on the farm that day. I have really appreciated getting my hands dirty, touching the soil, moving my muscles, and getting sweaty in the process. We work the land and reap its benefits directly, a hugely satisfying feeling that I have never really experienced before so directly.
Lunch is at 12 in the Isabella Freedman food hall where we eat some of the vegetables that we had harvested that morning. We return to the field at 13:30 for another 3 hour field session before taking a break until dinner. I am usually exhausted by this point and just want to drink some tea by the beautiful lake in the middle of the centre. After dinner we have a class about different agricultural techniques, moral dilemmas, environmentalism and Jewish text-based learning about a variety of topics. At 20:30 I am back at the chickens to rally them back into their coop and lock up the farm gates. If I am lucky I have showered and am in bed by 21:30, well I say bed, what I really mean is a yoga mat in a tent on a platform in the middle of the forest.
From the doubts of the first night to sitting here at the end of a peaceful and restful Shabbat and a full week of work behind me, I can honestly say that I am excited for the next 13 weeks to come. To learn, grow and experience new things and to bring all of this back as we create Adamama!
Stay tuned to this blog for updates and content about different Jewish concepts, agricultural best practices, and insights into the life of a Jewish farmer.