The Urban Adamah farm, located at 1151 6th Street in Berkeley, CA, was a bare lot when we purchased it in 2013. After a great deal of fundraising, planning, permitting, soil moving, and laying of infrastructure, we were able to move our operations and programs from our temporary site to our permanent home in September, 2016.
It will take us some time to get fully settled on the new site. In the meantime, we are running all of our programs other than the weekly free farm stand (as we don’t have much produce yet) at the same or greater capacity as we did at the old site. We are working to grow an increasing variety and volume of crops (vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers), and we are raising bees, chickens, and milking goats.
The foundation of our farm is our soil. We were fortunate that despite many uses over the decades, the native soil is clean and potentially very fertile. We very much want to grow in the ground, as opposed to raised beds, as possible. We did extensive testing for a wide range of contaminants, and found only a few small areas that needed remediation. Unfortunately, our soil has a great deal of very heavy clay – a challenge in the best of circumstances – and even harder because it got heavily compacted by large equipment during site development.
Because we wanted to grow some food at the outset, we broke up the soil in a few smaller areas of the site and then put down a thick layer of growing mix. In these areas, we were able to plant immediately and soon had abundant crops growing. In our main farm field, we are working to improve the soil condition through tilling, irrigating, adding compost, and growing cover crops. We plan to shape it into beds in the spring/summer of 2017.
Crops: Most of our growing space is dedicated to a wide range of annual vegetables. We also grow some fruit, in a small orchard (to be planted spring 2017) as well as with trees and vines planted around the site. On the edges of our food growing spaces we have a variety of culinary and medicinal herbs as well as flowers that attract pollinators (and can be cut for the occasional farm bouquet).
Animals: We raise chickens, goats, and bees. Our 20 egg-laying chickens live in a chicken run and will graze pasture in our orchard when it is planted. Our goat provides milk for us humans – which we sometimes turn into yogurt, cheese, ice cream and other products. (While we have a sanitary milking parlor, we are precluded by law from distributing the milk as we are not a licensed dairy – fellows and staff enjoy the milk). Our honey bees, located near our berry patch, pollinate our crops and provide honey to share with guests.
Where our food goes: We grow our food as a labor of love to increase access to nutritious food and cultivate community. We produce approximately 12,000 lbs of organic produce a year, about 90% of which we donate through our weekly Free Farm Stand and other community distributions.
How We Grow
Here at Urban Adamah, we employ the farming practices of the French Intensive method, a sustainable, hand-scale production system of agriculture that utilizes deeply cultivated, permanent raised beds and considers the health of the soil above all else.
The ultimate aim of the French intensive method is to develop a deeply aerated, well-drained, biologically active, fertile soil that can support highly intensive plantings. Deep digging and loose tilth create large, air-filled pore spaces that encourage deep and vigorous root growth and support the chemical and biological processes that aid the availability and uptake of air, water and nutrients. To achieve these benefits, intensive hand labor is required.
The French intensive method shares a basic value system, and in some cases a history, with other methods of sustainable production such as Biodynamic, Biointensive, Permaculture and Indigenous farming traditions, in that it eschews the use of synthetic chemicals, considers human impact to the land, and focuses on resource conservation. Click here for more information about the French intensive method.
Our farm is cultivated by our farm manager and assistant manager, who oversee the work of the 12-14 young adults participating in our three-month residential fellowship. Fellows learn experientially about urban organic farming, food justice and progressive Jewish community – both through their programs and work on our farm as well as through internships in local urban garden and food justice organizations. Our farm, in turn, also depends on the generosity of many volunteers who help to make it thrive.
Our farm is an education center. We welcome Bay Area students, residents, families and curious visitors to our public programs and events. Since opening our gates in 2011, more than 50,000 participants have attended farm programs. Along with celebrating the major Jewish agricultural holidays, we also host a full calendar of agricultural and Jewish-themed programs, workshops, festivals, evening performances and lectures. Please visit our Upcoming Events list to see what’s happening next at the farm for the general public. We also have hundreds of campers each summer at Camp Urban Adamah and thousands of students come to farm each year for a range of field trips and programs.
We seek to make our site and programs accessible to individuals with a wide range of abilities. We have undertaken a number of measures to help make the site more accessible to people with mobility and sensory challenges and impairments, and encourage suggestions about how we might do better (email suggestions to info (at) urbanadamah.org). To learn more about what parts of the site are accessible in different ways, visit our Accessibility page.
Our Water and Energy
Water: We use water from the municipal source in our area (East Bay Municipal Utility District), which comes from the Mokelumne River Watershed. We irrigate our crops with efficient drip irrigation, except when overhead sprinkling is the most efficient way to deliver water to crops (such as when seeds are germinating).
All of the water on our site drains to two bioswales. When it rains heavily, the swales fill up with water and then slowly release it. This reduces the amount of storm water entering the surrounding streets and the creek. When large volumes of storm water enter the creek, the banks erode and sensitive habitats are disturbed.
