This week's blog post is written by Aliza, a Yahel fellow living in Lod.
Each Yahel fellow has a work placement to teach English in a school in Lod. The education system in Lod is diverse and divided by community and population in many ways. Some fellows teach in elementary schools, while others are in high schools. Fellows also teach in a range of school environments, from Arab, to Jewish, to mixed.
I am placed at the Farm School - a public
educational institution funded by the Lod Municipality that provides agricultural education to third grade students across the city. Each day, three groups of students from various schools in Lod take a bus from their school’s campus to the farm school. Students take this small field trip each week to spend time outside, work with the Earth and learn about where their food comes from. The students contribute to the farm work, witness the process of growing food from seed to harvest and also food preparation
and consumption, all while enjoying the laid-back atmosphere of the school. The students do not take this experience for granted and many say it’s their favorite part of the week at school.
The facilities at the farm school are incredibly extensive. The farm has multiple greenhouses, a plant nursery, a beekeeping cultivation area, an outdoor kitchen, a chicken/duck coop, and a hydroponic wall. The school building has many different classrooms: a kitchen, an art room, an apothecary room, and, my personal favorite, a room for animals. There is a special teacher at the farm who does animal therapy with some classes that have extra needs, whether that be emotionally, mentally or physically. She has the ability to connect with and manage a rowdy and excited group of students, while keeping the animals safe and comfortable. It astounds me every time I have the privilege to watch the magic unfold.
Clockwise, from top right: Beekeeping area, hydroponic wall growing lettuce, apothecary room, and opening up the hive to check for pests.
The farm is led by Tommi, the principal and visionary for the school. He started the farm to create an environment where students of all different backgrounds could come and learn about growing food and connecting with the Earth. The space he has created has become a haven for so many individuals whose life paths have led them to the farm, including students, teachers, and young people who come and volunteer (like ShinShinim, university students that need service hours, and Yahel fellows). The space is inclusive of many students' needs and also accessible by wheelchair - a fact not to be taken for granted, given the challenges across the globe of accessing natural spaces when physically limited.
My days at the farm are filled with connection, both intrapersonally, interpersonally and with the Earth. I always start the day in the staff room, make a coffee, and chat with the teachers and anyone else who might be joining the farm for the day. I also like to greet the animals each day, especially the baby chicks (who are now teenagers) and Coocoos, the parakeet that lives in the animal room. He always greets me with “Neshikot” (kisses) and a cheery “Boker Tov'' (good morning), and I often like to sing him a song and move him to a new area in the animal room. I often check on some gardening projects I’ve worked on in past weeks, and then will greet the students and join a few classes with whom I have connected. I always look forward to developing more personal relationships with the students and teachers as I get to know them each week. I also spend some time every day doing hands-on work on an agricultural project on the farm, such as weeding, planting, or moving dirt. The combination of these various activities every day “fills my
bucket” with joy, nourishment and connection as I continue to discover my own passions and growth related to gardening and teaching.
Left to right: Radish Love, vertical flower gardens, and baby chicks that hatched a few weeks ago
Since I worked in outdoor education last year, I hope to bring some of my own personal projects to the farm this year. I worked with one of the educators to teach a lesson on flower appreciation, scientific sketching and flower anatomy by using some of the skills and activities I used at San Mateo Outdoor Education. We did a “flower walk” around the farm and identified the range of flowers that exist in the space. Each student picked one flower that intrigued them and did a scientific sketch of the flower to observe the intricacies of the color and structure. We slowly dissected the flowers, learned about the process of pollination, and had a petal-confetti party to festively conclude the lesson.
I hope to lead some more special lessons about sustainability, the food system, building observation skills, using various forms of art as a tool to understand nature, and cooking. Some of the other Yahel Fellows at the farm and I have been working on translating some educational science-based songs into Hebrew. I will soon start to bring in my guitar and teach these songs to the students to enhance the learning process, connect to the students in an alternative and creative way, and reach students that might not be as well-attuned to traditional teaching styles.
Tommi’s farm serves as a “Garden of Eden” within Lod’s rough, urban jungle. The long-lasting impact of the school is unfathomable. The school passes on humbling knowledge about how to cultivate and grow, about understanding where food comes from, all while appreciating the energy and hard work that goes into the process. This awareness about the food system can shift one’s view on the whole world, as one begins to understand the complexity of the agricultural process, while also creating a working and connected relationship with the land and it’s unlimited potential for growth, quite literally. The beauty of this exploration and discovery at the school is enhanced by the unique and profound diversity of teachers and students who exist in the space: Jews and Arabs, secular and religious folks, Jews of Ashkenazi, Mizrachi and Ethiopian backgrounds. This reality deeply strengthens the entire impact of the school, as the normalization of an Israeli shared society exists within this small microcosm of the farm school.
Food is definitely a lens through which I view the world. It’s a powerful teaching tool that is underutilized in educational spaces. Food is a great equalizer - it brings people together and gives humans a medium to share and appreciate cultural diversity. Cultivating food grounds and connects individuals to a larger natural process and teaches them how to work in harmony with the Earth. Food nourishes us and gives us what we need to survive. I feel myself connecting to each of these truths as I work on the farm, and am learning how these lessons are foundational to social change. As each one of us feels these connections to land, community and each other, we have a greater capacity to recognize and empathize with our collective and interpersonal humanity, which consequently inspires efforts towards social equity and justice.
To quote Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants:
“I wonder if much that ails our society stems from the fact that we have allowed ourselves to be cut off from that love of, and from, the land. It is medicine for broken land and empty hearts.”