Scroll to the bottom of this post to enter to win one of four prizes from Shemesh Farms: 1) 3 oz. bottle Culinary Table Salt, 2) 1 oz. bottle Malibu Pink Peppercorns, 3) 1 oz. bottle Rosemary Crush, 4) a gift basket of all three items bundled together. All products are organic and kosher certified. Prizes will be shipped to winners’ home or office (US entries only, please). To enter, log in below and provide your first name, last name, email and zip code. Entries are open from Dec. 31 to Jan. 13 at 11:59 pm EST.
Zesting a lemon. Pulling pink peppercorns off a stem, one at a time. Filling a spice bottle with dried rosemary. These might seem like mundane chores. But to a Shemesh Farm Fellow, they are small victories.
The fellows are young adults with special needs and diverse abilities. At a Malibu, California, farm that is the centerpiece of Shemesh Enterprises, they produce handcrafted organic kosher-certified spices, herbs and honey, as well as crafts such as hand-painted garden stones.
Besides working at Shemesh, the fellows participate in health and wellness activities. Hiking and yoga are as much a part of the program as learning how to feed a farm animal or bottle one of the farm’s signature spices. The program also educates the fellows, showing them how foods grow and raising their awareness of the connection between food and health.
Shemesh Enterprises is part of a larger Jewish program called the Shalom Institute. In keeping with that connection, the Shemesh program teaches fellows about Judaism and Jewish values, especially those related to being good stewards of the earth and its resources.
Shemesh Enterprises is the brainchild of the founder of the Shalom Institute, Rabbi Bill Kaplan. He started Shemesh after the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles took him on a 2012 mission to Israel to look at employment and housing opportunities in Israel for adults with developmental disabilities. Kaplan was inspired by the trip, and with funding from the Federation, got the grant for the pilot that became Shemesh Enterprises.
Perhaps the most touching aspect of the Shemesh program to an outsider is how customized the experience is to the preferences and abilities of each fellow. Each fellow works in an aspect of the enterprise that suits him or her. It could be anything from farming to sales, a computer job to product development, packing and shipping to branding, marketing or social media. After they master a particular set of work tasks, called a “module,” fellows can move to another module. But they are not required to change modules, and if a fellow likes the familiarity of a particular job, he or she can stay with it.
The customized approach extends to communication as well. Some fellows do not speak. As Shemesh director Michelle Cait explains, those fellows get “the opportunity and space to communicate in their own way…” whether through facial expressions, assistive technology or some other means.
The program began three years ago with six Farm Fellows and now has almost 40. There is no time limit to how long an individual may remain a Shemesh Farm Fellow. Some have used the program as a first step into another job, and one fellow has used the skills and confidence she developed as a fellow to change her living situation.
The Shemesh Farm Fellows sell a diverse line of products at Malibu area farmers markets, including bath salts, organic lip balm and garden stones. They even sell some of the farm’s produce at those markets.
Their online store carries a special culinary table salt, Malibu pink peppercorns and rosemary. Fellows make the salt by blending organic Himalayan pink salt with lemon zest from lemons grown on the farm. Then they bake the mixture in a kosher oven and blend it in a food processor.
They grow the pink peppercorns from a variety that originated in Peru. With a sweet kick, the peppercorns are lovely ground and used in place of black pepper. They also provide a distinctive note to cocktails and sushi. The rosemary, dried and slightly crushed before bottling, is incredibly fragrant. The Shemesh Farm Fellows’ Malibu raw honey tastes of the purple sage and wildflowers that the bees pollinate on the farm.
In the coming months, the Farm Fellows will introduce a new winter blossom herb blend that will consist of Himalayan pink salt, onion blossoms, oregano, purple sage and pink peppercorns.
In a short video, Director Cait speaks movingly about the independence, purpose and self-fulfillment that the program provides to the fellows. One fellow says, “Being a Farm Fellow has changed my life in a great way and in a wonderful way… when someone buys my products that I make at the Shalom Institute, it makes me feel great.” But words do not fully convey what Shemesh Enterprises means to the young men and women who become Farm Fellows. Watch the video below and let their smiles light up your world. Then go try one of their products and taste what they have created.
Top photo: Shemesh Farm Fellows work in the garden (Photos courtesy of Shemesh Enterprises)