Jewish families in the Philadelphia-area passionate about gardening and sustainability now have an opportunity to participate in agricultural activities that strengthen religious engagement and foster spiritual growth.
The Jewish Farm School, a nonprofit that offers children an alternative, environmental education, launched Side Yard Seedlings, a garden-based early childhood program in West Philadelphia, on May 31.
The program, which is open to children ages 2-6 and runs with support from jkidphilly, was made possible by a $16,000 PJ Library Alliance Spark Engagement Grant. PJ Library, the flagship program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, supports initiatives that strive to create opportunities for families with young, Jewish children to get involved with Jewish programming.
The grant awarded to the Jewish Farm School encourages the further development of educational, Jewish farming programs and shines a light on the importance of using farms as platforms for learning. The spring pilot run will take place at the Jewish Farm School’s garden at 50th Street and Cedar Avenue.
Lori Rubin, the chief program officer at Jewish Learning Ventures, a nonprofit that oversees jkidphilly, explained why jkidphilly wanted to collaborate with the Jewish Farm School and PJ Library on Side Yard Seedlings, noting that geography played a large role in the decision.
“Geographically, jkidphilly knows and has created programs in the greater Philadelphia area. We got involved with Side Yard Seedlings because we believe families in West Philadelphia will be interested in the experiences the program offers,” she said, adding that the program could be a new way to engage Jewish families in an often-underserved area.
Nati Passow, the co-founder and executive director of the Jewish Farm School, is a parent of two young children and believes that in a rapidly developing, highly technological world, “children are increasingly spending less and less time outside in unstructured ways.”
For him, Side Yard Seedlings will “give children the chance to experience the garden with all of their senses and connect with nature in an urban environment.” When children play outside and examine their surroundings in a creative way, they learn how to respect the world around them, he said.
Passow hopes that Side Yard Seedlings makes exploring the agricultural aspects of Judaism through food and farming enjoyable for local Philadelphia families.
The program is comprised of four sessions, two on Sundays and two on Thursdays, that last 90 minutes each. Activities include nature-based crafts, story sessions, songs and games centered around the themes of the Hebrew calendar. The Jewish
Farm School’s garden can accommodate approximately 15 children in each session.
Rowan Machalow, who previously ran an in-home preschool, was hired to run the program.
Although this is the first time Jewish Farm School will be working with Philadelphia-area children, it did run a farm-based, Jewish homeschool program for three years at Eden Village Camp in New York’s Hudson Valley.
For more information about the program, visit jewishfarmschool.org/seedlings.