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Interfaith Farm School Creates Rural Utopia

Children and parents work together at eco-friendly Kayam Farm.

A few miles north of Main Street, down Mount Gilead Road, sits about five acres of farmland with peach trees, strawberry plants and many more fruits, vegetables and herbs.

On a regular Monday morning at Kayam Farm, a 4-year-old eco-friendly farm, high school interns were flipping compost and pulling weeds out of the strawberry patch. Farm manager Ian Hertzmark watered ají dulce chili peppers in the greenhouse.

In between the strawberry patch and the greenhouse, a group of preschoolers and homeschooled children and their mothers gathered in a gazebo. The group, which included Muslims, Christians and Jews of mixed ethnicities and backgrounds, was there for the weekly interfaith farm school.

“It’s both to deconstruct boundaries and create a normalization,” said Teri Jedeikin, the farm’s multicultural intern and one of the interfaith farm school’s instructors. “Farm space and art spaces are really amazing places to do that.”

Before leaving the gazebo for the day’s activities, the kids and their parents danced the “root, scoot and boogie” in which they imitated being carrots and other roots. The song segued into a discussion about people’s geographical roots, which ranged from African to Native American. The group then sang a song about loving the Earth in English, Hebrew, Spanish, Arabic and even in sign language.

“What I’m hoping for is the learning by osmosis,” said Elizabeth Smith. “The more they’re exposed to other people, the better.”

To introduce the day’s theme of recycling and renewing, the group talked about the Jewish tradition of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, the Muslim tradition of going to Mecca, a spiritual renewal, and the Chinese New Year. Abby Streusand, a farmer/educator, showed the kids dried marigolds and the seeds inside to explain the plant/seed cycle.

“We just love it,” said Pam Kramer of Westminster, whose daughter, Harper Fair, is in the class. “It’s all about the differences and similarities between plants and people and life cycles.”

It was off to the chickens after that, where Streusand explained how chicken droppings are “recycled” when they turn into soil and have plants grow out of them. The students grabbed new eggs out of the chicken coop to be counted, although one being carried by Lev Manela cracked after he fell. It was no reason to fret since it gave his mom, Nets, wife of farm director Jakir Manela, a chance to explain how a yolk becomes a chicken.

After counting eggs and meeting the farm’s new Nigerian dwarf goats, it was over to the Rainbow Garden, where the kids pulled weeds, mashed up soil and planted.

The group was joined by Jedeikin’s group to plant slow-drip irrigation systems using recycled materials. Plastic soda bottles with tiny holes poked into the sides and bottom were planted, leaving only the top exposed, to act as sprinkler systems for plant roots.

“Everybody works together,” said Harper Fair, 7, Kramer’s daughter.

While the farm is often geared towards Jewish schools, Jedeikin said they hope to use it as a springboard for engaging different religious leaders. The farm is also looking to have similar after-school programs and hopes to expand, with its ongoing animal pasture project being the next step.

“As it expands, the educational components expand around it,” she said.

By working together, the kids in the interfaith farm school grow less conscious of each other’s different backgrounds while growing more knowledgeable about their cultural differences, Jedeikin said.

They also learn sustainable agriculture practices.

“The face that they’re engaging with the food they’re planting is very good,” Jedeikin said. “We’re teaching healthy habits.”

Mary Ann Spiro May 26, 2011 at 02:08 PM
Nice story Marc. Well reported. I had no idea this was nearby.
Melinda Greenberg May 26, 2011 at 02:18 PM
Thank you for your coverage of this lovely program that brings together adults and children from different backgrounds for a meaningful eco-educational experience. Kayam Farm and the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center, where it is based, are jewels in the crown of Baltimore's Jewish community. Both are part of the system of local agencies and programs supported by THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and represent the commitment THE ASSOCIATED has made to create an environmentally-sound and sustainable community.
Francesca June 06, 2011 at 12:46 AM
My husband and I knew the interfaith farm school was something special after we joined with our children this spring, but reading your words Marc, makes it even clearer how special this program is. I hope your story encourages other families to come out and let their little ones learn about farming, faith, and the roots that bind us all to the Earth. Peace, Francesca

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