This post is an excerpt from Risa Alyson Cooper’s vision sharing at The Bela Farm Grand Opening on June 26, 2016.
Bruchim ha’baim! Welcome again! We’ve arrived at Dina’s Tent, named for the only daughter mentioned in the Torah of Jacob and Leah, surrounded by the guilds designed in honour of her brothers. Dina’s Tent is meant to be an anchoring space. One of the highest points on this property, it gives us a sense of where we are physically. We see the contours of the land, understand how wind and water flow…how they shape and our shaped by this landscape. We see our neighbours and are reminded that not only are we in relationship with land here at Bela Farm, but also with our immediate community. Dina’s Tent is also meant to anchor us within our own stories…the narratives that illustrate the relationship between humans and the earth within Jewish tradition. It is meant to be a place where we remember and engage with the stories of our ancestors and their relationship with land…and where we strain to hear the voices of those who are not as strongly represented within our formative narratives. So this is an appropriate place for us to gather as we transition from celebrating our journey thus far to opening ourselves to the vast potential of the imminent future.
For those of you who joined us at Taking Root, our launch event for Bela Farm last December, you had the blessing of hearing Rochelle and Alisha share so beautifully about how their family came to steward this land and how their intention for Bela Farm was to honour the memory of Bill or Bela, Rochelle’s father, Alisha’s grandfather, and to create a safe and healing space for Judith, Rochelle’s mother, Alisha’s grandmother. May their memories always be a blessing for those who loved them. Two properties now make up Bela Farm: the 14 acre property that Rochelle and her family have been caring for for the last 15 years, which is where we are gathering today, and the adjacent 100 acre property, stewarded by Fred Cox and his family for the last 60 years, which we have full stewardship of in just a few days time…and where we have already begun piloting some of our ideas and ventures.
Here are just six things to look forward to over the next six years at Bela Farm
- Forest for the Future. We are planting 16,000 native trees over the next few years, in honour and memory of our community members and meaningful lifecycle events. This fall we will be planting the first 3,000 as buffer and hedgerows. IMAGINE when Bela Farm will be home to a 20 acre native forest that restores important animal habitat, mitigates the harmful effects of excess carbon dioxide and its impact on global climate change, and gifts future generations (our children and grandchildren) with a beautiful native forest that roots our community in our local green spaces.
- Bee Sanctuary and Expanded Bela’s Bees Apiary. Kohelet (Book of Ecclesiastes) teaches us that humans and animals share the same breath of life…and as such, share the same ultimate fate. Our goal is to expand our Bela’s Bees Apiary to 30 hives over the next six years…and so in order to support our honey bees as well as our native pollinator friends, we are planting a 20 acre Bee Sanctuary at Bela Farm. Just last month (with support of our friends at TD Friends of the Environment and World Wildlife Fund’s Go Wild Community Grant presented by Telus) we seeded our first four acres. IMAGINE when Bela Farm will be home to 2 million native wildflowers, ensuring the health and vibrancy of our pollinator communities.
- Food Forest. Over the next few years, we will be planting hundreds of perennial fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, fruiting vines, and medicinal and culinary herbs over 20 acres, alongside our bee pasture of native wildflowers. IMAGINE when Bela Farm will be home to a mature food forest of perennial plants, forming a dynamic and resilient edible ecosystem that will evolve and nourish plants, people, and animals for years to come.
- Organic Veggies. We have a pretty ambitious to do list for a small organization. And so we are blessed to be entering into partnerships that honour our intentions and visions for this land, AND engage our knowledgeable and experienced friends and neighbours in this epic undertaking. We are thrilled that our friends from Everdale’s Hillsburgh Community Farm, just up the road, will be growing 10 acres of organic veggies at Bela Farm. IMAGINE when you can pick up your weekly CSA share from the First Narayever Congregation, or shop at a Toronto area farmers market, and bring the abundance of this land to your table.
- Nourishes Noshes. Speaking of abundance…we are gearing up to feed your family all throughout the Jewish year, producing locally and sustainably grown products that embody the fullness of Jewish values. IMAGINE when you can source Bela Farm horseradish and matzah for Pesach, Bela’s Bees honey for Rosh Hashanah, and Bela’s Beeswax candles for Shabbat.
- Immersive Programming. The Torah teaches us that upon creating Adam, the first human being, G!d placed Adam in the Garden of Eden and said, “your job is l’ovdah u’l’shomrah…to work the land and protect the land.” So that we can deeply internalize this dual mitzvah, as we develop Bela Farm’s growing spaces, we will offer a variety of hands-on community programs and volunteer opportunities. IMAGINE when Bela Farm will be able to offer a full season of programs, grounded in Jewish learning and living, that gift community members the transformative opportunity to connect deeply with people, land, and spirit.
Close your eyes and IMAGINE…imagine what this land will be, what it will mean to you, to our community.
In just a few short days, we can take down this fence. And what’s existed in the realm of vision and pilot projects for the last few years suddenly becomes an epic to do list. Today’s gathering is kind of funny because we’re still on this side of the fence. We really wanted to host this event before everyone left for camp, cottages, summer vacation…and so the reality of today is that we’re still on this side of the fence. But we see clearly the other side. And in some ways we know the direction we’re headed….and in other ways we have absolutely no idea and will figure things out as we go.
To end our procession, we are going to mark this point of transition in our relationship to this land by softly greeting the land, not with our selves, but with seeds. We are passing out seedballs, made by small children at Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden last Wednesday, which contain a variety of native wildflower seeds. Kindly take one….don’t eat it….and hold it in your hand. Our dear friend Aviva Chernick will lead us in the Shehechiyanu, the blessing we say to mark new beginnings. We will then walk silently…for real silently….take this opportunity to shema to listen…to engage with the land by listening to its sounds, its voices….we will walk silently to the fenceline where we will hear the poem The Land is Good, written by Alisha Kaplan, inspired by Bela Farm. At the end of the poem, we will take another second to pause….to wait for the “silence” to be broken by the sound of the shofar, the ram’s horn. A sound that is used in Jewish ritual to call us to attention….to deep presence and awareness. At that point, we will collectively launch our seed balls over the fence, showering the land with wildflowers that will ultimately bridge the Edible Savanah in which we stand with the Bee Sanctuary we are developing. Today we are beginning the work of bridging these two properties into one community farm. Our community farm.
Some of you might have made rocks honouring ancestors you wish to call into this space. Please feel free to leave your rocks at our ancestor pillars, which form the gateway between the two properties.
So…to recap….grab a seedball…don’t eat it….Aviva will lead us in Shehechiyanu…we will walk silently to the fenceline….we will hear a recitation of The Land is Good. Hold the silence….and when the silence is broken by the shattering sound of the shofar, throw your seedballs over the fence and join us in celebration of this epic moment. Then head back to the farmhouse where we will open the dessert reception with a communal l’chayim.
Thank you again for being here today. For joining us, celebrating with us, and helping us to set down roots at Bela Farm.