March 21, 2011 Mini-Farm Missive

Greetings All plotnicks,

Here’s a recap of some of our conversation and decisions from our meeting on March 21.  First, thanks again to Jan and Bob for hosting—how sweet and comfortable it is to be in your warm and cozy home!   And thanks to all for your contributions to a sumptuous supper.

News    Steve Marglin has offered to bring us a truckload of composted manure!  We will need a group of people to unload on a Sunday in April.   Peter Merbacher of New Growth Gardens has offered to give us lots of seedlings.  He mentioned that he just planted 1000 seedlings over the weekend, for his various gardens.   Providence Ministries in Holyoke feeds 180-200 people a day in the summers (lunch) and another 150-200 families in the evening, and they would be deeply grateful to receive whatever fresh food we have to offer them.  All of it would be used.  None would go to waste.  People come from many surrounding cities and towns to eat at these kitchens.  They do have a truck and will be happy to come to pick up food.  Also, they are open 7 days a week and we can drop off food at any time, so we do not have to worry about waste.

Rob Kaufman did mention that an herbicide was used for the first time last year to get rid of dandelions. He will try to find the name of the pesticide and its effects—it was Not Round-Up.

Design Group      Ruth and Jan and Bob presented 3 possible designs for the garden.  Each involved 3 raised beds that would be 4×8 or 4×6.  We will grow vegetables in the raised beds, where we are assured of the soil quality.  There would also be several inground beds in which we can grow flowers and gourds (Sukkot).  Many different kinds of plants will be grown in each bed.

The group decided to start with a relatively small area, to insure that we can care for it.  If it turns out that our group expands, and it is clear that we have a committed group of Plotniks, we can expand the garden for a second planting.

As soon as Aaron gets the blog up, we can post the design on our blog.  We leave it up to the design group to decide which design they would like to recommend to the larger committee.

We discussed building a shed in the shaded area next to the synagogue wall (in between the windows where it would not be visible)  We may also want to have a sitting area in the shade.

•Danielle will be collecting soil samples for a soil test and contacting U. MA extention.

•Designers will decide which designs they want to recommend and prepare a graphic for a presentation to the larger group on April 4.

• Group will stake out the garden on Sunday April 3.  Bob will provide stakes and string.  Ellen will alert  the building committee and maintainance staff

Establishing garden/Lawn discussion      We discussed  several possibilities regarding the establishment of a garden space.

• pulling up the sod

• laying cardboard/newspaper over the sod and then putting compost on top of that and planting over that

• we did not discuss rototilling (as we have been trying to keep the garden “sustainable”—but this is an option as well. . . Steve Marglin has offered his rototiller.)

We can all be thinking about this and we can put the question out to the larger community.  We may want to see how many people are willing to come out to pull up sod on  Sunday, April 10–if we have enough people for this activity, perhaps we should go ahead and remove the sod.   While pulling up the sod is lots of work, it could be a great community building activity, and for some people in the group it is the preferable option.

Scheduling     Shemariah provided us with a sample overall garden calendar to keep us on task.  Much of the “heavy lifting” work will be required on the front end in April and May as we need to establish the space itself as well as a shed and composting area.   We decided to set up a few initial workdays on Sundays in April and will establish more once we get a sense of how the project is unfolding.

The current schedule is:

Sunday, April 3:  1:00                         Core Group Staking the Garden design

Monday, April 4: 7:00 (synagogue)              Community Meeting

Updates on Garden progress–Ellen

Garden Design—Jan, Ruth, Bob

Soil test results–Danielle

Compost ideas—Robert


Needs and work day sign-ups—Ellen

Sunday, April 17th 10 AM            Work Day: Sod Removal or Prep of Sod or Rototilling

Sunday, April 24  1 PM                Work Day: Double Digging and Building of Raised Be

May 2nd Work Day: Double Digging and Building Projects

Compost    Shemariah will share the composting ideas and designs via email and we can also post to the blog

Needs Ellen will be posting a letter to the JCA community updating on the progress to date and the schedule.  She will also be asking for things we need.

How Can You contribute to the MINIFARM?

• Are you growing seedlings for your own garden?  Give the JCA all the seedlings you can’t use.  Or feel free to buy some seedlings for the farm; we’ll let you know what we need.

• Join us on Sunday Workdays beginning in April

• Do you have old garden tools that you want to contribute?  We hope to have kids-sized tools as well as regular tools for adults.

• Do you have building skills or building materials?  We need you to help build our shed, compost bins and fence.


Thanks for all your great work and look forward to seeing you soon,




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Farm-Workday Cancelled today April 17th due to waterlogged earth! See you on the 24th!

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Ro-Ho Garden Cultivator












Thank you to Michael Pill for donating this tool.

