The Covenant Grants

Rooted Jewish Community for Young Adults

Organization: Zumwalt Acres, Sheldon, IL

Grant Year: 2023

Project Director: Sophie Lieberman

Type of Grant: Ignition

Grant Amount: $19,000 (1 year)


Curriculum Development
Emerging Adults and Engagement
Leadership Development

Zumwalt Acres – To expand and formalize the Jewish educational curriculum of the Emerging Jewish Climate Leaders apprenticeship program to empower young adults to apply Jewish wisdom to contemporary agricultural and climate challenges.

How was Zumwalt Acres started?

In 2020, I moved to Sheldon, Illinois, with six other college students—all of us were taking time off from school after the pandemic had significantly changed our college experience. We started Zumwalt Acres that fall—a group that included members of the sixth generation of the Zumwalt family to farm on that land. All of the farmland around us was in conventionally grown corn and soy. We built something that resonated for us: a regenerative farm–with vegetable production, fruit and nut trees, and innovative research on climate-friendly agriculture–that was stewarded by a community grounded in Jewish values and tradition. When we went back to school, we weren’t sure how or whether this project would continue, but it seemed like we were not the only young adults seeking this type of experience. Through the next year, we kept welcoming more young people who were seeking a Jewish, place-based experience. Each of these people in turn shaped Zumwalt Acres into what it is today.

What are you hoping young adults will come away with from your grant project?

The apprenticeship program at Zumwalt Acres enables young adults to bring their whole selves to their work and not compromise on their practices or values. They can work a real and demanding farm job in a region with some of the highest rates of agricultural production in the country while also coming together every week for a communal Shabbos practice and rest. By integrating a formal Jewish learning component to the regenerative farming and climate research apprenticeship at Zumwalt Acres, I hope that young adults will experience how Jewish learning and exploration can complement and even enhance a life dedicated to environmental stewardship and climate mitigation.

What is your favorite piece of Jewish agricultural wisdom?

One of my favorite themes in Jewish agricultural wisdom is the reminder to consider an entire ecosystem, including spatial and temporal scales that might otherwise be hard to grasp when much of our agricultural system follows an annual calendar. In a midrash in the Talmud, someone asks a person who is planting a tree why he is planting that tree if he will not live to see it bear fruit. The tree-planter responds: “Just as my ancestors planted for me, I too am planting for my descendants” (Ta’anit 23a). Jewish tradition places a huge emphasis on perennial cultivation, forcing us to pay attention to the aging of trees, tying the lives of individual trees with individual characters in the Talmud and Torah, and emphasizing the lasting nature of fruit trees and the hole they leave behind when they’re gone. At Zumwalt Acres, we planted fruit trees in our first year, which not only gives us the promise of delicious nourishment to come, but also forces us to consider a multiyear relationship to the land and to each other.