By Ben Curtis
Although winter is approaching, a JFarm garden outside of the Maryland Hillel building is still blooming in more ways than one.
The JFarm garden, supported by the Hillel club since 2009, is part of a mission to strengthen the Jewish community on campus by planting crops and hosting events and special guests. Talya Kravitz, the club’s president and a senior architecture major, stressed that the group is focused on more than just crops.
“There is a lot of other programming that we can, and hopefully will, do,” she said. “A lot of people think that JFarm only exists because of the garden, but the garden is just one of the things that JFarm does.”
Other events the group puts on include potting plants, painting benches and signs and welcoming guest speakers such as Yosef Gillers, the founder of Grow Torah who came to speak on this campus on October 21 last year, according to JFarm’s Facebook page.
“We did kind of what our standard work is, which is garden-based, experiential learning,” Gillers said. That included both hands-on gardening of “winter vegetables” and a “group interactive text study,” Gillers said.
While the club is technically run by Hillel, and Annie Prusky, a Hillel employee, serves as an adviser, Kravitz noted the autonomy with which the group is provided.
“No one at Hillel is telling me what to do,” she said. “The thing that’s really cool about the clubs that exist through Hillel is that they are entirely student-run, so almost all of the programming that you see that comes through Hillel was planned by students.”
Prusky also praised the ability of the club to remain in the hands of students at this university.
“It’s very important to me and to Hillel that organizations like JFarm are student-run,” she said. “JFarm has a lot of autonomy to do the kind of programming that they like, and my role is to help make that programming happen and to support Talya and other leaders with whatever they need.”
The group has also seen an uptick in interest recently, which Kravitz believes may be due to more consciousness of climate change in recent years.
“I definitely think that has to do with the growing awareness of climate change and sustainability,” she said.
The connection to sustainability also helps strengthen the group’s connection to Judaism. “The concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world, is relevant to many social justice projects,” Prusky said.
“[Tikkun Olam] is a catalytic concept that is absolutely beautiful, and is a lot deeper than just social justice,” Gillers said.
The garden itself is still central to the group’s mission. Located just outside of Hillel’s doors, the group will continue to plant and harvest crops despite the cold temperatures approaching this university.
“We just planted our winter crops, including garlic, clover…and spinach,” Kravitz said. “The next time we will get to plant in the garden won’t be until the springtime when it’s warmer and we get more sunlight.”
While crops have been donated to food pantries in the past, due to a low recent yield, students have had the chance to bring home the crops they have planted, Kravitz said.
In this vein, Kravitz has taken pride in the niche the group has created within this university’s Jewish community.
“JFarm serves as a very unique way to engage Jewish students who might otherwise not be involved in Hillel or in Jewish life,” she said. “The bond of the Jewish community on campus is very strong.”
However, Prusky also said that she wished there was a larger crossover between those who more regularly attend Hillel and the JFarm club. “I’d love to see even more interaction between students who are regularly at Hillel and this important student group,” she said.
Kravitz also pointed out the ability for the group to connect with those who may be less religious.
“Engaging students through social justice is a really important way that Hillel involves students through alternative programming that doesn’t revolve around text study or davening (prayer),” she said.
Kravitz pointed out the effort made to reach out beyond those who may go to Hillel more often.
“JFarm tends to attract people from all over, whether they are active members in the Hillel community or not,” she said.