Sunset on Farber Farm at Camp Maas in Ortonville.
Sunset on Farber Farm at Camp Maas in Ortonville.

Welcome to Farber Farm, celebrating Jewish roots and inspiring kids to eat more veggies at Tamarack Camps

Do you believe in miracles? Come, plant the seeds of change in the landscape of Camp Maas and watch it grow in 23 acres earmarked for development in the new Farber Farm …

Sunset on Farber Farm at Camp Maas in Ortonville.
Sunset on Farber Farm at Camp Maas in Ortonville.

A first of its kind in Michigan, Tamarack Camps’ Farber Farm is conceived as a model for educational farm-based programming for more than 1,000 campers during the summer months and up to 10,000 visitors each year. With an initial investment of $2 million in “seed” money from the Farber family, this project was launched and completed in time for Tamarack Camps’ first session of its 2018 season.

Wonder Of Wonders

Imagine: Kids now coming to the farm and learning to love eating vegetables … learning to explore and tend to the garden in all its variety, learning to dig into their Jewish roots to gain a deeper understanding of the cycles of life and growth in the natural world.

David, Jeffrey and Nanci Farber build stepping stones in the Farber Farm Pavilion on ribbon-cutting day
David, Jeffrey and Nanci Farber build stepping stones in the Farber Farm Pavilion on ribbon-cutting day

It’s all part of Tamarack Camps’ master plan for a greener, more hands-on, more sustainable and more eco-conscious Jewish camping experience. With the development of Farber Farm, Tamarack lays the groundwork for a broad range of Earth-based educational programming in partnership with Hazon Detroit and the JOFEE (Jewish Outdoor, Food, Farming and Environmental Education) program.

“We’re proud to have joined the ranks of the Jewish farming movement and open a transformative space to benefit our campers and our community,” said Tamarack CEO Steve Engel.

Commenting on the partnership with Tamarack Camps, Sue Salinger, managing director of Hazon Detroit, said, “The level of support the Metro Detroit Jewish community has provided is unique in the country and represents a real commitment to sustainability.

“We’re grateful to have been part of the planning process, and we look forward to bringing the 2018 National JOFEE Network Gathering of more than 250 JOFEE leaders to Tamarack to introduce them to the Farber Farm and to share learning across the JOFEE field.”

Here’s To Life!

Using lettuce and other veggies from the farm, campers and staff do a taste test.
Using lettuce and other veggies from the farm, campers and staff do a taste test.

Take a tour of the Farber Farm and the word “Eden” may come to mind. The landscaping, the abundance of vegetables and the garden beds in full bloom are beautiful. By design, the work has been an inspired collaboration between local landscape architect Rick Parker, Daron Joffe (known as “Farmer D” from California) and Tamarack Camps’ own farmer-in-residence, Alex Rosenberg, along with farming program director Jessica Wolfe.

“We started the gardens at the farm from a mud pit on May 25,” Rosenberg said. “But we had an awesome team of contractors, builders and groundskeepers — so many hands and hearts working in full support of the project to bring the farm to life. Now, in our very first season, we have a harvest of cucumbers, beets, summer carrots, broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, green beans, kale, ground cherries (a sweet tomato variety), leeks, corn and celery — along with plenty of protective border flowers.”

Jessica Wolfe, farm program director, and Alex Rosenberg, farmer-in-residence.
Jessica Wolfe, farm program director, and Alex Rosenberg, farmer-in-residence.

Farber Farm uses what Rosenberg refers to as an “integrated bio-intensive” approach to farming — in other words, lots of crops are grown together in a small space and rotated to benefit the soil. The method is regenerative, so that micro-organisms can thrive underneath the planting and in the soil. “There weren’t a lot of birds out here last year,” Rosenberg said. “Now there are birds and bees and butterflies everywhere. Life wants to be here! We are creating life, and life makes life!”

