Becca Bodenstein is a nature guide, garden grower, and environmental teacher in LA’s Jewish community. As the Director of Jewish Life at the New Community High School, she teaches 11th grade Judaism and the Environment text course and runs the school’s organic garden. Bodenstein, who knows about Jewish gardening from the ground up, will share her expertise about educating, programming and growing food at the Hazon Food Conference West taking place in Sonoma County, Calif. on December 23-26.
Jew and the Carrot: How did you first get interested in starting an educational garden?
Becca Bodenstein: In 2003, as the program director at the Shalom Institute in Malibu, CA, I was honored to be part of the building of the Marla Bennett Israel Discovery Garden. Over the several years since, I worked and learned from many knowledgeable, spiritual and passionate educators who taught me organic gardening and how to hone my experiential education skills. As a MA Ed student at the American Jewish University, I focused much of my studies on creating curricula for garden purposes.
What is the process of getting an educational garden off the ground?
Each garden, and subsequent community, has its own process, but there are a few constants along the way:
1) Identify the proper space: sunlight, soil, water source.
2) Create a committee to be in charge of fundraising/budget, programming/content, design, and planting and maintenance of the garden. Including a wide spectrum of people from the organization is important. 3) Patience. Breathing.
4) Don’t re-create the wheel. There are many wonderful garden groups and resources out there to help guide you.
5) Create a long-term plan.
It has been my experience that there are many talented people in each community who can bring their creativity to make the garden unique and special. However, it’s really important to balance the excitement and possibility of a garden with the proper know-how about seasonal planting, sunlight and watering needs so that the garden has a strong foundation and can be successful through many, many seasons.
What has been an interesting outcome of running your garden?
I often find that there are those who advocate for gardens and there are those who are dubious. The dubious powers that be are always swayed in the end that putting in a garden was a great idea. Gardens are visually beautiful, smell and taste good and engage people of all ages. Plus, the garden becomes an additional community space for spirituality and engagement. I have seen some amazing gardens that focus on the Seven Sacred Species of Israel, herbs for Havdallah and advocate for Jewish land use ethics such as peah and shmitah.
What I love most about the garden process is the world of possibility that exists after it has been built. Gardens can help create greater environmental change in a community – tikkun olam for the long term. Once food becomes a topic, there is a chance to raise greater awareness about hunger, nutrition, pesticides, food waste, and food worker justice.
In the big picture, I see gardens… as a means for much greater environmental change. Once you have a garden, why not a compost system, a grey-water catch system, solar panels or a way to deal with food waste?
I look forward to the day when gardens move beyond being trendy, but rather clearly represent the environmental cultural shift that is needed and is possible in all of our communities.
To hear more from Bodenstein and other influential Jewish foodies check out the 5th Annual Hazon Food Conference.