The Urban Adamah Fellowship integrates Jewish tradition with sustainable urban farming

Lucy Zwigard participated in the Urban Adamah Fellowship, a program that teaches agricultural practices through Jewish learnings at a two-acre West Berkeley urban farm. She now works at the farm. Photo: Janis Mara

Lucy Zwigard rolled her blue wheelbarrow to the harvesting station, grabbed her spade and started shoveling mulch at Urban Adamah.

Zwigard is one of more than 250 people who have participated in a fellowship program at the West Berkeley farm, which moved from rented quarters to its current home at Sixth and Harrison streets in 2016. Urban Adamah, which means “city and earth,” is a faith-based, modern urban farm with Jewish roots occupying two acres.

Urban Adamah offers a wide-variety of community-building programs, including classes that are open to the public on subjects like cooking, meditation, drumming and singing. The centerpiece of Urban Adamah’s offerings, however, is its fellowship.

The Urban Adamah Fellowship is a three-month residential leadership program for adults, age 21 to 31, that includes organic farming, social justice training, mindfulness and earth-based Judaism (focusing on Judaism’s connection to nature). The fellowships are held three times a year, with the next program coming up in June.


The retreat center at Urban Adamah houses the fellowship participants and hosts retreat participants during the off-season. Photo: Urban Adamah

As she pushed the wheelbarrow laden with mulch across the Urban Adamah campus in early January, Zwigard was upbeat despite the rain.

“I’m thrilled to be learning about rebuilding healthy soils. This is one of the best ways we can mitigate all the damage we have done to the planet,” said Zwigard, 22, who graduated from Tufts University in May 2018 and entered the fellowship program at the end of August. The fellowships run three months, and Zwigard’s session ended in mid-November.

She has completed her fellowship and now works full-time at Urban Adamah as a farm hand, Zwigard said.

Ari Eisen, public programs and retreat center director, said, “We believe our best work happens when people come here for immersive experiences.”

Fellows live on campus, and as many as 14 fellows are accepted at a time. They live two to a room in a dorm on campus.

“They learn everything there is to know about urban farming – seeding, transplanting, harvesting, goat milking, chicken egg collecting,” Eisen said.

The fellowship began in 2011 at the former location on Parker Street and has graduated more than 250 young adults who have gone on to work in such areas as environmental education and policy.

Urban Adamah fellows learn a variety of agricultural practices, from seeding to goat tending. Photo: Janis Mara

The farm harvests a staggering array of produce, including rainbow chard, onions, radishes, turnips, carrots, broccoli, cabbage and tomatoes. There are two greenhouses and 30 kinds of fruit trees at the campus.

“Our goal is to grow as many things as possible so we can teach about how to grow in an urban setting,” Eisen said. There are also three goats, 14 chickens and a worm compost operation.

One of the most meaningful parts of the fellowship for Zwigard was learning about ancient Biblical Jewish agricultural practices, she said. One such practice is shmita, which is letting the land rest every seven years.

“It’s a beautiful ritual that has been lost a little bit, but understanding how to put back into practice these basic rituals is inspiring and is a platform through which to envision social justice through food and community,” Zwigard said.

As part of their agricultural training, fellows visit and help out at other farms and gardens in the Bay Area. Visits have included Sunol AgPark and the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center.

The actual cost of the fellowship is $15,000 per person, Eisen said, but participants are charged a flat rate of $750. Urban Adamah is funded by individual donations, grants from foundations and farm visitor fees.

By 2016, executive director Adam Berman and the board had raised around $2 million to buy the West Berkeley property and $6 million of the $8.2 million needed to build out the farm. Another fundraising campaign is underway to raise $6.5 million for additional construction.

At present, the 600-square-foot building where fellowship participants live is also used for the retreats when fellowships aren’t going on. In the fall, construction will begin on a retreat center in the northeast corner of the campus, Eisen said. It will sleep 46 people and will be exclusively a retreat center.

Urban Adamah hosted its first multi-day retreat for young adults age 20-35 in December. Attendees at the three-day retreat farmed, celebrated Shabbat together and learned skills like basket weaving. The next young adult immersion weekend is coming up April 5 -7. Participants in the various programs needn’t be Jewish, Eisen said.

Urban Adamah fellowship participants run its free farm stand on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Photo: Urban Adamah

Fellowship participants run the Urban Adamah free farm stand, assisted by community partners including the Berkeley Food Network, Alameda County Food Bank and City of Berkeley Nutrition Department. The free farm stand is at 1151 Sixth St. and is held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesdays.

Urban Adamah has raised and given away more than 60,000 pounds of organic produce since the Sixth Street farm bore fruit and vegetables in 2017.

Zwigard said her favorite part of the fellowship was living in community with 12 other people.

“Singing together every day, playing music and cooking with each other was so nourishing and joyful,” she said.