The Heart And Soul Of Farber Farms

New to the Tamarack staff and newly returned to Detroit where they both grew up, Rosenberg and Wolfe are full-time residents of the farm and run its day-to-day activities with their own Tamarack-style youthful energy and enthusiasm for the work.

A camper with a zucchini from the farm.
A camper with a zucchini from the farm.

Certified in organic agriculture out of a program in Washington State, Rosenberg has traveled globally to study farming techniques over the past five years. “I started with the realization of how unhealthy I was — never having exposure to fresh vegetables and never confronting how the food I was eating was hurting me. Then I took a different route, went to the ‘school of figuring it out.’ My transformation has been total: physically, mentally and emotionally.

“When people ask me how I deal with stress,” she added. “I like to tell them I find it very comforting just to get my hands in the dirt and let the Earth heal me. If there are kids looking for their places in the world, I hope they can find their placesin the garden, because that’s where we are all from.”

Slicing a “Kellogg Breakfast” tomato — one of several heirloom varieties harvested for a camp group gathered for a tasting in the farm Pavilion, Wolfe waxes ecstatic over her fresh produce. “This is my all-time favorite tomato,” she tells the campers. “Tasting it changed my life!”

From Huntington Woods, a graduate of Michigan State University with a two-year certificate in fruit and vegetable organic horticulture management, Wolfe has worked on farms in Petoskey and, most recently, on various farms while traveling in Israel.

Working at Farber Farm in partnership with Hazon, both Wolfe and Rosenberg will join the next cohort of JOFEE Fellows later this month to further their studies and build the curriculum of Farber Farm.

“We all flow from the same principles,” Wolfe said. “We’re the first JOFEE camp in the Midwest, which makes this program really special. It’s amazing to see how supportive our own Jewish community has been to launch a program like this. The more we learn, the more we realize that our ‘new’ food consciousness is not really new. The Jewish people were first shepherds of the land. And here we find ourselves inspired to connect back to our roots.”

In the first season, almost all the produce from the farm is used for programming. “Everything we harvest goes into the bellies of the kids who visit the farm,” Wolfe said. “We try to get them to eat as many vegetables as possible while they are here.”

Farber Farm: Now And New Developments

Even in its initial phase, Farber Farm represents a stunning transformation of the campground, using some of the infrastructure already in place in the Smoklerville Pioneer Skills Center at Camp Maas. This summer, new buildings and repurposed areas included:

  • The post-harvest Pavilion, where much of the new programming happens as campers pick, harvest, wash, taste and prepare food.
  • The Mud Oven, custom-designed and built by a local artist, adds both beauty and function to a new farm-to-table experience of baking wood-fired pizzas, pitas and breads.
  • The Tool Barn and Hen House — home to 13 exotic breeds of egg-laying hens.
  • The Hoop House, where seedlings are nurtured.
  • A Jewish Calendar Garden representing the seasons and the holiday cycle of the year.
  • A Sensory Garden serving the diverse needs of campers and staffers in Tamarack Camps’ Avodah Program.

“There will be many phases of the construction and opportunities for new development,” added Lori Davidson-Mertz, Tamarack Camps’ annual giving director. “Upcoming capital projects include a greenhouse to allow our farm to grow year-round and a learning center. The completion of Phase Two will give Farber Farm two iconic buildings that will become a staple of farm education to the greater Detroit Jewish community and the national Jewish camping world.”

Vivian Henoch is editor of myjewishdetroit.org, where this story first appeared.

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Upcoming Events
Sunday, Sept. 30: Fall Fest at Farber Farm from 1-4 p.m. at Tamarack Camps in Ortonville. It will include a farmers’ market, a Sukkot celebration, food and fun for the whole family. For more information, call Lori Davidson-Mertz at (248) 952-9105 or email lmertz@tamarackcamps.com

Oct. 11-14: The JOFEE Network Gathering will be held at Tamarack Camps. Generous scholarships are available. All who work with youth and teens are encouraged to attend. For more information, visit hazon.org/jofee/network-gathering.