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The Inclusive Shemesh Farms Introduces Their Spring Spices

Shemesh Farms does more than harvest and craft spice blends, honey and other organic products. It provides a sense of purpose — along with meaningful employment and community — for young adults with diverse abilities.
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March 23, 2023
Shemesh crew with yield and sunflowers Photo by Nicky Pitman

Spring has sprung, which means Shemesh Farms in Malibu has launched its latest seasonal spices.

Among them is “TEA-kun Olam,” a delicious mix of chamomile, fennel and mint.

“In Judaism, the concept of repairing the world (tikkun olam) speaks to the very essence of who we are as an organization and enterprise,” Nicky Pitman, director of Shemesh Farms, told the Journal. 

Shemesh Farms does more than harvest and craft spice blends, honey and other organic products. It provides a sense of purpose — along with meaningful employment and community — for young adults with diverse abilities.

“Everybody needs to be part of something where they feel purposeful, and they’re doing meaningful work,” Pitman said. “Everybody is welcome, and everybody can work at their own pace.”

Shemesh Farms began in 2015 at the Shalom Institute in Malibu. Following the Woolsey Fire and the destruction of the Shalom Institute, they launched a satellite site at Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue in 2019. The farm and enterprise are built upon a foundation of sustainability, inclusion and interconnectedness.

“For all humans, being in nature can really just bring about this incredible change in our perspective.”
– Nicky Pitman

“For all humans, being in nature can really just bring about this incredible change in our perspective,” Pittman said. “It can bring about this incredible freedom and connection with the earth. We feel better. We feel more in tune.”

Shemesh Farm uses approximately 60 Farm Fellows. The program runs Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; anywhere from 12 to 18 Fellows, along with their coaches and volunteers, come to work. Many of the Farm Fellows come from other programs that serve adults with diverse abilities. Etta and Creative Steps have been part of Shemesh since it started. A third organization, Light of Hope, started sending a group every Tuesday just two months ago.

The day starts with an opening circle, where they get centered and talk about what’s going on on the farm that day. 

“For some of these folks, they don’t have a lot of choice in what they get to do,” Pitman said. “They participate in activities through other programs. For instance, they go to museums. Here, they’re contributing. They get to work at their own pace and see the fruits of their labor.”

The fellows get to choose where they work on the farm.  “They might work in the garden, at composting or be part of an art workshop,” said Pitman. “We use the art for our marketing purposes.”

Farm Fellows do rock art to beautify the garden, prepare spices in the kitchen, work in the office labeling or filling packets or cleaning out bottles for recycling.

Everyone comes with their own abilities and talents, Pitman said. Some people have difficulty with their fine motor skills, others are nonverbal and some have limited attention, so they can’t stay on one thing for too long.

“We just meet everybody where they’re at,” Pitman said. “That might mean you hold a bottle while your coach pours product into it or you have somebody hold your hand as you do a particular task.”

At the end of the day during a closing circle, everyone regroups to share their accomplishments. 

“It’s fun to put together the different blends and work outside,” Farm Fellow Alex M. told the Journal. When he leaves the farm, Alex says, “I feel accomplished!” 

The parents are both supportive and  thrilled. For instance, Pitman explained that the first time one of the dads visited the farm, he couldn’t believe what his son, who didn’t talk until he was 8 years old and had issues with his fine motor skills, could do. There, he was sorting herbs with his fingers and putting product in packets. 

“He’s sitting there having social conversations, because that’s what happens right when you’re sitting around a table with people doing work,” Pitman said.

Shemesh also hosts school groups, temple groups and organizations that come to learn about and perform service work on the farm.

“I love the concept that we’re all in this together,” Pitman said. “Our t-shirts don’t say ‘Staff.’ You come here and work as a Farm Fellow, coach or volunteer, you are part of Shemesh Farms.” 

Shemesh Farms offers four spice blends every season, which are available at the farm, on their website and in six boutique stores across the country. In addition to creating the products, the staff, Farm Fellows, coaches and volunteers strategize product development, branding, marketing, packaging and sales.

This spring’s Shemesh Farms’ blends include “In a Pickle,” a wonderful starter for homemade pickling. It’s a mix of celery leaves, dill, green onion, parsley, sorrel, peppercorns and Himalayan pink salt. 

Then, there’s “Za’atar Blend #4.” It took four trials to get the Middle-Eastern-inspired blend of thyme, sorrel, oregano, marjoram, mint, sumac, lemon zest, kosher salt and sesame seeds, just right. 

“Karpas Diem,” which is basically “springtime in a packet,” is a mixture of parsley, chives, dill and rosemary with just a hint of kosher salt. Since the blends change every season, you need to “seize the spices.” 

“You come here, and you kind of can’t help but be happy,” Pitman said. “There’s definitive pride in the work that goes on here.”

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