A sustainable agriculture organization with plans for an ambitious urban farm, and a training program for the next generation of farmers, is slated to break ground over the next few days on a project set to cover more than 2 acres of vacant land in West Berkeley.
Urban Adamah, which means “city and earth,” received new permits from Berkeley’s zoning board Thursday night to expand the scope of the project by adding permanent cabins for school groups and other visitors, worker housing and a café to the project site at 1151 Sixth St. The farm is set to be open to the public weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. A café and general store selling farm produce will be open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The organization, which is open to all but inspired by Jewish beliefs, has been operating at 1050 Parker St. since 2011. The group knew its lease there would end in 2015, and began looking in fall 2012 for property to purchase to continue and expand its work.
“The land abuts a restored creek and forest habitat, and is located near a bike path, public parks and ball fields. We envisioned a new home on the site that would double the size of our existing space and dramatically increase our impact in the community through the expansion of our food production and educational programs,” according to the group’s website.
By December 2013, the group had raised the $2.2 million it needed to buy the land and secured the initial permits from the city of Berkeley to move forward on the project. It has since launched a new campaign to raise $5.1 million, of which it has raised more than half. Urban Adamah hopes to raise the rest of the money by December.
The organization will now set to work on infrastructure development; relocation of the Parker Street campus; and the construction of the farm and related gardens, an outdoor kitchen, “rustic retreat cabins” for up to 20, and housing for up to 16 workers in its three-month fellowship program.
A third campaign, yet to be launched, has a goal of another $5.7 million, to pay for a children’s garden, a farm-to-table café, an expanded administrative building, a community hall, an arts and culture center and other programmatic facilities.
In addition to the fellowship program, which is focused on teaching urban farming practices to its participants, Urban Adamah offers programs for local youth from schools, religious organizations and the broader community. Its mission includes providing scholarships for youth who want to participate but cannot afford it. The farm gives 90% of its food away each week through partnerships with local non-profits.
“This is the kind of place that can restore your faith in justice and beauty,” project representative Elisa Mikiten told the board, of which she was formerly a member. “This project is as good as they come.”
Thursday night, Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board members voted in favor of the project, applauding Urban Adamah’s mission and most of its plans. They spent a significant amount of time, however, grappling with how to allow proposed housing on the site due to the existing zoning in the area.
Ultimately, seven members of the board voted in favor of the new permits, while Chairman Prakash Pinto said — despite his support for the concept — he would have to abstain from the vote because he didn’t see how the residential use could be allowed under the city code. (Commissioner Steve Donaldson was absent.)
The zone does allow live-work units under the code, but the proposal by Urban Adamah does not comply with the technical requirements for live-work units, which are limited to arts-and-crafts uses.
Urban Adamah’s founder, Adam Berman, told the zoning board that the “overwhelming” community support for the project had expanded its scope since the idea first came up.
“When I started this project five years ago, never in a million years did I think I would be asking to do this,” he said. Berman said Urban Adamah is committed to both “growing food and giving it to people,” and training new farmers and leaders in urban agriculture. Many of the participants in the organization’s fellowship program stay in the Bay Area after coming to Urban Adamah to learn the skills they need, he added.
Commissioners debated some of the application’s finer points, related to Urban Adamah’s plans for events throughout the year — including seven of which, linked to Jewish holidays, are expected to draw up to 200 people and include amplified sound — its parking proposal and housing for fellows.
Two neighbors questioned whether bringing that many people to the block would put too much pressure on the area, and said they were concerned about the potential for noise and crowds. They also asked whether the amount of parking on site — 17 proposed spaces — would be enough.
Berman said many people, including the fellows, would not bring cars to the farm; others, such as parents dropping off children, would not stay long enough to park. Berman said he was confident there would be enough room so as to not significantly impact the surrounding neighborhood.
Ultimately the board agreed it was largely satisfied the project would be a positive addition to the neighborhood.
It’s a great way “for people to reconnect with the roots and the earth and where their food comes from,” he said, adding: “I think it’s really awesome that it’s happening in Berkeley.”
Commissioner Denise Pinkston said she wished the farm had existed when her children were young enough “to really participate,” recalling school field trips to Marin and Tilden’s Little Farm to learn about agriculture. She said Berkeley is “incredibly fortunate” to have Urban Adamah as part of the community, and saw an urban farm as a “fabulous contribution to the industrial fabric” of the neighborhood.
Jeff Morgan, of Covenant Winery, which opened on the 1100 block of Sixth Street about a year ago, told the zoning board it was Urban Adamah’s plans that convinced him to move his operation to Berkeley. He said he had been looking at a warehouse on Sixth, thinking the building was in bad shape. The neighborhood too, looked “pretty shabby” at the time. He recalls telling his wife: “I don’t think I can work here.”
He then took a closer look at a vacant lot across the street, paying special attention to a poster describing plans for development there.
“It described what Urban Adamah was going to be,” Morgan said, “and it changed my whole vision for the neighborhood.”