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Serving The Moment at Shemesh Farms

When the pandemic first started, the Jewish community — from coast to coast — responded with Serve The Moment (STM)* to give opportunities to young adults who are eager to help make an impact while staying true to Jewish values such as tikkun olam (healing the world) and rachmanut (compassion). Our Federation’s second Serve the Moment L.A. cohort concluded on December 11th. Our 18 passionate young Jewish Angeleno corps members were matched with a variety of nonprofit organizations in L.A., spending a month volunteering, either virtually or in person, and undergoing personal and professional growth.  

Neelam Lal, one of our many outstanding Serve the Moment cohort participants, shares her experience as a volunteer with our partners at Shemesh Farms. 

Upon returning home from graduating college, I was looking for opportunities to give back and reenter my community of Los Angeles. A friend from Detroit recommended looking into Serve the Moment, and the way the program so urgently aims to give back to the community during these trying times is what appealed to me. After going through the national training, I was placed at Shemesh Farms where I volunteered in person and virtually for 10 hours a week.  
Shemesh Farms is a branch of the Shalom Institute, which is based in Malibu, California. Starting with just a couple of different vegetables, the farm supervisor Michelle and farmer Davis cultivated a half –acre’s worth of at least a hundred various fruits, vegetables, and spices. They created Shemesh Farms as a place where individuals with mental health issues and disabilities can gain work experience on the farm and maintain employment as farm fellows. Prior to the Woolsey fire in 2018, the team of fellows expanded from 5 to 60, each accompanied by his or her own coach, and Shemesh Farms was bustling with helpers all year round to create the salt blends and honey that is still sold today. The fire unfortunately destroyed most of the property, which led to the relocation of operations to the Malibu Jewish Center where Shemesh Farms continues to grow spices through hydroponic water towers.

At the start of quarantine, the fellows were no longer permitted to work on the farm, so Michelle gathered her friends to help grow, clean, and curate the salt blends. The fellows continue to stay in touch through Zoom calls during which they have business meetings and experience classes. It is through these virtual interactions that they continue to create names for new salt blends or learn how to bake sourdough bread. 

I have had the wonderful chance to participate in these Zoom calls and have gotten to know the incredibly talented fellows while also helping at the Malibu Jewish Center through every step of the process to create the salt blends. I had never worked within hydroponic farming before, so understanding how the water towers function and watching the growth was so educational and beautiful to watch. It has truly been a pleasure to be present in all aspects of Shemesh Farms as they continue to adapt and move forward after all of the challenges that they have faced. Please visit their website to support this amazing enterprise and try the products that I have helped produce!  

Meet and learn where our first Los Angeles Serve the Moment Corps Members spent a month volunteering:

The pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon, and the needs of our community members are only growing. Serve The Moment will continue its programming with additional cohorts into 2021. We are proud to have had Chelsea Snyder, our NuRoots Assistant Director of Special Projects, as our L.A. City Coordinator for Serve The Moment, guiding the first and now second group of incredible future Jewish leaders. Chelsea has described her experience as “a meaningful opportunity to witness the power of young adults giving back to their local community through a Jewish service-based lens.” If you or anyone you know would be interested in participating in a future cohort, please contact Chelsea at CSnyder@JewishLA.org for more information about the program and how to apply. Spring applications are open until February 15th. You can find the application at https://servethemoment.org/ 

*The Jewish Service Alliance, through its program “Serve the Moment,” mobilizes tens of thousands of Jewish young adults and college students in 100,000 acts of meaningful service and learning to address the COVID-19 crisis, its economic fallout, and the current movement for racial justice. Serve the Moment combines virtual volunteering, in-person service, and national service campaigns around specific issues during the year. Full-time stipend-supported fellows, known as “Serve the Moment Corps Members,” serve at nonprofit partners in up to 15 cities across the country.

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