Community farm buys 2+ acres in West Berkeley

Adam Berman, the founder of Urban Adamah, stands on the boundary of the property the group has purchased on Sixth Street. Cordonices Creek is behind him. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Adam Berman, founder of Urban Adamah, stands on the boundary of the property the group purchased on Sixth Street. Codornices Creek is behind him. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Urban Adamah, the community farm that has been operating out of rented quarters on Parker Street for two and a half years, is in contract to purchase a 2.2-acre lot next to a restored section of Codornices Creek in West Berkeley.

The organization, which integrates Jewish traditions, environmental education, mindfulness and social action, purchased the land at Sixth and Harrison streets from the U.S. Post Office for $2.1 million and has until Aug. 4 to come up with the funds, according to Adam Berman, the founder of Urban Adamah.  The land, at 1151 Sixth, is undeveloped and sits next door to the post office’s main processing facility. 

Urban Adamah hopes to move its farming and educational programs to the new site by the winter of 2014-15 and is in the middle of raising the $2.5 million needed to do so, according to Berman. The new location will allow Urban Adamah to double the size of its farming operations, increase its flock of chickens and goats, and expand its fledgling aquaponics program to raise fish, said Berman. Once the urban farm is completely built out – a process that might take years – Urban Adamah will go from producing and giving away 13,000 pounds of food a year to distributing close to 50,000 pounds. The food is distributed through food banks and a free farm stand.

“This feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in terms of this particular piece of land,” said Berman, who launched Urban Adamah in 2010. “Adamah” means earth in Hebrew. “It’s pretty exciting. I can’t sleep at night because I am so excited.”

Part of Urban Adamah’s core mission is to educate both Jewish and non-Jewish groups about farming and social action. Each year, thousands of people from elementary schools, temples and community organizations take workshops on urban agriculture, sustainability and issues of social justice. Urban Adamah also runs an annual summer camp for 150 children and a young adult fellowship program. Thirty-six Urban Adamah fellows have completed a three-month agricultural training program where they explored all aspects of the food cycle, from crop selection, to soil enhancement, pest control, animal husbandry and farm design.

Urban Adamah set up its operations on a one-acre site at 1050 Parker in the summer of 2010. The land belongs to Wareham Development and Urban Adamah knew it only could stay for a few years, said Berman. It constructed its operations so it would be possible to move them; the greenhouses, raised beds for vegetables, chicken coops, and tents are all on wheels and are portable.

Moving to Sixth Street will give Urban Adamah the opportunity to settle permanently and expand its programs, said Berman. The group is also eyeing the move as an opportunity to work with an even larger group of community organizations, said Berman. The community farm hopes to distribute food to the two emergency shelters on Harrison Street operated by BOSS (Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency). It also intends to partner with Berkeley Rep’s School of Theater and University Village in Albany, which houses thousands of UC graduate students and their families from around the world.

A rendering of Urban Adamah's new site at Sixth and Harrison Streets. David Trachtenberg is the architect.

A rendering of Urban Adamah’s new site at Sixth and Harrison Streets. David Trachtenberg is the architect.

The 2.2-acre lot on Sixth Street sits in Berkeley’s MULI district, which is zoned for mixed-use light industrial uses. While farming and agricultural uses are not listed in the “use table” for that area, Berkeley zoning laws allow any other uses that are compatible with the purposes of the district if the applicant gets an Administrative Use Permit, according to a letter by Berkeley Planning Director Eric Angstadt that was included with Urban Adamah’s application. The MULI zoning permits vocational schools of less than 20,000 square feet. There will be be a public hearing on the permit before the Zoning Adjustments Board.

So far, Urban Adamah’s neighbors seem to approve the idea, in part because it will improve a vacant lot and bring more activity to the neighborhood.

“I am so jazzed about this,” said Susie Medak, the executive director of Berkeley Repertory Theater, whose headquarters are a few hundred feet away from the lot. “They reflect so many of the values of the community. Right now, it is an empty lot that is just weed-covered, so my feeling is that anytime we can covert something that is a empty lot that is derelict into something that is lovingly cared for is a good thing.”

Medak also said that having a thriving urban farm in the neighborhood that has connections to University Village, the homeless shelter, the skateboard park and soccer fields will bring new vibrancy to the neighborhood.

“Ever since we’ve moved here I’ve wanted to create more of a sense of here, here,” said Medak.

