In the Gardens Story

Rabbi Robin Damsky, founder of In the Gardens, shares her journey:

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It all started with my 11th grade biology teacher, Dr. Sawyers. When he saw my love of plants (I took care of the myriad plants in the science lab), he encouraged me to apply for a National Science Foundation sponsored program at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research in Yonkers, NY. It was there I first extracted honey, harvested and ate blueberries right off the bush, and replicated an experiment to grow my own potato tubers from sprouts. I thought then, in 1975, that this could be the cure for world hunger. Alas, the experiment failed, but I learned a great deal. My love of botany proliferated.

Throughout the years this love grew, and I grew food and decorative plants continually. Living in places like Santa Barbara, CA, my yard was filled with avocado and persimmon trees, tangerines and lemons, olives and figs. Growing food there was a year-round opportunity. I planted my first vegetable garden with my young daughter, Sarah.

story-2Later, pursuing work as a rabbi, I became more and more acutely aware of climate issues affecting arable land. The distance that food travels affects its freshness and our carbon footprint. Chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides help maintain our dependence on oil and contaminate our air, soil and water, to say nothing of their damage to our food itself. More and more communities live in dire poverty and/or food deserts.

It doesn’t take much space to grow healthy food; a 4’ x 8’ raised garden bed will supply half the fresh produce needed for a family of two. This was part of the model for In the Gardens.

Turning my property into an organic, edible, permaculture landscape, I began to use it to educate, employ the needy, share, celebrate and donate food to the hungry. That love became a passion and evolved to a calling: I needed to work on issues of sustainability, local, organic food sourcing and addressing hunger issues more fully.

Somewhat simultaneously, my path took me to the Institute for Jewish Spirituality’s Clergy Leadership Program, designed to cultivate mindful Jewish leaders. This 18-month training made it absolutely clear that the power and potential of mindfulness practice would offer a significant contribution to edible garden design and implementation.

The Mindful Gardens Project was born, particularly to reach out to individuals in communities facing limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Giving participants skills in the garden while engaging in mindfulness practice has these results:

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  • Young people and adults eat fresh food they grow themselves while they learn about healthy eating,
  • Participants develop skills that they can implement in their own yard or community to feed their families and neighbors,
  • A potential career path is cultivated,
  • Mindfulness helps center individuals of all ages and gives them a stronger sense of self, and
  • As mindfulness practice expands one’s sense of empathy and compassion, greater kindness and care is expressed in the community.

In a world that can be cold, uncaring and unforgiving, young participants take these tools forward with them as they grow into adulthood. Adults find new ways of connecting with others. Reaching out can replace pulling away, kindness can replace fear, hate or rage, transforming not only individuals, but communities.

The power of mindfulness practice and the value of gardens are so great that In the Gardens offers teaching and implementation of each of these independently of The Mindful Gardens Project. In schools, businesses, congregations, communities, and in one’s own home, we are here to provide the skills and tools of mindfulness practice, and the design and implementation of edible gardens.

Contact us to set up your garden or inquire about mindfulness training at rabbidamsky@inthegardens.org or 708-629-5556.

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