Field Development Learnings
In January 2015 at a unique gathering convened by the Leichtag Foundation with the strong support of Urban Adamah and other practitioners, Jewish farmers from across North America and from Israel came together to shape the contours of a new field.
Over the course of several days, they engaged in dialogue to begin to develop the elements of a robust field that would improve the quality of their programs, improve perceptions and understanding of their work and increase financial support for the field and its practitioners.
Participants were excited at the prospect of building on the JOFEE (Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education) report (undertaken by the Jim Joseph Foundation and a consortium of other funders) that currently represents the only serious data and research about the impacts of these type of programs. And they were enthusiastic about the potential for future development and the opportunities that come with professionalization, as has been the case with Jewish Camping and Israel Education. They used words like “fertile, budding, nascent, ripe” and more to describe the potential they felt.
But along with their excitement, the group initially expressed a number of concerns:
· A serious lack of knowledge about other related organizations and what they do (no “map of the field”)
· Worries about the loss of individualism and downsides of standardization in a field strongly associated with individualism and creativity
· Serious questions about the definition of the field and the range of individuals and organizations that should be included
Over the course of two days participants worked in small groups and plenary to identify strengths, needs, goals and actions around four key areas of field development:
· Shared Identity
· Standards of Practice
· Knowledge Base
The initial development of a field is a complex undertaking. Individuals representing organizations that may be at best loosely affiliated must begin to see themselves as deeply connected; as having shared objectives, approaches, methods, and goals.
Defining the Field
After an initial, world-café style discussion of these four areas, participants expressed a strong desire to, as a group, step back and clearly define the field. Following a deep and nuanced discussion of the importance of inclusion, the range of missions and starting points for their various organizations (tikun olam, building Jewish identity, sustainability, etc.) the group developed their own clear and specific description of the field, and expressed a strong commitment to doing the work necessary to develop that field over the months and years to come. They defined the field as follows:
Jewish Community Farming
What We Do:
Use farming, gardening, and food as a means to build Jewish identity, Jewish community, and make the world a more just and sustainable place.
A Jewish community farm in every Jewish community.
Strengths, Needs, and Actions
Dialogue surrounding the question of shared identity led directly to the desire for the field definition discussion. Participants clearly wanted the time, financial support and guidance to explore and articulate shared goals and desired outcomes. They agreed that critical questions surrounding issues of geography (urban vs. rural vs. suburban), pluralism, and core values (e.g. is education, Jewish identity, sustainability at the core?) were worthy of in-depth exploration. Jewish traditions, a mind-body connection, shared experience, pluralistic engagement and strong farming and agricultural culture were cited as strengths in this area. But the lack of clear definition, a strong individualistic bent and a culture of exclusivity work against creating a strong shared identity.
Creating a stronger shared identity requires a number of actions and supports, including a detailed and thorough mapping of the field, strong brand development and accompanying marketing, regular convenings, more consistent, structured communication and the means to build organizational connections to individual programs.
Participants identified several categories of knowledge they believed if shared would strengthen the field, including education (curricula), agricultural techniques, interfaith, connections between Judaism and agriculture, social justice, professional development and fundraising and development. While they agreed that there was already trust among practitioners and a desire for collaboration along with excellent curricula, collaboration is ad-hoc and no formal structure currently exists for professional development or sharing of any knowledge in these areas. They cited the lack of “elders in the field”, minimal funding for evaluation, and the absence of agreed-upon central questions to explore in evaluation as major impediments to the development of a knowledge base.
In order to advance the field’s knowledge base, the group identified several critical needs that would have to be addressed: success indicators, ongoing gathering of information, identifying essential knowledge/skills, technology for sharing curricula, and funding for both research and dissemination of the findings
Standards of Practice:
In many ways discussions around standards of practice were the most fraught. Concerns about rigidity and restrictive standards shutting down creativity and innovation surfaced again and again, and the group gravitated towards a “best practice frame” instead of standards of practice. However as the discussion evolved, there was a gradual shift and acceptance that around several key areas — education (public), training (internal), organizational structure and revenue generation (through sales, program fees and philanthropy) the development of some standards and best practices would have powerful benefit for everyone in the field. An impetus for developing some standards of practice came in the form of a question, “if someone were starting a Jewish Community Farm, what might someone need to know/do and where would they go for the information?” Strengths in this area included talent, cross-pollination of staff (ad-hoc), creativity and innovation and similar structures.
