Excerpt from the current Urban Agriculture and Food Justice Service Trip, Monday May 23

Greetings from the farm! And by farm I mean 'hood!  I'm sitting with Sadye Sagov '13, Kelly Hickey '14, and Ilana Pomerantz '13.  I hope to sit with a few students each night to compile the story of the day for you.  We don't have a laptop or internet in the house, so bear with my Blackberry version.
We all arrived in Philly this afternoon - 11 Brandesians and me! We are joined here by Nati Passow, the founder and director of the Jewish Farm School and Jessy Gross, a fifth year rabbinical student and JFS educator.  We gathered at home base, a rented house in W Philly (stop singing the Fresh Prince theme song).
After getting the basic tour of the house and learning about the neighborhood, we gathered in the living room.  (The living room, it was noted by several participants, looks very much like the Peace Room in Usdan, but without the stinky foot smell)

Our first ice breaker, we shared a food that we have a connection to.  Many participants spoke about memories of a food that connected them with friends and family across the generations.Then we talked about our needs and wants over the course of the week, establishing guidelines for our communal living experiences and group dynamics.
We went on our first site visit - the garden at the University City High School.  We learned about the history of the neighborhood, the conflicting values behind the original intent for the school in the early 70s (magnet school for kids of Penn professors) and the needs and demographics of the neighborhood (large urban, predominantly African American).
We took a tour of the garden which was built by students and staff (incl Nati, founder of jfs). A select group of students are hired and paid to work the garden. We heard stories of students who went on to other jobs in restaurants and garden centers as a result of what they learned through the vocational training that the garden work provided them.
We learned about the networks of community gardens in the city and even the rehabilitation training program at a local prison where the seeds are started in the green house before being given to the community gardens for planting.
Some of the food in the garden is used to supplement the curriculum of the nutrition education program in the school, much is shared with a local food pantry and some of the food from the garden is sold at a local farmers market.
After dinner, we began the sharing of our food journeys.  Each evening, a few participants will share their stories about their experience and connection with food.  Tonight's sharers told of experiences which transformed their thinking and subsequent decision making around the foods they choose to eat and the foods they refrain from eating.
It was a very good day!
Cindy Spungin is the Associate Director of Hillel at Brandeis University. The Urban Ag Service Trip is a program of Hillel.

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