Dr. Greg Kruszewski arrives for a visit and brings his permaculture knowledge and muscle-power to the land.  It was a treat for us to work alongside a teacher for 10 days.

Greg arrived after a heavy rain.  We observed that the holes dug by Avodahniks (which we wanted to plant the fruit trees in) were filled with water and not draining.  Though we heavily mulched the site with compost, cardboard, mule manure, and leftover straw, the site will not be suitable for fruit trees, which require excellent drainage for their survival.  In permaculture, we see obstacle as opportunities, and we will still plant the chicken yard with hardier perennials that can tolerate the poor drainage.  And hopefully, over time, the drainage in this area wont be such a problem because the soil structure will be vastly improved (by the mulching, the plants, and the chicken ****) ! 🙂

A better idea evolved! We decided to expand the fence — changing it from a cramped, small, rectangle into a much more open oval shape.  We will plant the fruit trees on the newly-fenced garden slope because that side has better drainage, has access to the current irrigation system, and will create a beautiful perennial border on the north side of the garden where it will not shade the summer annuals.   Opening the fence is a process which includes: Removing ties and clipping fence off of posts, pulling out posts that are stuck deep in the ground, measuring out new perimeter, obtaining more fence and more posts, using a post driver to pound metal posts into their new location, each post approx ten feet apart, pulling fence taught and tying it to the post in several places, obtaining chicken wire to attach to part of fence that is still too short (fence needs to be at least 6 feet high to keep out deer).  Doing this work, it’s really amazing to see all of the steps behind something as simple as putting up a fence.  Makes you appreciate anything built by anyone.

The second major project of the last ten days was cleaning out and renovating the chicken coop, making a safe home that any chicken would love to inhabit.  The first step was to shovel out the old crusty chicken manure that caked the coop’s floor and wheelbarrowing it over to what we call the “goat pasture”… just to spread some nutrient love.  We want our chickens to be free-range and happy!  They will sleep in their roost at night but come out into the chicken yard during the day.  Then, we removed some of the exterior fencing on the old coop to create more space.  The new space is where food scraps (that come from main camp) can be dumped, fed to the chickens, who will transform the food waste into compost.  Chickens are the best composters!  We added layers of manure, ready compost, and straw to the area outside and inside of the coop (heavy straw for bedding) and took down the old roost, cleaned it up, and redesigned it (see pictures, much minutia to describe).  We scanned the fencing and patched up areas that remained open to protect the chix.

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We are off to go get little chicken pullets now – we hope they like their new home, and pray that they stay safe and warm!

Other tasks of the last week and half:
-Visited Temple Emanu-El in SF and talked to the kids about Camp Newman/Kibbutz Yarok/Lotan and the Kibbutz movement
-Used old, moldy strawbales from ’09 as mulch (cleaned up space by tefilla site)
-Spread mule manure in expanded fence
-Brought in two truckloads of woodchips with Benny
-Began making safe pen for goats
-Mapped and marked contour line at top of north-facing garden slope as an observational point for better understanding of how to use space
-Picked up six trees from Harmony nursery and planted three.  We are saving three to plant with Sholom!
-Raised water pipe into coop, learned how to fix pipes from Mike and Melicio
-Learned that nearly all of OKY’s oak trees are covered in Mistletoe — a deadly parasite that slowly kills oaks.  We need to begin a removal operation!

Shavuah tov everyone!


This week at OKY we began to prepare the small food forest we are designing for the chicken yard/pasture land.

A food forest is a permaculture design technique in which perennial fruiting trees, shrubs, grasses, and root veggies are planted in layers in order to support one another’s growth and provide an abundance of edible goodies in a small space. Prior to any digging we want to make the soil as nutritious and workable as possible. Once we chose the placement of the trees, we began mulching the surrounding land. Mulching is the process of placing layers of decomposable material on the earth in order to:

a) suppress weed growth

b) retain water

c) build up organic matter in the soil

We began the mulching process by recycling all of the cardboard boxes that remained from West Coast Party and hauling them over to OKY, we cleared out two dumpsters, twice!

We stumbled upon a large pile of decomposing cow manure on the site to use as the first layer of our soil preparation. We are continually grateful for the wealth of resources at camp, making use of waste and transforming it into treasure.

It’s all about harnessing that flow.

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After contemplating how we could get our hands on some rain barrels, our neighbor Haggai surprised us with a truckload of empty containers waiting to be of use. The rains finally came and we’ve seen how quickly the barrels fill up, thus we are figuring out a way to extend the harvesting of rainwater. It will be wonderful to use this water to irrigate the garden this summer.

Other smaller tasks of this week included:
a.) Pruning the Catalpa tree and digging a trench around its base to assist in drainage

b.) Building an A-frame, which is a leveling tool that will allow us to build garden beds that are in contour with the slope of the hill.  We plan on using the A-frame to build terraced beds when the rains end and the earth can be tilled

c.) Building cloches that act as mini-greenhouses on the garden beds

d.) Building a more suitable trellis for the pea plants to climb up

e.) Painting one last coast of floor finish in the house ‘office’
f.) Preparing a presentation on Lotan/OKY for Temple Emanu-El’s 5th graders
g.) Researching fruit tree planting and care
h.) Receiving a bio-intensive Terraced Bed Prep lesson from Michelle at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center

i.) continuing to de-slug plants…

Shavuah tov!

