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August 09, 2012 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-08-09

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.


>> on the cover

East Side

between Downtown
and Detroit
buds under urban
farming project.

Marielle Temkin I JN Intern


"Karen had mentioned many times she
was interested in having a garden in her
neighborhood',' Nosan said, "and others
at the meeting said they
were interested in their
food and where it came
After that meeting,
Nosan and Knox devel-
oped an unusual idea
creating a farm based
on Jewish values on
Blair Nosan
an empty lot in Knox's
predominately African-
American neighborhood.
As their idea took on a more concrete
identity, Nosan brought her friend Sam
Plotkin, who lives in the Detroit Moishe
House, into the picture. The two met at
Adamah in Connecticut, an agricultural
program of the Isabella Freedman Jewish
Retreat Center.
"During my time at Adamah," Plotkin
said, "Blair and I discussed the possibil-
ity of bringing our Adamah experience
to Detroit. This meant finding a way to
observe Judaism through a lens with par-
ticular concern for our agricultural cycles,
our relation to the natural world and
social justice in Detroit?'
In addition to Nosan and Plotkin's agri-
cultural experience at Adamah, Nosan is a
commercial pickier, and Plotkin works at
Detroit Farm and Garden and urban farm
Food Field.
One of the trio's first steps was to look
at the empty lots and decide if they could


August 9 • 2012

Sam Plotkin, Karen Knox and Blair Nosan (not pictured) are spearheading the urban farming collaboration.

grow on the land and to get a sense of
how the residents of the neighborhood felt
about their idea. "Blair and Sam came out
to the neighborhood to take a look:' Knox
said, "and they spoke to the block club.
"We also did a door-to-door survey in
the neighborhood asking people how they
felt about the idea and how they would
be involved:' Knox said. "Most were very
open and welcome to the idea?'
Nosan explained, "It's very important to
the goals of the farm that we're not plant-
ing just anywhere. This is coming from
the dual interest of the synagogue and
the neighborhood, and that dual interest
has already created a special relation-
ship between the groups. Bringing them
together is our main goal."
When Plotkin and Nosan first went to
the neighborhood, Plotkin said he was
"I was shaking in my boots:' he said,
"because even though Karen had invited
us, it still felt strange to have two white
kids going into this neighborhood saying
we have a great idea for their space [the
size of three lots]. But once we expressed
our interest in the farm and explained
our motivations, people began to show
"The community members challenged
our ideas in myriad ways. The difference
in faith and background between the two
groups hasn't been a problem; everyone
has been tremendously welcoming on
both sides."
In addition to creating a friendly and
collaborative relationship between the
groups, the farm will teach people how to
garden and be self-sufficient while creat-
ing change in a space that needs it.
To meet those goals, the people involved
need to have the right mindset, and
Plotkin says the synagogue members do.
"The group of people at the synagogue
is incredibly engaging and very diverse,'
he said. "There's a wonderful energy there,
and that energy comes from the people
— there's so much enthusiasm?'
Nosan explained the connection the
IADS has with its surrounding com-
munity: "The mission of the Downtown
Synagogue is to provide a space where we
can create diverse opinions and expres-
sions, but we're also invested in creating
connections to the broader Detroit com-

"We see ourselves as a conduit for
relationships to be built beyond the walls
of our building, and we see Cornerstone
Farm as a perfect way for us to work to
achieve that," she said.

Grant Awarded

Once the group laid out its goals and
formulated a general plan, it applied
for a grant through the Jewish Women's
Foundation (JWF), which gives Jewish
women an opportunity to use leadership
and financial resources to make a differ-
ence in the lives of other Jewish women.
In June, they were awarded an $8,000
grant, which they will use to fund edu-
cational programs. A major component
of Cornerstone Farm will be these pro-
grams, through which its members will
teach community members about dif-
ferent aspects of farming, healthy eating
and religious holidays, and host various
farming workshops once the crops are
planted in spring 2013.
Helen Katz, JWF director, said "We
really like the idea of the partnership
between the Isaac Agree Downtown
Synagogue and the neighborhood
and that they can build bridges to the
broader community through the Jewish
"It's going to be a great educational
project for everyone, and it's wonderful
that people will be reconnecting with
the source of our food and nutrition?'
Nosan said, "With the money we
received from the JWF, we'll start with
service learning programs. The idea
behind service learning is to place an
emphasis on the learning —about self,
community and society — which can
happen in the context of doing service
work. Service learning views volunteer-
ing primarily as an educational oppor-
"We hope that by getting people to try
new things, like planting and gardening,
we can get them to talk about it, which
will open up a space for dialogue?'
The funding for the infrastructure of
the farm supplies and equipment will
come from personal funds.
"In terms of manpower, that'll all be
volunteer:' Nosan said, "and donations
and tool sharing will help cover our

basic supplies. We picked a low-cost
route to get the soil ready, so we can get
started at a very low price."
As the team gets going, Knox says its
biggest challenge right now is maintain-
ing the lawn on the empty lots.
"The block club is trying to raise
money to buy a community lawnmower.
If we can keep the grass cut, then we
can put compost on it and build the soil
up and get it ready for planting in the
spring:' she said.
They also plan on holding some class-
es in the fall; possible topics range from
canning and pickling to
relationships between
Jews and African-
The public relations
representative for Eden
Gardens, Andre Walk,
has been involved with
the block club for a year
Andre Walk
and believes Cornerstone
Farm will be a valuable addition to his
"I think it will add significance and
culture to our neighborhood:' he said,
"and I think it will inspire growth both
educationally and personally among our
residents and those involved?'
For Walk, the collaboration between
the block club and the IADS is important.
"I think it's a unique experience for us
to work together, and I hope this will show
other inner-city communities like Eden
Gardens that working with other cultures
can inspire our youth to do bigger and
better things along with other cultures
and ethnic backgrounds:' he said.
Along the same lines as Walk's thinking,
Plotkin said, "I think what this program
represents is an opportunity for two differ-
ent communities to come together around
a common project that's as fundamental
as food. Food is the basis for life; it's what
people gather around, and to have people
investing their time and energy into this, I
think it's a wonderful way to engage these
two communities?' 11_

For more information about Cornerstone Farm,

including volunteer opportunities, contact the

Cornerstone Farm planning team at

cornerstone farmdetroitgroup@googlegroups.


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