Over the Fence Urban Farm

Cooperatively farming small patches of Earth in Columbus, OH


Leave a comment

Finding time…

Sunshine for cloudy days

This isn’t nearly close to the first time I’ve sat down in front of this screen and realized it has been a l- o-n-g while since I shared an update. My last one was over 2 months ago. I’m not sure where the time went. Like the rest of the world, we’re over here in a holding pattern waiting. We’re waiting for rain, waiting for back-to-school plans, waiting for election day, waiting for an invitation to a party, waiting for a lead on a job, waiting for a vaccine. You’d think the farm would be booming and this blog would be filled with updates with all the time I’ve had on my hands.

Big bulbs, bright spot

But time does not equal action. Action requires motivation.

One great thing about cultivating plants for food is that they need you. And they tell you want they want. Water me. Prune me. Pick bugs off me. Eat me. And those kinds of finite tasks are great when you can’t see the end of the tunnel your traveling through. Washing dishes and walking the dog helped me write my dissertation without going insane. (Thank you Thich Nhat Hanh!)

Mystery Squash

Creative and academic friends share they’re also having trouble doing work – making art, writing articles, designing rituals, wrestling around with an idea for more than 10 minutes at a time. I know this feeling. I had big quarantine plans to attend a printmaking workshop a colleague was teaching (two-week artist residency, sign me up!), to work through old writing notes that have been littering my desk literally for years, and to read some of the old professional journals collecting dust on the bookcase. None of that has happened. But there’s still time, right? We’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

Summertime views

Cultivating vegetable plants offers us multiple times to start over throughout the year. As a Jewish farmer I appreciate how this echoes our traditions of seeding, fertilizing, and pruning our life goals. We have just begun the countdown to our New calendar year, a period of time marked by deep reflection, reconnection, and redirection as we review time gone by and plan for the next round of living. It’s nice how this coincides with the time to plant fall gardens.

Seed(ling) bed

This fall I hope to have a better showing of greens than I did in the spring. Greens are usually my point of pride. But the weather is forever messing with our plans. Cold/hot/cold spring followed by dry/hot/dry/dry/dry/hot summer. It didn’t used to be like this. The climate is changing.

The fact that it was so hard to grow food in Columbus, OH this year, a year I planned to take for shmita – to give the land a rest according to Jewish tradition, it’s hard not to think I am being punished for not following through on taking a break. When the quarantine was announced, I raced to plant seeds as a sign of hope and resilience. Gardening is so powerful for us today in part because it is something tangible. It’s a multi-sensory experience that gets us out from behind these screens.

Another one lost to the garden theives

But racing to action isn’t always the best way to go about things. We know this and I think shmita is supposed to remind us of it too. As Rabbi Joshua Heschel taught,

Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time… Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of the year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals…

I have come to regret not leaning into this Shabbat on steroids. But next year is an official shmita year when Jews around the world will rest. Maybe I wound up growing this year so I can take off on cycle with others.

And, there’s still time to lean into this period of unknowing we are in. To embrace the uncertainty and cultivate values. And plants.

There. I wrote something.


Leave a comment

Embracing Persephone: My Shmita Year

Today is the start of Persephone Days in Central Ohio; we are about to dip below ten hours of sunlight per day, the darkest time of the year. Many of us feel this darkness deep within ourselves as we head towards the Winter Solstice. (For more on Persephone as she relates to farming practices and Greek Mythology, go back and read Preparing for Persephone.).

This time for slowing down seems as appropriate as any to publicly announce that Over the Fence Urban Farm’s CSA program will be on hiatus for the 2020 season. I have declared this year my shmita year.

Shmita is rooted in Jewish wisdom tradition. Various times the Torah makes mention of this as a sabbath for the land. Just as Shabbat (the seventh day of each week) offers us a day for complete rest and reflection, shmita offers year of release.  

The practice is outlined in the book of Exodus when, before Moses led the Jews into the land of Israel after their forty years of wandering, he agreed to a covenant with YHVH (aka G?d, aka the divine presence in the universe that exists within and between all things, aka you fill in the blank): after six years of growing on and harvesting from the land, farmers would be required to let their fields go fallow. It was an agreement made in recognition of the importance of the land and with reverence for its power and potential.

Questions abound as to whether or not shmita was ever observed as outlined in the Torah. Along with the year off for the land, Jews were called upon to relieve debts and release slaves. Humans, being the self-serving animals that we are – even those of us with the best of intentions – find it hard to let go of material possessions once we have them. And so, early on work-arounds were created to protect assets and income, for example transferring land possession to non-Jews for the shmita year.

Historically, Shmita was required only of Jews living in the land of Israel. (Even there, only the most Orthodox observe it.) It was deemed an undue burden on those living elsewhere and according to Orthodoxy, such requirements are forbidden. However, 21st century Jewish environmentalists in Israel and around the world are finding inspiration in shmita. As we face the challenges of climate crisis and related issues of social justice, we ask what can shmita teach us? How can it help guide us to live our lives in respect and appreciation for the land and all it provides?

For me, as a part-time urban farmer who often finds herself juggling a one million and one responsibilities, I was drawn to shmita as an excuse to take a break. After six years of racing around balancing my work as an art educator, homeschooler, non-profit board member, and urban farmer running a community-supported agriculture project out of my backyard, I am exhausted. I am ready for a sabbatical and grateful to Jewish wisdom tradition for offering me permission to take a break. I need time to reflect on where I’ve been and where I want to go next.

I am also convinced that the land needs a rest. The kind of intensive agriculture I practice—in which a single bed may host as many as 4 rotations of crops per season—is taxing on the soil. This past season was so dry the land really suffered. I hope a year off, a year in which I feed the soil with deep layers of mulch rather than demand produce from it, might pay off in the years that follow. If what the Torah says is true we’ll be set for two years if we take this one off. If not set in food to eat, re-set mentally, spiritually.

2020 is not an official shmita year. But it is my seventh season on the farm and so I’m making it my sabbatical year. Some might not find this kosher, but they’re not in charge around here. I am.

In my shmita year, I would like to explore (without working too hard and ruining the whole point of my break) the possibility of sharing shmita with others. I’ll be sure to share ways to stay connected with this project in this space as it unfolds. Feel free to also leave comments below or email me with your comments and questions.

Peace out. Namaste. Shalom.

jodiK