ShemeshFarms: A Story About Resilience


In times of adversity and the unknown we look for inspiration all around us in hope of harnessing our own resilience and strength to get through.  We look to our friends and family, to our communities, to our faith, to nature, to books, to social media!

Our friends at Tripping Kosher filmed a short documentary about ShemeshFarms/Shalom Institute post the Woolsey Fire. The film is a reminder that we are a community, and together we continue to support each other while innovating during difficult circumstances. Thank you to Tripping Kosher for telling our uplifting story in such a beautiful way.

ShemeshFarms, an initiative of Shalom Institute, employs young adults with diverse abilities and special needs. The Farm Fellows are part of our vibrant Shemesh Team and develop an array of products from our local farm & garden in Malibu, Ca. The Farm Fellows farm, plant, harvest, and curate the ShemeshFarms Salt, Pepper, Spice & Blend line as well as Wildflower Malibu Raw Honey. Everything is crafted on site, and can be shipped to your home.

It is a privilege to lead this incredible group of young and diverse individuals to build a social enterprise from the ground up. Executive Director Rabbi Bill Kaplan at Shalom Institute had a vision inspired by a trip to Israel to create an inclusive social enterprise for young adults with special needs ,who have aged out of the school system and services, to be hired as Farm Fellows to help run the enterprise. With my background as an Art Therapist and a few entreprenurial projects under my belt, Rabbi Bill hired me to develop and see his vision through.

We started with 6 Farm Fellows and a strong partnership with the day program Creative Steps/Aurelia Foundation. With the generous support of The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles and The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles we were able to hire our Farm Director Davis Watson. We rapidly began to grow and expand, hiring 60 Farm Fellows to work at ShemeshFarms as employees. Soon, more people wanted to be part of our social enterprise and our volunteer base grew as well. Farmer Davis taught us how to work with the earth and grow a variety of herbs on our farm. Together, a strong inclusive work culture was developed. A culture that honors integrity, inclusion, and the idea that everyone counts.

This time of COVID-19 and the challenge and hardship it brings is very reminiscent of the recent Woolsey Fire that severely impacted the Shalom Institute last year. Our entire camp and property burned to the ground including our ShemeshFarms citrus farm, herb and vegetable garden, office yurt, products, and inventory. It was a devastating time for all of us, many Shalom Institute staff who lived on the property lost their homes, our beautiful camp was taken over by a ferocious blaze. As staff and members of our community banded together and began to take hold of the dire situation, we realized we had a choice, we could either be defeated or we could adapt. Adapting, was the key to lifting our spirits and motivating our hope to allow for innovation and imagination to set in. As all of the various pillars of Shalom had to scramble and makeshift quickly with little time for reflection, for ShemeshFarms due to the responsibility of keeping our social enterprise intact, we quickly reached out to Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue to see if we could bring our ShemeshFarms working community to their site, and begin to grow our variety of herbs in a different way; hydroponic garden towers. Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue warmly agreed to host Shalom Institute’s ShemeshFarms. The rebuild began with 6 hydroponic garden towers from LAurbanfarms followed by the ShemeshFarms team tilling and planting on an 1/8 acre at our new site to create in addition, a soil herb garden. With our strong and resilient team of Farm Fellows, coaches, and partners, we adapted. Today we continue to grow and expand our social enterprise creating positive impact in our community.

With the Passover Seder’s upon us we are reminded of the various spices that make up the story of our lives. Each spice with a different symbolic value coupled with faith and resilience that lead us to the beauty of Spring and the freedom that it ultimately brings.

Please visit our online store to purchase our spices including our unique Passover spice Karpas Diem (  dried parsley, onion blossoms, horseradish, & himalyan pink salt). All of our products are certified kosher, premium quality, fresh and delicious! Your purchase helps ShemeshFarms continued effort to hire more young adults with special needs and benefits our ability to be sustainable.

ShemeshFarms is supported by a generous grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, as well as the generosity from Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Erwin Tautenberg Foundation, The  Diane and Guilford Glazer Philanthropies, Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary, and from individual donors and sales.

Michelle Cait

Michelle Cait is the Director of ShemeshFarms at the Shalom Institute. She is a native of Los Angeles where she presently resides with her family. Her background is in Art Therapy.

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