We have added rocks and stones, mostly native to northern California, to turn these important drainage features into beautiful dry creek beds that are fun for children to explore. We have planted the swale with California natives. Some plants provide habitat for pollinators and other creatures. Some were used by the native peoples of this area, the Muwekme Ohlone tribe, to make baskets – and we use this material for basket-making activities in our programs. Some plants have medicinal value. Around the edges of the swale we have planted food producing bushes and vines – native California grapes, huckleberries, currants, and blueberries, as well as passionfruit.
Energy: Our intent and plan is to be a net zero carbon campus (over the course of a year) through a combination of solar energy production and energy efficiency measures. Our solar panels (PV) are connected to the PG&E grid. When our system produces more energy than we use, we put energy into the electric grid and are credited. When our system does not produce enough energy for our needs, we draw on power from the grid. In addition to building well-insulated buildings, we save energy by using heat pump heating systems, LED lighting throughout and the most efficient appliances on the market.
Our Watershed and Neighborhood
Urban Adamah is perfectly nestled between a restored segment of Codornices Creek, the last working windmill in Berkeley, the Bay Area’s only kosher winery, Covenant, and Fieldwork, a hopping brewery/pub.
Codornices Creek Watershed today covers approximately 2.9 square miles of land and is comprised of a large network of streams, creeks, channels, and storm drains that carry water from Berkeley and Albany to the Bay.
Rainbow / steelhead trout were noted in the Codornices Creek in 1990s, and sections of the creek began to be restored by community groups including Friends of Five Creeks in the early 2000s. The stretch of the creek that lies at the northern border of the Urban Adamah site was restored in 2011. The trout run has continued to grow healthier. Restoration of native habitat and removal of invasive species is an ongoing effort in which Urban Adamah participates.
Codornices Creek (pronounced co-dor-nee-ces) is named after the California Valley Quail (codornices is Spanish for quail), once common in the area and the state bird of California. The Codornices Creek Watershed was formed as little as 1 million years ago by the clash of tectonic plates along the Hayward Fault. As the plates clashed together, hills rose to form the hills of San Francisco to the West, and the Berkley Hills to the East, with a valley in between. An enormous volume of water from the Central Valley flowed through the Sacramento River and passed through the Golden Gate. There likely were some spectacular waterfalls and tremendous rapids. Some 8,000 years ago, as the end of the last ice age released water from glaciers, the sea level rose and the valley between the San Francisco and Berkeley Hills became filled with water, forming today’s San Francisco Bay.
The sediments washing down from the hills joined sand and silt carried by tides and along-shore currents. They formed an alluvial plain – today’s flatlands. Codornices Creek, like many flowing from the East Bay Hills, petered out in the wet flatlands before reaching the Bay. Soil on this site consists primarily of clay, silt, sand, and gravel that have been deposited by erosion and flooding streams over time.
San Francisco Bay is an estuary where mingling fresh and salt water create a distinctive and unusually productive ecosystem. Where the creeks and their floodplains met the Bay, marshes and coves at the creek mouths served as resting places for birds and nurseries for aquatic life.
For many thousands of years, and up until the 1800s, herds of elk and antelope would roam around this land and graze on native perennial grasses. Codornices Creek flowed into marshy grassland, followed by salt marsh and a long slough that supported fish and waterfowl.
Native American Presence
The highly productive ecosystems of the Bay Area where land and water meet formed an almost perfect village site for the Native Americans. Shellmounds, or small hills composed of sea shells, food waste, and human remains accumulated over thousands of years, indicate that there were Native American village sites in the area of our farm some 4,000 years ago. It was once a lush and verdant landscape. The Berkeley Hills provided shelter from winds, and salt marshes provided shellfish and waterfowl for food.
Just north of our site, where Cerrito Creek and Middle Creek meet at the foot of Albany Hill, mortar holes in rocks and deep deposits of shells show it was a village site. There was a village a mile or so south of our site as well, at the mouth of Strawberry Creek.
The Native American tribes who lived in this area are referred to as Ohlone. However, they did not actually comprise any single tribe, but rather many different, smaller tribes who inhabited the area from San Francisco Bay all the way to the Big Sur coast. The Ohlone sub-group that occupied the East Bay was known as the Chochenyo tribe.
The Ohlone tribes subsisted mainly as hunter-gatherers and harvesters. They inhabited villages, moving temporarily to gather seasonal foods like acorns and berries. Cultural arts included basket-weaving, ceremonial dancing events, female tattoos, ear and nose piercings, and other ornamentation. Ohlone villages interacted through trade, intermarriage and ceremonial events. At its peak, the Ohlone population is estimated to have reached 10,000 to 25,000 people.
Most of the Ohlone settlements of the East Bay were wiped out through contact with missions of the Catholic Church in the 18th and 19th centuries. Around the time California was ceded to the U.S. after the Mexican-American war (1848), Californians began to systematically slaughter those native peoples that had survived the missions or had remained independent of them. By the late 1800s, the population of specifically Ohlone tribes had dropped to fewer than 1,000 individuals.
As of 2005, there are at least 1,400 people registered on Ohlone tribal membership rolls.
Urban Adamah recognizes and honors the native inhabitants of the land on which we have built our farm and we are eager to make connections with Ohlone people.