Gardeners give land a sabbatical, as composting (and other activities) continue

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Shmitta, the earthly sabbatical that returns every seven years, officially began on Rosh Hashanah on September 6, at the start of the summer vacation period.

It is the seventh year of the Torah-prescribed seven-year agricultural cycle, when most of Israel’s farmland is left fallow. Any agricultural activity, including plowing, planting, pruning, and harvesting, whether on a farm or in a private garden, is prohibited under Jewish law.

This seventh year is truly a law of nature, said Talia Schneider, who writes and teaches digital courses on permaculture and shmitta from her home garden in the ultra-Orthodox town of Telz Stone, outside of Jerusalem.

“It’s not just for gardeners, it’s for everyone,” said Schneider, who is ultra-Orthodox, returned to religion about 14 years ago. “There are some observant people who keep it in regards to the food they buy this year and there are secular Jews who keep it because they are gardeners and it makes sense to them.

For those who are strict on Jewish law and respect, the year of shmitta adds a whole list of rules and restrictions revolving around what fruits and vegetables can be eaten, where and how they could be grown. , as well as how to get rid of it. when the meal is finished.

Yet this year off the nation’s sabbatical is a process that also adds new opportunities over the previous six years, said Schneider, whose classes and books are available on his Yaar Books website.

This current shmitta year is Schneider’s third since she first observed it under Jewish law, and she closely keeps the practice of protecting seeds and soil, in order to achieve the concept of shefa, or “abundance”, every seven years.

Schneider has a few suggestions on how to keep shmitta, starting with the methods of preparing a garden in the six years leading up to shmitta, creating growth that can be plucked and consumed during the gap year.

Composting is another way to pay attention to the concept of shmitta, she said, providing a way to properly dispose of produce during this gap year, while also creating a natural fertilizer that can be used next year. , when the shmitta is over.

In one of his online composting videos, Schneider talks about his community composter, which includes waste from his own home, that of ten other families, and his community’s study room.

“La Gemara says garbage is a blessing to the world,” Schneider said.

She also recommends buying only the produce of farmers in certain areas of Israel where shmitta does not have to be observed, according to some of the complex loopholes in Jewish law. Schneider organizes his own cooperative of farmers practicing shmitta and recommends others to do the same.

A trained gardener, Schneider has been teaching permaculture, the philosophy of working with, rather than against nature, for 25 years. She discovered the close connection between permaculture and Jewish farming practices, and eventually became a nun about 14 years ago, while continuing to teach and practice permaculture.

“It’s one thing to be Jewish to me,” Schneider said.

For others, like harvester, gardener and illustrator Ilana Stein, this seven-year period is a time to let the earth rest, without interfering in its processes.

“The way I see it, shmitta is a time when I let the earth rest and I let nature come into the house,” said Stein, the illustrator for A Year in the Garden, her calendar series on the growth cycle.

Harvester, gardener and illustrator Ilana Stein (second from left) with her partner and daughters, will grow houseplants as part of one of her shmitta year projects. (Courtesy: Ilana Stein)

This year, Stein, accustomed to drying her own fruits and herbs that she usually picks outside her Ein Kerem home in Jerusalem, is experimenting with different types of growing solutions, including hydroponic plants on the water or plants. vegetables and flowers that can be grown in pots and containers – another loophole in all of the shmitta laws.

“It’s unusual for us to have plants in the house, and those that aren’t used for food but just to make us happy,” said Stein, who is focusing this year on stable plants like cacti. and succulents.

She also grows leafy greens that grow quickly in just a few weeks, from seed to leaves, like arugula and bok choy, as well as parsley.

“For me there are two processes, the plants that grow in the earth and are there every year like trees, and I look at them more during shmitta, that’s a different approach,” said Stein, who has sowed his garden before shmitta. but just leave the shoots where they are, letting nature “do what she does”.

Her other shmitta adjustment is to grow these houseplants, something she’s never done before.

“I thought I had to try this,” Stein said. “It’s a little easier and closer, like a baby that you raise and care about all of its surroundings. He’s very protected and right in front of your eyes you can see if he needs anything.

Shmitta activist Einat Kramer sees the seventh year off as a time when people are dedicated to society and community. (Courtesy: Einat Kramer)

There is another approach to shmitta taken by social entrepreneur Einat Kramer, whose organization, Israel Shmitta, is a conglomerate of 100 nonprofits, educators, and groups working on a kind of societal sabbatical, in the hope to make a difference in the Israeli community.

This is the second official shmitta of Kramer, who founded the Israeli Shmitta seven years ago, with the idea of ​​encouraging people to take some time in this forced seventh year in order to devote themselves to community projects and ideas.

“I saw it as a time to do less running, to stop and talk about things that are important,” Kramer said.

During the last shmitta, Kramer set up a tent one week per month in a different location in the country, where she picked fruits and vegetables and gave them away in some kind of ad hoc barter system.

It is a project that others are now leading this year, creating local credit banks that share professional skills.

“You can bake a cake for someone a week or fix bikes for an hour a week,” she said. “You have to remember why you are doing something. “

The last year and a half of the coronavirus pandemic has changed some of Kramer’s ideas about a societal shmitta, as deadlocks have forced people to think differently about their lives and the “utopia we thought they were living in,” he said. she declared. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, however.

“One element of shmitta is that it’s kind of a crisis, a time when you’re supposed to know what to do when there’s less to do,” Kramer said.

Israeli Shmitta kicks off her natural sabbatical this year with a talk at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens on October 13, examining the challenges of this era in Israel and around the world. The one-day conference is open to the public.


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