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Kayam Farm: The Meaning of Lettuce Plots

At the end of August I spent a day at Kayam Organic Farm, as part of my university’s annual Hillel leadership retreat. Our group’s tour of the Maryland-based Jewish farm concluded in a small children’s garden. Completely over run with grass and weeds, it was hard to make out a row of lettuce that had been planted in the shape of Hebrew letters.

Struggling to read what word they spelled out, I finally realized it was the first half of the alef-bet, or Hebrew alphabet. My group’s small service project was to clear the second half of the alphabet plots so that we could plant more letters for children to eventually “harvest”.

Our letters would be some of the first things to grow in the children’s garden. Ultimately, the garden will also include a gan adam, or a vegetable patch grown in the shape of a man. The vegetable plot will be a gathering place for Kayam’s programs, one of which invites home-schooled Jewish, Muslim and Christian children to the farm to work and learn together.

All that was standing in the way of these garden projects was the weeds. I looked at these small plots, then I looked at my fellow board members and I’m ashamed to admit that I was skeptical. Clearing weeds is not hard, but I had my doubts that we could make this garden ready quickly. Fifteen minutes later I was shocked to look up from my work to see the second half of the plots were ready to be planted. When the tiny lettuce plants were brought out, I jumped at the chance to plant a mem, the first letter of both my English and my Hebrew names.

One of Kayam’s goals is that this alef-bet garden will mimic the tradition of giving young children Hebrew letters covered in honey at the beginning of the school year. Just as they should learn that Torah study is sweet, these plots will help them learn that so are things like nature, fresh food, and hard work. The idea that children should learn that something as simple and healthy as lettuce is sweet and good moved me. At that moment it wasn’t about children or lettuce or even community service, it was about learning that you reap what you sow in any context. Whether it be planting seeds of tolerance, love of learning, or even simply lettuce.

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