By Joe Atmonavage
As you walk up to the University of Maryland Hillel building, the first thing you notice is a colorful mural painted on the fence board and a garden enclosed by another bright fence.
This is the home of JFarm, a Jewish gardening group at the university. The garden, founded in 2008, serves many purposes for the Jewish community on campus and also for local areas in Prince George’s county.
“JFarm was started to illustrate the connection between environmentalism and Judaism and to grow healthy food for those in need,” said Jesse Rabinowitz, a recent University of Maryland graduate and one of the founders of JFarm.
JFarm, which was originally called Am Ha’aretz, grows various types of herbs and vegetables. They grow dill, basil, and oregano along with various vegetables such as kale, lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes, according to sophomore Shulamit Shroder, who is a part of the four-person JFarm board.
While a focus is gardening fresh produce, JFarm is more than just a Jewish farmer’s market.
“We like to get the Jewish community involved in gardening and learning where their food comes from,” said Shroder. “We donate the produce that we produce to a local family shelter called the Prince George’s Crisis Center because they do not get much fresh food and vegetables. “
With the erratic winter weather, JFarm has not been growing much produce lately, but Shroder said she believes things will begin to pick up next week as the weather continues to get nicer. The fall semester is the time period where they harvest the most produce, according to Shroder.
When members of JFarm are not out in the garden getting dirty, they talk about all sorts of issues regarding food.
“We like to talk about issues with food justice, access to fresh food, and food that is good for you,” Shroder said. “Food justice is a giant umbrella term for the idea that a lot of people don’t have access to cheap food or to food that is good for them. We like to raise awareness to this disparity because a lot of people do not have access to it, can’t afford it, or don’t know how to cook it. We try to address some of those problems. “
In order to address the various issues of food justice, JFarm holds various events throughout the school year to raise awareness in the Jewish community. The group holds smaller events involving gardening activities, but also larger events where they bring in outsiders to talk about food.
“We like to have a gardening component, but when we are not gardening, we like to have more events about food,” Shroder said.
Last year for an event, the D.C. Central Kitchen had a panel discussion regarding food justice. D.C. Central Kitchen is an organization engaged in food recycling and meal distribution programs, according to their website.
JFarm is continually looking to expand, but with constant turnover of people graduating, they are taking JFarm’s progress a day at a time.
JFarm is open to the Jewish community at Maryland and offers an opportunity to get involved with the community while having a good time.
“It’s a lot of fun, especially if you like to get dirty,” Shroder said. “It makes you feel connected to giving back and getting involved in the community.”