This article originally appeared in The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles blog on December 18, 2020.
Neelam Lal, one of our many outstanding Service Corps 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 Repair the World’s Service Corps, 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.