Barnert garden a project for all hands – and all ages
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Barnert garden a project for all hands – and all ages

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Sharon Ramsey of Mahwah supervises while her children David, 4, and Hannah, 20 months, turn the soil and prepare a bed for planting. Karen Galinko

Four years ago, Barnert Temple’s preschool teachers realized that gardening could provide amazing educational opportunities. They had read about “Nature Deficit Disorder” – the idea that children spend too much time on computers and not enough unstructured time outdoors.

It was in this environment, as well as wanting children to connect with foods they eat, that the seed to create a temple garden germinated.

This spring those ideas are coming to fruition. Earlier this month, 30 congregants aged 1 1/2 to 70 met to help design and build raised cedar beds, take part in seed and plant selection, and study Jewish texts relating to the garden’s mission. The following Monday the fence was installed, and according to Seth Haubenstock, who co-chairs the Garden Committee with Eileen Roman, “We hope to plant by May.”

The garden has become an educational opportunity not only for the young but for the entire Barnert community.

“Every segment of the community will be involved in simple, unintimidating but inspirational experiences,” Haubenstock said. “It is a way to dip your feet into temple involvement. In every stage of the garden’s development there will be Jewish and environmental educational opportunities led by Rabbi Elyse Frishman and Sara Losch, director of Lifelong Learning.”

The garden will also be a tool to enhance other temple initiatives on such concerns as Africa, Israel, and the global water crisis.

One project raises money to help Rwandan women catch rainwater from a church roof. A similar system will be set up in the temple garden to help members appreciate the challenges the Rwandan women face.

For years the Barnert community has served dinners to the St. Paul Men’s Shelter in Paterson. A new goal is to have students use vegetables and herbs picked from the garden to prepare meals for the homeless men.

Preschool and religious school classes will have special garden days built into the curriculum. “There will be ample opportunities for students to work in the garden and lessons on how Jewish texts teach to care for the earth … especially during Jewish harvest festivals,” Losch said.

An outdoor classroom (made up of stools cut from the trunk of a dead ash tree) is already being used for Preschool Circle Time, and an experimental section will be planted without any modern support such as soil-testing, fertilizers, and water sprinklers.

The learning opportunities go on and on, Losch said.

Every stage of the garden’s development is announced in weekly temple e-blasts, updates on a Facebook page, and frequent blogs. “The ideas are flowing from all sides,” she said. “People are writing in to us on Facebook, coming to meetings, and showing up with incredible energy and generous offers of time.”

And, according to Haubenstock, the local community has also gotten involved. The fence was built by Jan Fence. Garden State Irrigation provided the irrigation. Scenic Landscaping, whose owner is congregant Mitch Knapp, provided the soil, mulch, machinery, and gravel.

There is even talk of the installation of a greenhouse by spring 2012.

So what started as the idea of a few teachers has grown into a temple-wide initiative.

“Everyone is not only welcome but enthusiastically encouraged to get their hands dirty,” Losch said.

For more information, call Losch at (201 847-1027 or e-mail her at welvkds@barnerttemple.org, or call Haubenstock at (201) 532-6666 or e-mail him at bigmacha@aol.com.

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