Wanted - field workers to join farm project


Londoner Talia Chain is looking to move to rural Kent in a few weeks as the first stage of a plan to set up a Jewish educational farm.

She and like-minded friends have been inspired by American Jewish environmental programmes to launch a similar project here called Sadeh, the Hebrew word for "field".

It will be based at Skeet House, near Orpington, which for more than 70 years has been an out-of-town residential centre for Jewish youth groups.

"I'm planning to move down to find a house later this month and we've started booking events," she said. "A lot of people are interested in what we are doing."

Two years ago, Ms Chain took a sabbatical from her job in fashion technology to spend a few weeks at the Isabella Freedman Retreat Centre in Connecticut on the Adamah fellowship.

"I found a new kind of Judaism," she recalled. "Earth-based Judaism."

Living communally, she combined learning about Jewish environmental sources with practical sessions on making compost or looking after goats.

"Every morning we would wake up and do a morning service by the lake," she said. "It was lovely. The farm managers were very knowledgeable about Judaism.

"I wasn't brought up in a hippyish way, so I was surprised I liked it as much as I did."

Although she has been urban farming for two years, she discovered Skeet last year when she and a friend organised a retreat there for young Jews which looked at "new ways of community."

"I couldn't believe my eyes," she added. "I was amazed by the space. It's seven acres and it's got huge fields. It's not used to its full potential."

During the Second World War, evacuated East End Jewish boys grew vegetables there.

Many of Ms Chain's generation have drifted away from the more conventional synagogue-based Judaism of the suburbs. But environmental programmes such as Adamah have helped "reconnect Jews back to their faith". While many did not always appreciate it, she added that "the heart of our religion is to take care of the planet".

A £15,000 crowdfunding campaign has been launched to cover the farm's start-up costs.

Initally, the plan is to hold sessions for visiting youth groups - "on Friday you could pick bsamim [fragrant herbs] for havdalah" - and family days on Sundays, teaching pickling and other skills, before introducing longer-term programmes. The produce grown will also help supply the Skeet kitchen.

Meanwhile, Ms Chain and her husband, Josh Charig, who brews beer in his spare time, have been getting in some practice by farming in Ireland. "I work mainly on a kind of market garden on the West Coast, providing fruit and vegetables for old people's homes," she said. "I'm living a country life and they think it's hilarious I'm Jewish."

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