This is a Rowe Manufacturing Company “Ro Ho” gardener or garden cultivator. It was produced in Galesburg, Illinois for many decades by that company, with similar models produced by other companies.

The toothed wheel helps break up the soil surface. It can be used two ways. With the five long pointed cultivator teeth to the rear and pointed down as the tool is wheeled through the garden, it cultivates the soil. Turned over and used as shown in the advertisement with the teeth pointed up and the weed cutting blade going through the soil behind the wheel, it serves as a weeder.

Like the historic Planet Junior hand-pushed seeders and wheel hoes, these tools greatly increase productivity of garden labor. A “Ro Ho” or other wheel hoe tool can accomplish in a few minutes what it would take someone with a hand hoe or a hand weeder hours to accomplish.

These tools were very widely used from the late 19th century up to the mid-20th century, when many people gardened. The movement probably reached its peak during World War II. Food (and everything else) was strictly rationed during the war, so the only way to get more food without dealing on the black market was to grow it oneself. There was a nationwide Victory Garden backyard gardening movement that by 1944 produced one third of the vegetables grown in the United States.

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Garden Design

We will post design ideas here.

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Compost Designs

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Vintage Farm Posters

This gallery contains 8 photos.

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Fencing Ideas

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March 1, 2011 Mini-Farm Missive

March 1, 2011

Dear All,

Thanks again to Bob and Janet for hosting us and providing such a delicious and healthy meal, and such a toasty and welcoming atmosphere.

As I mentioned, each day something interesting happens with this project and today is no different.

Coincidentally I was on a email communiqué with the building committee at the JCA this morning and happened to be in touch with Steve Woolf who is an architect.   He is happy to help us consider all the architectural questions that we have and he is already working on figuring out exactly where to place our garden so as to afford us the greatest sunlight.  He is also thinking about composting and a shed—from an architectural perspective.  He has already sent us a site plan of the property, which I have attached.

Here’s what we decided last night.

1. Sustainability Our garden will not use power tools, such as a powered roto-tiller.  We don’t need to be dogmatic about this, but rather we aspire toward this goal.  Part of our goal is to instill in our community the love of labor–or at least the respect for it, foster manual intelligence, and learn what it takes to bring forth food from the earth.

2.   Goals The goals of our mini-farm are to grow

A.     a portion of our food/produce for the  at-risk community

B.    a portion for JCA’s weekly Shabbat table (tomatoes, peppers, cukes,          lettuce, carrots) and JCA’s ritual needs including flowers for High Holidays, a variety of gourds for Sukkot (and possibly wheat for Shavuot).  What we grow will be determined in part by what the “at-risk” community needs.

•Bob & Ellen will research needs of food pantries in Amherst & Holyoke.

3.   Seeds As a group we will not be growing seeds but individuals may do this (and we will all be grateful!).  We will reach out to the community at large for seedlings and we may purchase some seedlings.  Bob has many varieties of seeds that he is willing to donate to the project.

•Ellen will produce a flyer to go out to the JCA listing all of our needs, including seedlings.

4.   Garden design and the question of flat and raised beds.   The general consensus was that we would have a mixture of flat and raised beds.   The advantages of raised beds are that they are more comfortable to work on (especially for our older members) and that we would not have to worry about soil quality, which we will not be able to ascertain until April.  The advantage of flat beds is that they are less costly.

The group will also consider what we want to be planting given the needs of the community and will consider companion planting and what crops should be planted where.

•Ruth, Bob and Janet will work up a few different design ideas and will present these to the group at the next meeting.

5.  Composting, and the question of whether we need to improve/update the JCA composting procedures.  There is some concern as to whether folks would muck up the composting system by throwing in sugar items.  This problem may be helped by good signage and education.  We do want to have as a goal that JCAnicks understand the need/value of composting.  We want all to know/appreciate the cyclical nature of life.

•Robert will survey the current composting situation (both in the kitchen and the compost bin outside)  and will make a recommendation at the next meeting.

6.   Scheduling We need an overall seasonal schedule to stay on task.

Shemariah will develop a calendar for us

7.   Expenses      Various expenses will include soil and soil amendments, wood for raised beds, shed, garden tools, hosing, stakes, cages, fencing, 50 lb scale, black/board (communication board). We will do what we can to keep our expenses to a minimum, while covering our costs. We should easily stay within our budget.  Whenever possible we will look for volunteer contributions.

It may be nice to make the building of the shed a community building event as well, so if there are ways of thinking about engaging the community at large in this without creating headaches, that would be nice.  What are the building costs for the shed and what can be donated?

•We will need a 3’ fence to deter rabbits and enhance our design.

