Judy Floam rolls up her sleeves for communal garden

Judy Floam at Netivot Shalom’s communal garden
Judy Floam at Netivot Shalom’s communal garden (Courtesy of Judy Floam)

Judy Floam can’t help but see something marvelous about the act of gardening.

“It’s almost a miracle,” said Floam, the secretary on Netivot Shalom’s board of directors, who takes a leading role in matters relating to the shul’s communal garden. “You put a seed in the ground, and a month later you have this flourishing plant full of tiny string beans, and then a month later you have a crop of string beans. That’s a kind of miracle.”

Initially constructed in 2013, the garden emerged as a way to help provide the shul with fresh food for its ceremonies, said Floam, a resident of Pikesville. Typically, after Saturday morning services, the synagogue holds a kiddush, often featuring fresh vegetables with dips such as hummus. At the time, an informal committee led by Abbe Zuckerberg at the shul was looking at ways to be more active regarding environmental issues and recommended the creation of a garden where they could grow their own vegetables for services.

“She got it started,” Floam said of Zuckerberg. “She was kind of, at the beginning, a one-person committee, and then a bunch of us got on board. … Most projects get started by one person.”

An early priority of the garden, located in the synagogue’s backyard, was the building of an approximately 7-foot high metal fence with mesh fencing, Floam said, to prevent local deer from gaining access to the produce. Once this was finished, they began growing tomatoes, peppers, string beans, cucumbers, radishes and lettuce, with the first planting and harvest in 2013.

All of the food from the garden was grown without pesticides, Floam noted. They established a compost pile outside of the garden, where those willing were invited to dump their food scraps and trimmings to make the compost that would be dug into the garden prior to planting day.

One summer saw the unexpected emergence of butternut squash in the garden, Floam recalled, which had not been intentionally planted there. She suspected that someone had dumped the remains of a butternut squash in the compost pile, and that the seeds grew up after the compost was transferred to the garden.

The garden committee generally handled decisions on what they would grow in the garden and when work would be scheduled, Floam said, with a general invitation made to the congregation when extra hands were needed for manual labor. Every year in early spring, the committee would have a dig day to prepare the soil for planting by turning it over and adding compost. This would be followed by planting day, normally in May, to plant all the seeds.

Surplus produce was typically donated to Ahavas Yisrael, Floam said.

This continued for years until the pandemic, which placed maintenance of the garden on an extended hold, Floam said. By June of 2021 it had been overrun with weeds and overgrown seedling trees, and so a contractor was hired to cut out the weeds and rototill the soil the week of June 21.

On July 5, they held a planting day, Floam said, though this year’s harvest may be a race against the clock.

“The problem is that we are running out of time,” Floam said prior to planting day. “I mean, normally the planting we’re doing on Monday should have been done in May. … So we’re behind schedule for planting.”

Floam hopes to begin harvesting this year’s crop between early August and late September.

Floam has been gardening for much of her life, she said. Her mother had been an avid gardener as well. She’s tried gardening at her home, but has found it problematic without a deer fence.

“It’s just very rewarding,” Floam said of her passion for gardening. “People like us get our enjoyment by pulling weeds and planting things and watching them grow.”

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