Abundance Farm, Survival Center celebrate growth of plenty

  • Abundance Farm farm manager Rose Cherneff, foreground with back to camera, gives a tour of the one-acre garden at Congregation B’Nai Israel, during “A Celebration of Shared Abundance” on Sunday. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Survival Center Program Director Sarah Pease gives a tour to visitors attending "A Celebration of Shared Abundance" on Sunday, June 3, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Abundance Farm Farm Manager Rose Cherneff, arms raised, gives a tour of the one acre garden, located at Congregation B'Nai Israel, during "A Celebration of Shared Abundance" hosted by the farm and Prospect Street neighbors The Northampton Survival Center on Sunday, June 3, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Survival Center Executive Director Heidi Nortonsmith speaks to about 70 people attending “A Celebration of Shared Abundance” hosted by the center and Prospect Street neighbor Abundance Farm, Sunday. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Laurie Sanders, Co-executive Director of Historic Northampton, presents "A Natural and Cultural History of Northampton's Alm's House Property" to about 70 people attending "A Celebration of Shared Abundance" hosted by Prospect Street neighbors The Northampton Survival Center and Abundance Farm, located at Congregation B'Nai Israel, on Sunday, June 3, 2018, in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Nili Simhai, the Director of Outdoor Education for Abundance Farm, speaks to a group of 70 visitors during "A Celebration of Shared Abundance" hosted by the farm, located at Congregation B'Nai Israel, and its Prospect Street neighbor the Northampton Survival Center on Sunday, June 3, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Survival Center Program Director Sarah Pease, left, answers questions about the center from visitors attending "A Celebration of Shared Abundance" on Sunday, June 3, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Survival Center board member Cher Willems gives visitors a tour of one section of the center during "A Celebration of Shared Abundance" on Sunday, June 3, 2018, in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Abundance Farm Farm Manager Rose Cherneff, back to camera, gives a tour of the garden, located at Congregation B'Nai Israel, during "A Celebration of Shared Abundance" hosted by the farm and Prospect Street neighbors The Northampton Survival Center on Sunday, June 3, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 6/3/2018 9:19:22 PM

NORTHAMPTON — When it came time to harvest the first food from the Abundance Farm back in 2014, farm staff picked all the fruit and vegetables and brought them next door to the food pantry at the Northampton Survival Center.

Last year at the farm — a collaboration among Congregation B’nai Israel, the Lander-Grinspoon Academy behind it and the Survival Center next door — staff observed with happiness as others harvested the entire farm over the course of the season, including 685 clients from the Survival Center. This year, people have even begun bringing their own plants to the space.

Those developments, and the continued growth of the partnership, were a reason for celebration Sunday, when around 70 people came together to hear about the history of the land, and to tour the garden and Survival Center.

“At the Abundance Farm, we’re trying to blur these lines between who is giving and who is receiving,” farm manager Rose Cherneff said to those gathered. When a woman brought her own squash plant to the land this year, Cherneff said it hit her. “That to me is a sign we’re really doing it.”

This summer will mark the fifth harvest at the farm, situated between B’nai Israel and the Northampton Water Department on Prospect Street. Rabbi Jacob Fine, the director at the farm, said that now close to 4,000 people will come visit the farm each year — from farm neighbors and Survival Center clients to people wandering off the nearby bike path.

“It just grew, no pun intended, in a really organic way,” Survival Center Executive Director Heidi Nortonsmith said of the partnership. “We’re really, really grateful for that, and to see what comes next.”

The initiative, Fine said, has a threefold mission: justice, community and education.

“The partnership with the Survival Center has been a core part of the mission of this project from the outset,” Fine told the Gazette. “We’re celebrating that here today.”

For that third component — education — classes are integrated into the curricula of the Lander-Grinspoon Academy, and the ALMA religious school and Gan Keshet Preschool at B’nai Israel.

Nili Simhai, the director of outdoor education, said those three schools form the educational core at the farm, with educational efforts growing from there.

“That then reflects outwards in all kinds of ways that then helps to educate the community,” she said. Students have signed up to grow, design spaces and run the pick-your-own harvesting that anyone from the community can participate in. That, Simhai said, helps erase the disconnect between people in need and those who want to serve.

To give those gathered a sense of the surprising history of the land the farm has sprouted from, the group invited naturalist Laurie Sanders, co-executive director of Historic Northampton, to give a presentation.

The land, as it turns out, was formerly the location of the city’s “poor farm,” which was built in 1825 for those who were deemed “worthy” of assistance, as compared with other “able bodied” residents who were struggling financially.

Sanders’ presentation incorporated the history of the canal that was built from 1828 to 1835 to connect New Haven and Northampton — “a terrific failure” because of railroad competition and the seasonal nature of canals, Sanders said.

Eventually, a new railroad line was built on the former canal line, which in 1983 became the bike path that exists today and runs beside the Abundance Farm. The building of that railroad out into Haydenville, however, took as much as 5 acres of the best farmland from the poor farm, which by the 1890s was already “a disaster,” according to Sanders.

Eventually, the city sold the property to the synagogue in 1960, and in 1986 brought the Survival Center to its current home next door.

To end her presentation, Sanders discussed the geological history of the area in order to give an idea of why the poor farm’s remaining land was seemingly so useless after the railroad took its best soil. What remained was sandy land, the result of an ancient delta created where the Mill River flowed into the glacial Lake Hitchcock that covered much of the modern-day Pioneer Valley.

But the property was described in an oddly prescient 1891 Gazette article that Sanders dug up in her research, which seemed to hint at events that began in 2014.

“The east side is strong, wet land,” the article begins, referring to the Barrett Street Marsh area on the other side of the bike path from B’nai Israel. Then, referring to the land where the Abundance Farm now exists, the article continues. “The west side is light, sandy soil, where with proper treatment a good garden could be had.”

That was exactly the mood on Sunday, when Cherneff, the farm manager, gave tours of the rows of peppers, peas, tomatillos and other plants growing on the serene one-acre plot. Though the land may be sandy, leaves have been dumped on the property over the years and now people bring their compost and kitchen scraps.

“There’s no such thing as bad soil!” Cherneff exclaimed enthusiastically, the food growing around her a testament to that belief.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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