On July 29th Rabbi Sholom Groesberg, the main benefactor for OKY, came to Kibbutz for a lovely celebration. Prior to his arrival, the Avodaniks spent the week working around the clock to prepare the site. We had two work blocks going, six kids would come from 6:00-9:00a.m. and a second group of six would come from 10:00-1:00p.m.

The barn was revamped…

The bridge was transformed…

We mudded forever…


And when the Rabbi came we were able to celebrate with a delicious garden salad, zuchinni, and zuchinni cake with ingredients from our Gan (garden):

Ayani's mom Abra helped prep the food

Kale, lettuce, strawberries, and green onions

More pictures from the celebration with Rabbi Sholom to come…


Jenna Snyder; 16 years old; Avodah 2011

I want to take you on a journey; basically on my O.K.Y experience from the past six weeks of my Avodah summer:

I awake slowly and mentally prepare myself for the hard work ahead.
The one-mile hike to this beautiful place that I’ve learned to love doesn’t yet sound appealing. But I do find the strength to get out of bed and leave the cabin to see the shining faces of my fellow O.K.Y members. We then start our ascent to the most holiest, most loving places at camp and I start to remember why I’ve chosen to do this as my “work block.” Even though I truly cannot call it that because Kibbutz Yarok is not a job nor work, it has become one of the most rewarding opportunities I’ve ever experienced.
Anyways, back on this journey, finally all six of us (Avodahniks) approach this sacred place and I can faintly hear the chickens chirping in the barn, I can see the beautiful t’fillah site that we’ve all worked on for hours on end, and the overwhelming smell of fresh fruit and vegetables that await for us in the garden ready to be harvested and watered. We then celebrate the morning and the hustle and bustle of camp’s chaos slowly fades away.

I finally feel at peace.

Every time I’m here I notice something different…something more beautiful about the scenery that surrounds me. Knowing that I can contribute to this incredible scenery literally makes my heart throb. Knowing someday I can bring my campers to Kibbutz Yarok and go, “Look kids during my Avodah summer, I personally mixed mud, with hay, with sand, with my BARE hands and made the t’fillah site your sitting on right now!”
It is literally magical.
Like Camp Newman this place means the world to me. Thank you so so much for making it possible.

This poem was written by Jenna, who shared her writing along with a few other Avodaniks at a wonderful ceremony we held for Rabbi Sholom Groesberg, the primary benefactor of OKY.

Mud Test:

To find the perfect combo of sand, straw, and earth for mud building we tried a variety of combinations out, labeled them, let the samples dry and then assesed the bricks. We found that 1 bucket of earth to 2/3rds straw and 2/3rds sand was the best combo for building.

Building the T’fillah Site:

Step 1: Stack Tires

Step 2: Build a Rock Foundation

Good feet (base) are essential to any mud structure to protect your work from the elements.

Step 3: Fill in the Tires With Trash

Step 4: Cover in Mud


The final steps are to cover the bench in a smooth final coat and oil for protection. Pictures are coming…



When we arrived to camp on June 7th, 2011 the garden consisted of long skinny mounds of compacted clayey earth. We immediately started double digging garden beds, a method intended to loosen the soil, create more space for planting, and increase the fertility of the soil by adding layers of  compost and potting soil.

When the Avodaniks arrived two weeks later we had built about half of the beds, but they got to work right away and the beds were dug in no time. The Avodaniks put in many hours digging foot deep trenches, rotating the soil, carrying up loads of manure, and adding in layers of compost and potting soil. Pretty soon we were ready to plant, we used some seedlings Perseph and I started when we arrived and some small plants we bought from Harnony Nursery in Sebastapol.

We also planted things in other places when we ran out of room in the Gan Avodah, which led to the creation of the Ballagan:


A brief history of Operation Kibbutz Yarok:

In the summer of 2009 Camp Newman began Operation Kibbutz Yarok (OKY) on a beautiful piece of land just under a mile away from main camp. OKY’s creation is a result of the longstanding connection between the URJ and Kibbutz Lotan (http://www.kibbutzlotan.com/creativeEcology/ga/index.htm), one of Israel’s two Reform Kibbutzim located in the Arava Valley in the Negev.

In ’09 Ido Maor was brought to Newman to start OKY after spending a lot of time on Lotan.

’09 brought OKY a mud structure and a great foundation for the years to follow. In 2010 Ido became a certified permaculture designer (http://www.permaculture.org/nm/index.php/site/key_concepts/) at Lotan and met me, Sophie Vener. We arrived at OKY to work during the summer of ’10 exploding with ideas from our course on Lotan. This is what happened: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqOWeadWGI4&feature=player_embedded.

This summer, while Ido is off gallavanting in Europe, Persephone Rivka joined the OKY team.

(Persephone on left, Sophie on right)

Persephone received her permaculture design certificate through Lotan’s semester abroad Living Routes study abroad program (http://www.livingroutes.org/). This blog is going to track what has been going on at OKY this summer and follow us into the year as Persephone and I move in and work on OKY year round.

Before I begin backtracking and posting about what we’ve done this summer I want to share a poem Persephone read at a ceremony we had with our funder Rabbi Sholom Groseberg and the Avodaniks (the 16 year old campers who work at OKY). It is the same poem Mike Kaplin, our teacher on Lotan, read during her closing ceremony on Lotan:

To Be of Use by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.