There are a lot of ways to get to Doylestown from Philadelphia. You could take 202, or 611, if you wanted. You could even take back roads, if you’re a glutton for punishment.
Yitzchak Glasman’s road to Doylestown, where he hopes to break ground on Shalem Farm in February, took him on a route that included years-long pit stops in France, Israel, California and all over South America. His road to Doylestown involved marrying an American, a freelance garden design business and losing his job due to the pandemic.
The road to the future site of Shalem Farm has been as circuitous as it could be, but Glasman is hoping that the Jewish educational farm he plans to build is going to be worth the trip.
“I want the farm to be a demonstration of what we can do when we use our Jewish permaculture techniques,” Glasman said.
Glasman, 36, grew up on the west side of Paris in a neighborhood he said was sort of like Lower Merion (he lives in Wynnewood). The family house had a garden, and Glasman spent as much time in it as he could. His first job was to clean up a local garden, where the time he spent immersed in thoughtfully planned agriculture nurtured something in him.
He studied sustainable tourism and hospitality in France and, for 10 years, worked in sustainable tourism and agro-tourism in South America, France and Israel. It was in Israel that he met his wife, Rachel, a New Jersey native. In 2016, the newly fused Glasmans moved to California, and Yitzchak Glasman got his first experience as a garden designer.
After spending time in Lancaster so Rachel Glasman could more easily commute to her job at Franklin & Marshall College, they moved to Wynnewood, where Yitzchak worked as a freelance garden designer, showing families how to grow their own food, and as a Jewish educator. When he lost his teaching job due to the pandemic, it left him with time to fill and long-dormant ideas to nurture.
He decided to follow his dream: to build an organic farm created with principles of Jewish permaculture. Shalem Farm would be the name.
Shalem means “complete” in Hebrew, Glasman explained. He feels that shalem captures something about his project, which melds permaculture and Jewish principles of ecology. By creating a diverse, self-sustaining organic farm, Glasman believes that there are many lessons to be taught to those who are curious about the undergirding principles of such a project.
Glasman imagines that Shalem Farm, a project for which he seeks to raise $53,000 via the Jewish crowdfunding platform Jewcer, will be a pluralistic, welcoming environment for Jewish students and a destination for field trips, gardening workshops and holiday retreats.
“It could be a place where we can learn, work, practice, relax, have fun and connect,” Glasman said, comparing his vision to the Pearlstone Conference & Retreat Center in Reisterstown, Maryland. Pearlstone, similarly suffused with Jewish principles, sits on 180 acres. At the moment, Glasman is looking to make 10 work.
“From a commercial farming perspective, that’s not huge,” said Nati Passow, co-founder and executive director of the now-defunct Jewish Farm School. “But from an educational farming perspective, that’s a really nice size.”
Passow is excited to see what Glasman can do with his own site, a practice that Jewish Farm School eschewed in its work. Though the farm school is no more, the educational materials that they developed were compiled and made freely available to people interested in learning or teaching. Glasman has used those materials for reference in the creation of Shalem Farm’s educational programs.
“There’s a lot of potential here,” Passow said.
In addition to the guidance he’s received from Passow, Glasman has gotten helpful advice from Mark Lichty, who owns land in Doylestown. Though Lichty is not Jewish, he is interested in land regeneration as a bulwark against climate change, and when he heard about Glasman’s project, he was only happy to pitch in.
“He’s a passionate guy, and he’s got a deep background in this,” Lichty said. “He’s a very committed person.”
Nice as it is to have that kind of support in his corner, Glasman’s project will not be without difficulty. That’s true for any venture that seeks to work the land, but Glasman’s Shalem Farm has an added hassle.
Part of the idea for Shalem Farm is that it will be a land regeneration project, converting land that was previously used for conventional monoculture into the teeming Jewish landscape he envisions. The money he hopes to raise through Jewcer will be used to cover regeneration costs, as well as materials, labor and the creation of a nonprofit entity to support the farm’s educational activities.
It won’t be easy, and Glasman’s fundraiser has a long way to go. But with his journey to Doylestown taking as long as it has, raising money to do what he loves is just another step.
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