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.

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


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