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KAM Isaiah Israel to Help Neighbors Design an Edible Forest

By Sam Cholke | January 7, 2014 8:47am
 The KAM Isaiah Israel congregation will focus on food forests for its fifth annual social justice weekend.
The KAM Isaiah Israel congregation will focus on food forests for its fifth annual social justice weekend.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

KENWOOD — KAM Isaiah Israel will lead neighbors in designing an edible forest the weekend of Jan. 17 as part of a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. and “Jewish Arbor Day.”

“We are often asked by people to help design food producing gardens, and during this public event, people can see how the experts really do it,” said Robert Nevel, president of the Kenwood synagogue.

For the past five years, the congregation has hosted a weekend of food justice programs in honor of Martin Luther King’s birthday. This year, the events will focus on trees and forests because the holiday falls so close to the Jan. 15 holiday of Tu B’shvat.

“Some people think of it as the Jewish Arbor Day,” Nevel said, adding that it traditionally coincides with the planting of fruit and nut trees in Israel.

Rabbi Frederick Reeves will lead a Torah study on Tu B’shvat on Saturday morning, but the weekend kicks off with a lecture by University of Chicago philosophy and law professor Martha Nussbaum.

Nussbaum, a member of the synagogue and author of “Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice,” will speak at 8 p.m. on new frontiers for justice beyond the society’s social contracts.

The weekend continues at 4:30 p.m. Saturday with workshops where participants will plan a “food forest.”

“A food forest would be comprised of food-producing trees,” Nevel said. “It’s more of a permaculture idea, a design based on perennial plantings.”

Participants will be able to work with leading urban farmers from around the city.

“It runs like a performance piece with people on stage with markers and rulers,” Nevel said.

KAM Isaiah Israel has taken as one of its social justice missions converting otherwise fallow city land into productive farm land, converting the grounds of the synagogue into a garden.

“What it does is demonstrate how productive under-utilized land can be — and it’s only just beginning,” Nevel said.

Since starting the initiative five years ago, the synagogue has helped the Kenwood United Church of Christ and St. Paul and the Redeemer start their own gardens, which have collectively grown more than 12,000 pounds of food.

Nevel said the gardens supply seven hot meal programs with produce five months out of the year.

The KAM Isaiah Israel garden alone grew two tons of produce this year, Nevel said.

For those more interested in the consumption rather than production side of food, the synagogue will offer cooking classes starting at 11 a.m. on Sunday for those who don’t wish to attend the farming workshops.

All events and lectures are free, and refreshments and food will be provided.

For more information, visit kami.org./mlk.