Urban Adamah has received $1.15 million in pledges for the purchase of the property, but needs about another $1.4 million to complete the move, said Berman. The contract reached between Urban Adamah and the Post Office gives the organization until Aug. 4 to come up with the funds and do an environmental analysis of the land.

The $2.5 million will allow the community farm to dismantle its operations on Parker, fence in and grade the new site, and install electricity, plumbing and a few structures, including greenhouses. Urban Adamah plans to build a 30×30 tent for classes and programs, a kitchen and dining tent, and a farm stand. In the future, the community farm would like to add a café, an administration building, some housing for its fellows, a ropes course and more.

The new site also sits next to a restored portion of Codornices Creek. While kneeling by the creek one afternoon, Berman got excited just thinking about the ways Urban Adamah could add environmental programming to the curriculum.

“We could have kids in here doing ecological studies of the creek, helping to protect this area and become stewards of this area,” he said.

Read Urban Adamah’s application to the city.

UPDATE May 25, 2013: This article has been changed to reflect the fact that Urban Adamah is in contract to purchase the land and has until Aug. 4 to come up with the funds. Previously the article stated that Urban Adamah had bought the land.

Urban farm Urban Adamah celebrate the harvest [10.17.11]
Faith-based urban farm opens in Berkeley [06.20.11]

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  • Mfox327

    So Urban Adamah is raising money to legally purchase land in order to create an urban farm? What a novel idea! Hey OTF, take a look at how civilized people accomplish their goals!

  • Guest

    I’m sorry I don’t understand. How did they acquire this farm? What is this “money” they used? Why didn’t they just take it from whoever was using it now and start farming on it?

    So many questions. I was led to believe that urban farming can only come about by misappropriating the property of another. My worldview has been shaken to the core.

  • joshua a

    That’s great news. Urban Adamah is a great, community minded organization. I worried about the stability of the their current location and am really glad they found a permanent home!

  • AlanTobey

    It’ll be interesting to watch them continue to learn how to make the most productive use of such a cool-climate site near the bay. I’ve grown food crops for three decades half a mile east, and have learned not to expect success from warmer-climate crops like peppers and eggplants; but am addicted to our tomatoes that ripen, eventually, with an exceptional sugar-acid balance that makes them far more delicious than standard valley toms. It’s exactly like wine grapes: the best quality comes from the coolest vineyards.

    So in addition to producing food for quantity, helping to develop the notion of (for example) ‘east bay tomato terroir’ will help ground our local-agriculture efforts also in the striving for unique quality that local restaurants, diners and markets should gratefully support.

    Mazel tov, Urban Adamah!

  • Andrew

    Ssshhh… don’t tell OTF! It might make them look even sillier than they already do.

  • EBGuy

    I’ve been enjoying folks tomato ruminations this past week on BS. I threw in the towel on larger varieties this year and am planting cherry tomatoes only (though I couldn’t resist a Sungella hybrid at the Edible Schoolyard annual sale). My plants tend to grow slow as eastern light is blocked in the AM, but some of the indeterminate varieties hit 12 feet come December.

  • guest

    Urban Adamah’s responsible and legal efforts to promote urban farming bring to light what a total joke Occupy the Farm is. Extremist rhetoric, lies and contempt for our community on one hand, honest hard work and respect for the community on the other. Imagine if all those occupiers had put an equal amount of effort into Urban Adamah, or any one of a dozen other organizations in the Bay Area. Instead of tarnishing the idea of urban farming and wasting hundreds of thousands of tax-payer dollars cleaning up their mess, they could have actually done some real good. I guess it’s more fun to fight with U.C. than to actually do the hard work of dealing with our problems.

  • AnthonySanchez

    I love Urban Adamah and so glad to see them expand! If anyone gets a chance to stop by and check out the operations on San Pablo near Dwight, you will be amazed!

  • Erica

    Go Urban Adamah! I hope you’ll be able to continue your terrific summer camps throughout the moving process.

  • 2ndGenBerkeleyan

    Kibbutzim in Berkeley? Moo!
    Now here’s something strange to ponder. For 45 years we have been hearing about the “Occupied Territories” and that the Occupation is the problem. Now we have a group on the same ideological wavelength calling itself “Occupy” which wants to occupy/expropriate land belonging to someone else — to arrogate it for its own purposes and benefit. I say “End the Occupation” now!
    But I jest, of course. the real problem with OTF is exactly how UNoccupied most of its adherents seem to be during the work week…

  • EBGuy

    For those who are curious (as I was), WRE/Colortech is half a block south of this site. It looks like all the WRE/Colortech monitoring wells are west of WRE/Colortech, so their Chrome-6 plume (remember the Berkeley skatepark debacle) doesn’t intrude on the new Urban Adamah site. Detailed info at:

  • EBGuy

    I have to admit, given all the recent hubbub at the Berkeley Post Office downtown, I’m having trouble parsing: sits next door to the post office’s main processing facility.

