When Yaffa L. went on retirement –much against her will–, she wondered how she was going to keep herself busy. Yaffa was not much of a green thumb but at a friend’s suggestion, she began volunteering at one of Jerusalem’s 50 community gardens, at the Nature Museum in Jerusalem, which was a bare strip of land at the time.

Today, the garden is a piece of Eden with organic planting, a variety of flowers, trees and a fresh herb section that yields all types of herbs, including basil, as well as perennial herbs available all year round. The fruit on the trees are covered with paper bags to keep bugs away. When the zucchinis, kale, lettuce or pumpkins ripen they are cooked and served at the communal meal every two weeks.  Everyone is welcome to lend a hand at the Nature Museum garden, each Thursday from 16:00 to 18:00.

“When I began volunteering at the Nature Museum Garden”, says Yaffa, who grew up in a block of apartment buildings with little access to green spaces, “I had no clue how this experience would transform my life”. Not only did Yaffa experience the magical moments of seeing the results of her newly acquired gardening skills, but she also built a network of friends of all ages and all walks of life. She became acquainted with terms such as, sustainability, carbon footprints, composting and saving natural resources.

Community Gardens, A Quiet Revolution

Jerusalem’s community gardens spread from the Arab Quarter in the Old City to Neve Yaakov, Jerusalem’s center and Ein Kerem. The gardens are created by neighborhood and outside volunteers in empty plots of land or spaces filled with urban rubbish.

The community gardens’ initiative is part of a quiet revolution of city dwellers to get outside to prune, hoe, plant, weed and compost to try to make the world greener. In the process, communities that include Arabs and Jews, secular and orthodox, young and old are closely knit.

The David Yellin School holds yearly conferences for activists, community gardeners and officials to discuss community gardening, offering workshops, presentations and activities, as well as community garden tours. The Jerusalem Municipality strives to continuously expand the project to build additional community gardens wherever possible. In Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular, where waves of immigrants flocked in large numbers since 1948, large blocks of buildings were built hastily to accommodate newcomers, leaving little space in between to plant flowers or trees. But the green movement that began roughly 15 years ago is growing steadily. There are 300 community gardens across Israel and fifty of them in Jerusalem alone, supported by the Society for the Protection of Nature and the Jerusalem Municipality.

TAKE A LOOK AT SOME COMMUNITY GARDENS

Each garden has its special charm. The Brody orchard was established in a small parcel of land comprised between Palmah St and Rav Berlin St., adjacent to a building block. The garden features pomegranate and fig trees, vines and a variety of herbs, set harmoniously amidst wooden benches and of course, a compost and recycling corner.

In the suburban neighborhood of East Talpiot, amidst tall apartment buildings, a lovely garden overlooking the wadi is tended predominantly by senior Ethiopian immigrants. The latter came from agricultural towns in Ethiopia and immediately began to experience culture shock. As their children integrated into society through school, university and the army, the latter felt isolated in urban surroundings, unable to cope given their advanced age and lack of Hebrew skills. This garden has helped elders feel more rooted and productive by growing their own vegetables to prepare Gomen-wat, a traditional Ethiopian dish made from garlic, onions and collard.

Young and Old tend Jerusalem’s Community Gardens

Tending gardens is a healthy activity for children and parents alike. Some studies claim it can alleviate the symptoms of ADHD, improve cognitive abilities and enhance behavior. In an era where many children believe food is produced by the grocery store, the wonder a child experiences at seeing how vegetables grow is invaluable. Elders like Yaffa, soon celebrating her 71st year experience a sense of cohesiveness via interaction with others, young and old alike. In a quiet oasis in the middle of town, people relax, chat, work shoulder to shoulder and enjoy the fruit of their labor. Everyone brings their leftover food to create compost and towards Passover, all excess flower is used to make pita for the communal meals at the Nature Museum Garden.

Another recommended garden to visit is the Zamenhof Garden, nestled between the US Consulate and Jerusalem stone buildings, a tiny plot that has been transformed into a magic garden with flowers, birds and butterflies, an oasis in the middle of town.
            So if you wish to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem, and God knows it’s a high strung city, or you need to gather your thoughts and meditate, check the list of community gardens; you are likely to find one in your vicinity.