One Year with the HUC-JIR/Cincinnati Community Garden

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Dr. Michael Loadenthal, Coordinator, Beyond Poverty Project, Dr. Norma and Donald Stone Fellow, Center for the Study of Ethics & Contemporary Moral Problems, writes:

Dr. Jonathan Cohen, Dean, HUC-JIR/Cincinnati

The story of the community garden hosted on the Cincinnati campus of HUC-JIR began for me in the Fall of 2014, when Dr. Jonathan Cohen, Dean, HUC-JIR/Cincinnati, recruited me to serve as the Dr. Norma K. and Donald J. Stone fellow at the Center for the Study of Ethics and Contemporary Moral Problems. This position carried many roles, one of which was to support, grow, and help sustain a community garden on the Cincinnati campus in the hopes that it could produce fresh vegetables for Jewish Family Service’s (JFS) food pantry.

Though my work began approximately one year ago, the garden has an older story. It was first the product of volunteer labor from amongst HUC-JIR’s students, staff, and faculty. In re-launching the garden during the 2014-2015 academic year, HUC-JIR hoped to foster a garden that would be sustained by the efforts of a wider community; to help steer a student garden towards the goal of a community garden. After using the student-led model to successfully produce food for volunteers to enjoy, the garden was expanded rapidly in the early months of 2015, with the support of JFS and a new committee made up of JFS and HUC-JIR staff and students. Through the help of amazing volunteers, and the patient generosity of our Master Gardener Ben Kaufman, plans were drawn, and the necessary supplies sourced with the support of HUC-JIR. The committee organized a kick-off event in Teller Lounge on April 1, 2015, and by the middle of the month, nine new beds had been built on a portion of the lawn outside the Klau library and facing the Barbash Family Vital Support Center of JFS.

In late April, thanks to the efforts of the Cincinnati campus’ Director of Operations and Maintenance, Ronald Regula, the stage was set for many who filled the beds with compost and soil, and then later, with plants. According to a schedule worked out in the months prior, first to go in the ground were the leafy greens: collards, mustard greens, chard, and kale. These were followed by parsley, basil, zucchini, butternut squash, bush beans, sweet peppers, eggplant, green onions, and tomatoes of several varieties. Once everything was planted, the focus shifted to the garden and harvesting its produce. This effort was driven by the efforts of Sandee Golden, the Food Pantry and Volunteer Manager with JFS, and has drawn upon the engagement volunteers from both JFS and HUC-JIR. When summer makes way for Fall, it will be time to harvest the late bloomers, and before the Winter, turn the beds toward the following year.

Throughout the process of building the beds, and then filling them with soil, plants, and seeds, a wide range of individuals lent a hand. This included HUC-JIR students and staff as well as staff and clients with JFS. In working together, people were able to share responsibility in building something positive for the benefit of the community, and through their efforts, contribute to the alleviation of poverty in the immediate area. The food produced by the garden is distributed by JFS to its clients, and between JFS harvest times, volunteers and others can harvest some of the produce.

In this first year of this pioneering effort, the community garden accomplished at least four things. First it provided an opportunity for the staff, faculty, and student body of HUC-JIR and the staff and clients of JFS to build community. Through the shared sweat of planting and the equally shared joy of harvest, volunteers were able to work alongside one another collaboratively towards a positive goal. Secondly, efforts in food production helped raise awareness of issues such as environmental sustainability and nutrition, which impact all communities. Thirdly, it helped to raise issues of social justice, poverty and food insecurity impacting direct service providers such as JFS, and lastly, it produced delicious vegetables for all to enjoy.

Throughout the process, it is important to recognize the consistent efforts put forth by our volunteers including (but not limited to), our Master Gardener Ben Kaufman; HUC-JIR staff members Shelly Goldfarb, Jenny Mendelson, Phyllis Volan, Ron Regula, and Israela Ginsburg; HUC-JIR students Jessie Wainer, Lindsey Danziger, and Brian Nelson; and JFS staffers Beth Schwartz, Fran Gafvert, and Sandee Golden. Thank you to everyone who helped out we look forward to an expanded garden in the coming year!


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.