Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Southwest JCC's gardening chalutzim


Angela Resnick/Jewish Community Center

Eric Lightman is surrounded by children working on the garden.

The JCC's Jack and Lee Rosen Southwest Campus has launched a new program to educate its children about environmental responsibility, sustainability and healthy eating. The centerpiece of the program is a new raised-bed garden that has been planted and is being maintained by children in the center's early childhood, after-school and camp programs.

The idea for the program started when the JCC's program director, Eric Lightman, noticed six raised beds that had been built as a project of a local Boy Scout troop but were not being used. With the help of the maintenance staff, the beds were re-located to a better location, and re-filled with material donated by Valley Crest Landscaping. A drip-irrigation system was installed, similar to the type invented in Israel.

Children in the JCC's "J University" after-school program and the Early Childhood Learning Center have already planted vegetables including tomatoes, peppers, corn, lettuce, chard, carrots, beets and beans. They are learning how to take care of the plants, as well as the plant lifecycle. According to Lightman, understanding where food comes from develops an appreciation for sustainability. "We keep hearing about eating fresh and local, but these terms require hands-on experience to be meaningful for children."

The vegetables grown ultimately will be used for cooking classes through the JCC's youth and camp programs. The children are learning about shomer adamah (guarding the Earth), building on the Jewish concept of planting trees and taking care of the Earth for future generations. A curriculum guide from the JCC Association has provided age-appropriate content and stories to help deliver these values-based lessons.

The biggest challenge might be keeping the garden going in the heat and humidity of an Orlando summer, according to Lightman. "If the chalutzim (pioneers) in Israel could make the desert bloom, we can certainly do it in Florida!"


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