  • emraguso

    The parcel is 1151 Sixth St. Hope that helps.

  • Guest

    Occupy = Micro-Colonialism

  • EBGuy

    For some reason I had it in my mind that the Downtown post office operations were moving to Oakland. Instead, all carrier operations and bulk mail operations will move to the Berkeley Destination Delivery Unit at 1150 8th Street. I should have searched on Berkeleyside instead of relying on my faulty memory (I do believe, however, that most sorting now happens in Oakland).

  • Bill N

    The lot has been empty for as long as i can remember and the poor old pines that were on the west side were just about done a few years ago and are all dead now. A great re-use and a great opportunity to partner with the large student community next door in Albany Village.

  • The site plan has a “tilapia pond” which is confusing both because tilapia are banned here and they typically need water around 70F or higher to thrive

  • Amy Kiser

    This is great news! Congratulations to Adam and the Urban Adamah team. They are hard workers who have built so much — in terms of both farm infrastructure and programming — in a very short amount of time on San Pablo. I can only imagine what they are capable of with this new parcel. I’m thrilled for them. They are a terrific organization and a boon to Berkeley.

  • John Holland

    Wait a minute… I thought that there weren’t any other suitable sites for a farm area. Why does “Occupy” think they can take over our golfland?

  • Susan Silber

    Awesome!! Urban Adamah is an amazing organization and I am thrilled that they will be establishing a permanent home in West Berkeley. Sad that they will no longer be walking distance to Rosa Parks Elementary; students have been going on field trips to the farm for the past two years. But now other schools and organizations will be able to benefit as well. Congrats Adam, Casey and the Urban Adamah team!

  • guest

    Feel free to donate to Urban Adamah — they still need 1.4 million more dollars.

  • The_Sharkey

    Tilapia are banned in Berkeley? Why? Are you sure?

  • EarlyMorningCoffee

    Take that OTF!

  • Chris J

    I love the entire idea of Urban Adamah, and have biked past their San Pablo location so many times. As others have stated, the contrast in their organization’s approach to achieving their goals versus the Occupy The Farm folks is apparent and so much more respectable.

    For what it’s worth, I would support any local ordnance or legislation that would promote more open land use in this town, even if it runs afoul of UC’s expansionistic plans. Clearly the OTF folks are looking worse and worse in light of the Urban Adamah approach to affecting social change.

    If I were 30 years younger developing urban farming would be high on my career path.

  • Chris J

    Haha. And even the land that UAdamah is on now is rented from the owners who are leaving it fallow and undeveloped and unsold for reasons of their own. Part of the UAdamah purpose is to promote urban gardening in places such as they are currently, knowing that said space might only be serviceable for a couple of years until the land is ultimately sold to another developer.

    I’m sure that should they be able to purchase the land at 6th and Harrison, it will still be an example of how-to-urban-farm which can carry its message by example to other urban locales.

    Best of luck to them!

  • Mel Content

    If you really want to do urban farming, this is the right way to do it. Raise your own money, buy your own land, take responsibility for your own actions. Working people will have a lot more respect for your organization than they do for the Occupy clowns who only care about starting confrontations to feed their attention-starved egos.

  • Mel Content

    I have NO interest in “urban farming” whatsoever, but I respect these people for pursuing their dreams while still acting as grown adults.

  • Mel Content

    FWIW, given the fact that tilapia are often used for sewage treatment, the term “tilapia farm” as become synonymous with “sewage treatment plant”.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Urban Adamah uses an ingenious system of movable raised beds in their current location because they knew it was a temporary deal.

    Can you play mini golf in raised beds?

  • Sari Friedman

    Good luck on this brilliant, idealistic project. Seriously. This is almost too good to be true, but I hope it DOES make it to reality.

  • therightthingtodo

    Good job Urban Adamah and good job OTF for using land for a noble purpose…cultivating the common good.

    It is wonderful Urban Adamah has money to purchase land and it is equally wonderful that CA citizens such as OTF are farming land that belongs to all of the people of CA… not a board of regents.