•Bob found that 4×8 raised beds cost $85 and 4×6 beds cost $75

•Estimates on composted loam ranged from $35-45/cubic yard

•Danielle will work on finding volunteers to build a shed (Bob Weitzman, Scott Nielson, others); certain considerations include how big a shed and where to locate it.  Architect Steve Woolf is happy to consult on this.

8. Communication   For the time being Ellen will coordinate communications.  At some point down the road, someone else may want to take over this task.  Rav Weiner suggested a blog and will discuss with Aaron Bousel.  Our goal is to communicate as completely as possible with the understanding that we want to keep excellent records on this project, knowing that others in other communities can benefit from all of our experiences—from our challenges and stumbling blocks as well as our successes.

• Ellen will develop a flyer/email that will go to the JCA list, stating the needs of our group. We will be looking for seedlings as well  as  garden tools (including tools for children), and we will be looking for volunteer builders.  Future flyers will discuss work days and garden rotations.

Next Meeting: March 21, spring equinox 6:30 PM potluck at the Winston home.  At this meeting we will decide on a design based on the rec of the small group.  We will also hear back about other various tasks.   We will schedule work days to begin the establishment of the garden beginning in April.



Enjoy the sun, happy trails, nesiyah tovah,  and look forward to seeing everyone soon,



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First Meeting of JCA Mini-Farm Feb.20, 2011

First Meeting of JCA mini-farm

We held our first meeting of the JCA mini farm on Mon eve Feb 20, 2011.  Even though we had frigid temperatures and many of our community were out of town on school vacation, twelve eager and adventurous souls showed up.

Ellen laid out a preliminary plan for a garden, which would be sited (hopefully) to the north of the JCA kitchen.  Much of the discussion focused around the many opportunities that a garden will offer us as a Jewish community: opportunities to build community, to provide food for those in need, to teach young people (and the rest of us) where our food comes from, to engage in the precious and fulfilling act of growing our own produce, to cultivate new paths for spiritual connection and expression (most of us find God outdoors in nature), to foster intergenerational conversation and relationships,to expand our venues and understanding of prayer (every green plant sings a prayer to God, said the rabbis), and  to participate in an authentic Jewish activity.

We also face certain “threats” (in strategic planning lingo) as we contemplate any new venture.  Everyone loves the IDEA of a garden/farm, but the reality is that a farm or garden takes thoughtfulness, love and labor; we will need committed volunteer energy.  It is essential that we have a good experience with the garden.  Just as a beautiful well-cared for farm/garden will lift the spirits of the members of the JCA and make them proud, an untended garden sends a negative message about our community to the public and leaves a bad impression.  So our first agenda item is to consider whether we have enough volunteers who are willing to COMMIT to a certain number of hours in the garden each month.

After all the people in the group introduced themselves and spoke a bit about their interest in gardening or farming and their relationships to the JCA, we asked whether we had a minimum of 3 people who would commit to a minimum of 8 hours a month to serve as part of a core group: as either a leader on a shift or a leader of a particular garden project.  We believe that we would need this number of people at a minimum to get the project started.  The start-up aspects of the project are particularly labor intensive and include decision making about siting the garden, developing a budget, purchasing equipment and tools and soil amendments, and actually turning a lawn into a garden.

Happily four people volunteered to participate in the core group: Bob Winston, Ruth Kane Levit, Shemariah Blum Evitts and Robert Friedman (some may need to ween themselves from the core group after the first phase).  Bob Winston has affectionately named the core group: the garden Plot-niks (!).  In addition another 4 people volunteered to take on a regular rotation of a minimum of 4 hours a month: Ken Bernstein, Eliezer Huber, Andra Rose & family, and Susan Reisman.  David Rabinowitz will come occasionally.  The rabbi and Ellen B. will also be participating on a regular basis.

Our new neighbor, Bernard Brennan, from Amythyst farm also attended the meeting and volunteered to be helpful in whatever ways he could.

We heard from the Amherst Montesorri school that a teacher and her 10 students would like to take on a Thursday shift every week.

Other folks who contacted me who were not present included Robin Diamond, Jim Seltzer, Michael Pill and Amy Beth and Nicole Fuller (Montesorri) and Jackie Katz.

Our meeting of the garden plot-niks will take place on Monday Feb 28.  Contact if you have interest in taking leadership in the garden and want to attend this meeting.  Within 1-2 months, we will come up with a schedule by which other people can either sign up for garden shifts (probably there will be opportunities 3x during the week), and I will be in touch again by then if not before!  I will also be posting updates in the JCA newsletter.  If you know of others who should receive this note, please forward along to them.

Last but not least! The day after our meeting, Michael Pill gifted us with our first farm tool!   Thanks so much, Michael, for this generous gesture!  The Ro-HO garden cultivator is presently sitting in the rabbi’s fireplace until we decide where to keep tools!  You can see a picture of it by clicking on “Our first donation” on the Blog.


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