To advance in the creation of standards of practice, the group suggested several key needs, including leadership, the creation of case studies in other, similar fields, national training and convenings, and participation in secular farm-based education training.
Dialogue around funding was closely linked to other areas of discussion and the need to develop a shared identity and knowledge base in order to attract funders. Participants noted that Jewish Community Farms faced challenges with philanthropy as funders expected farms to cover their program costs, however very few are able to do so without philanthropic support. Few organizations have a traditional development director model, and there was broad agreement that most would benefit from professional development and best practices in donor development and stewardship. Strengths in this area include a diversified funding base, strong local support, common and succinct messaging, an interest from Jewish institutions and terrific raw materials for marketing.
To make a more compelling case to support funding for organizations in this new field, participants saw the need for: an identified, articulated field, a more cohesive case in regard to evaluation and outcomes, professional development capacity, incentives from funders and a collaborative fundraising effort.
Where to go from here:
As a final task, participants self-selected into working groups again around the four core areas and developed actions that they felt would move the field forward. While each outlined a number of objectives and activities specific to their area of discussion, there was a tremendous amount of common ground in the key tasks they outlined, many of which centered around ways to formalize more systemic collaboration and support among organizations at the table.
· First, the funding group agreed that it was essential and a top priority to develop a funding proposal to support all of the activities critical to field development. A small group will craft and then vet a proposal that will include funds for robust evaluation. detailed field mapping, convenings to address training, shaping of mission/vision, values, program design and evaluation, dissemination of results and outreach to other fields/institutions/communities ripe for program development. The Jewish Funders Network presentation in March will be an important milestone.
· Included in the proposal and key to all four working groups was a structured process to map the field, gathering information about mission, programs, funding, curricula, and technical practices.
· And both the standards of practice group and the shared identity group agreed that subsequent structured (and sometimes less structured) convenings (regional and national), both face-to-face and online were critical to advancing their work in these areas. In addition, they suggested that a small group begin the work of creating a mission, a vision and a set of goals and values for the field that would then be vetted more broadly.
To support all of these important steps, a leadership group is currently being formed. This small group will include Daron Joffe, Adam Berman, Jakir Manela and possibly several others leading practitioners and thinkers in Jewish Community Farming. The leadership group, working with Leichtag Foundation staff and consultants will define and refine next steps.
At a closing session, participants expressed their deep appreciation, their excitement about what was to come and their enthusiasm for doing the hard work required to put the pieces in place to create a robust field. One summed up the evolution of the group’s thinking and sense of potential for what is to come with this:
“I came in here feeling like I was working by myself at my own organization, and my relationship to the field totally evolved over three days. I now feel I am part of something much bigger and more collaborative, and I am excited to help that field develop.”
Participants in 2015 Jewish Community Farming Field Development
- Rebecca Bloomfield, Hazon
- Shamu Sadeh, Hazon
- Becca Weaver, Boulder JCC
- Andrew Gurwitz, Eden Village
- Simone Lindenbaum, Eden Village
- Yoni Stadlin, Eden Village
- Aaron Ney, Ekar
- Nati Passow, Jewish Farm School
- Chip Edelsberg, Jim Joseph Foundation
- Yoni & Maya Yefit, Kaima Organic Farm
- Jim Farley, Leichtag Foundation
- Daron Joffe, Leichtag Foundation
- Matt Karlin, Leichtag Foundation
- Andy Kastner, Leichtag Foundation
- Devorah Brous, Netiya
- Jakir Manela , Pearlstone
- Greg Strella , Pearlstone
- Casey Yurow, Pearlstone
- Risa Cooper, Shoresh
- Adam Berman, Urban Adamah
- Zachary Friedman, Urban Adamah
- Ariela Ronay-Jinich, Urban Adamah