Environment 01.18.19

Enjoying Fruit and Planting Seeds: The Nature of Nature

By Sarah Chandler

“Farmer Sarah, what will happen to all of the plants in the winter when it snows?”

This past fall, as the hours of daylight grew shorter and the temperatures dropped, my students asked me this question every time I saw them. They were concerned about the plants we had been caring for, many of which we had planted from seed together. Even though I’ll be back in the garden with them in March, three months feels like a very long time when you’re in elementary school. The campers who plant at Jewish summer camps worry less about the fate of their plants in the winter, but they do wonder – will I ever see any of these plants again?

There’s good news for our campers and our students – many of our plants will still be alive the next time you’re in the garden!

Our immersive education includes growing the plants we will later harvest, wash, check for bugs, say blessings over, and eventually eat. For schools, it may be one of their only chances for outdoor play or integrating science class with Hebrew prayers. For camps, the garden may be the first place that campers can get excited about colorful vegetables, and understand the ways nature nourishes us – and our responsibility to care for it in return.

At GrowTorah gardens, we always grow a medley of plants. We mostly rely on annuals – plants that need to be seeded every year – for our modern diets. And yet, the Torah laws about protecting trees (which are perennials, not annuals) are about honoring the species that will stay alive from year to year, continuing to fruit. While the annual plants will die off and need to be replanted, the perennials will still be there when you return next year. The combination of new and old, annual and ongoing characterizes not only the natural world, but Jewish life – and Jewish camp life as well. While campers can return to the same camp year after year (a perennial experience, if you will) the annual aspects of the experience – new fellow campers, new perspectives now that they’re older and wiser, new activities, etc – also provide sustenance and inspiration. Nature not only surrounds many Jewish camps, but can provide a model for how to honor the cyclical nature of life as well – and how to enjoy the sweet fruits of our past while joyfully planting new seeds for the future.

This week, for the holiday of Tu B’Shevat, we honor the natural world. Whether you are nourishing a school garden year round, looking forward to planting at your camp, or caring for some herbs on your windowsill at home, we hope you’ll take a moment to celebrate plants and the earth. And whatever nourishes your soul from year to year – be it a garden, a Jewish camp, a loved one, a combination of all three, or something else entirely – we hope you take time to honor it this Tu B’Shevat as well, while leaving space for “new seeds” to grow.

Sarah Chandler is the Earth Torah Soul Genius aka Garden Educator of GrowTorah at Barkai Yeshiva and Yeshiva of Flatbush.

GrowTorah builds educational Torah Gardens at Jewish day schools. Currently, we are partnered with 13 schools in the NYC, NJ and 1 Philadelphia. GrowTorah was selected as one of six Jewish social ventures to participate in the Orthodox Union’s inaugural Impact Accelerator cohort, to help us scale and grow responsibly so that we can bring our program to every Jewish day school across North America within the next 10 years.