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Kavanah Garden


Our big idea for moving Toronto’s vibrant Jewish community forward is to develop a permanent home for Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden where community members from across the Jewish spectrum can strengthen their Jewish identity by exploring the relationships between food, Jewish practice, and contemporary life in hands-on and meaningful ways.

In 2009, Shoresh opened the Kavanah Garden as its flagship programming space at UJA’s Lebovic Jewish Community Campus in Vaughan. In just 2.5 seasons, we have transformed an empty meadow into a vibrant and engaging organic garden that models and inspires Jewish social and environmental responsibility. Since opening its gates in April 2009, Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden has welcomed over 3400 community members through our transformative educational programs, has produced over 1000 pounds of produce to feed community members in need, and has established itself as a vital feature of Toronto’s vibrant Jewish community.

When UJA generously allowed us to develop the Kavanah Garden as a pilot project, we knew that the current site would be temporary. Now, three years later, after enjoying incredible successes, we are eager to continue growing our partnership with the UJA and develop a permanent home for the Kavanah Garden on either the Lebovic Jewish Community Campus in Vaughan or the Sherman Jewish Community Campus in Toronto. We are ready to set down roots at a new and permanent site so that we can continue to strengthen Jewish life in Toronto.


Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden was created in response to a number of palpable needs in Toronto’s diverse Jewish community:

1. Jewish Engagement.
As Toronto’s Jewish community grows and evolves, many community members are searching for immersive Jewish learning opportunities and experiences that are meaningful, relevant and joyful. Judaism is infused into all aspects of Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden, offering community members timely and innovative ways of engaging with their Jewish identity.

2. Community Building.
Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden attracts and engages community members from across the Jewish spectrum, encouraging community members to learn and grow together. All of our programs creatively weave Jewish teachings and rituals into our activities in ways that are open and meaningful for all participants. As well, our programs welcome and engage individuals and families from Toronto’s various immigrant groups, with a special focus on the Russian, Israeli, and Venezuelan Jewish communities.

3. Hunger Relief.
The Kavanah Garden gives community members an opportunity to participate in Tikkun Olam in real and hands-on way, by actively growing food for community members in need. Each year, hundreds of pounds of fresh, local, organic vegetables are produced by Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden for vulnerable community members, helping feed hundreds of hungry individuals.

Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden primarily targets children, families and young adults. Since opening the Kavanah Garden in 2009, we have hosted over 3400 community members through our innovative, hands-on, educational programs. Programs include: Elementary Day School Programs, B’nei Mitzvah Programs, Adult Workshops, Holiday Festivals, and our free weekly Family Drop-In Program. Each season, we also welcome over 200 volunteers (mostly young adults), who contribute over 2000 hours, helping plant, maintain, and harvest the fruits of the Kavanah Garden.

The current location of Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden is a temporary home, designated for development within the next 3-5 years. In building a permanent home for Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden, we will create a space that can accommodate larger groups of program participants, is more accessible to community members with special needs, and can produce larger quantities of food to help alleviate hunger in our community.

Goals, Objectives & Measurement: 

Our goals in developing a permanent home for Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden are as follows:

1. Run more educational programs.
In just 2.5 years, we have reached over 3400 community members through our educational programs, partnering with over 40 community organizations from across Toronto’s diverse Jewish community. A garden space that can accommodate more community members would allow us to dramatically increase the size and number of educational programs offered through schools, synagogues and community organizations.

2. Increase volunteerism.
Each season, our volunteers log over 2000 hours helping plant, maintain, and harvest Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden, while also helping facilitate educational programs for students, families, teens and young adults. The building of a permanent home for the Kavanah Garden will create many opportunities for volunteer involvement, including garden design, construction, maintenance, and community programs.

3. Increase site accessibility.
While we strive to make the Kavanah Garden as accessible as possible to community members with varying degrees of ability and/or special needs, we have been limited by the temporary nature of our current site. Once able to develop a permanent home, we will be able to put resources into making the site accessible to all community members with features such as raised wheelchair-accessible garden beds, level pathways, sensory gardens, etc.

4. Produce more vegetables for tzedakah.
With no water access, no electricity, and using primarily in-ground beds (which yield smaller crops than raised beds), we have managed to grow over 400 pounds of fresh, local, organic produce for tzedakah each season! With a permanent home for Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden, and the resources we need to optimize our yields, we will be able to grow 600-800 pounds of produce each season to feed community members in need.

We will measure the success of our project by the number of organizations who participate in our programs, the number of returning community members who participate in regular programming, the number of volunteers (new and returning) who support the garden, the number of community partners who bring volunteer groups to the Kavanah Garden, the number of volunteer hours logged, the number of accessible features incorporated into the final garden design and the number of pounds of organic produce donated to tzedakah. We will measure the qualitative success of our programs through formal surveys and informal conversations with program participants.

Opportunity for Involvement: 

Shoresh is committed to continuous learning and ongoing improvement. As such, we are grateful and excited for the opportunity to work with Six Points Fund members to utilize their invaluable skills and experiences. In addition to financial support, we desire support and assistance in the following fields:

Legal Counseling/Real Estate:
Our future site will be based on either UJA Federation or Toronto Region and Conservation Authority property. As such, we will require assistance negotiating and finalizing the terms of a long-term land lease agreement that meets the needs of all community partners.

Business Development and Entrepreneurship:
While the majority of Shoresh’s programs are financially sustainable, our young organization is ready to scale up and we are seeking assistance to strengthen our current revenue models while also developing new revenue streams, such as producing and distributing value added products (for example, pickles, jams, and dried herbs).

Shoresh is a young organization. We are continuously building our donor base and have quadrupled the number of individual donors in the past three years. We are eager to learn more about keeping donors involved as well as how to continue expanding our donor base. In addition, we wish to organize a fundraising gala in 2012 and require assistance to make sure the event is successful.

PR and Marketing:
Over the past year, we have refined and expanded our social media outreach. We now have a significant following on Facebook and Twitter, and have 1200 people subscribed to our newsletter. Through word of mouth and digital technology, we have reached out to thousands of people. We are looking for assistance to support us in reaching out to members of the community that we have not yet connected with.

Time Frame: 

The timeframe for our proposal is as follows:

-Decide upon the site for the permanent location of the Kavanah Garden in partnership with UJA campus developers and staff.
-Negotiate a land lease agreement between UJA and Shoresh.
-Survey the site of the permanent location of the Kavanah Garden, noting resources such as water access, shade, soil quality, etc.
-Ensure site accessibility.
-Hire a Project Coordinator to oversee development and implementation of the Kavanah Garden design.
-Host a series of design workshops for partners and community members.
-Meet with UJA campus staff to plan for integration of the Kavanah Garden into UJA campus programs, such as day care programs, Centre Camp, seniors programs, etc.
-Formalize building plan for the Kavanah Garden.

-Hire a Master Builder to work with community volunteers to construct garden beds and structures under supervision of Project Coordinator.
-Hire a Jewish Environmental Educator to facilitate Jewish learning opportunities at workshops and volunteer events.
-Recruit volunteers to build garden infrastructure under supervision of the Master Builder.
-Source and purchase materials for garden construction.
-Host workshops and volunteer opportunities for community members to help implement garden design.
-Host an opening festival to welcome community members to the Kavanah Garden’s new home!

Exit Strategy
In 2014, we will begin hosting educational programs at the new site, modeled on the fee-for-service programs offered at the Kavanah Garden’s current location. The revenue generated from these programs will cover the materials costs to maintain the garden site, the staffing costs to facilitate these programs, and some of the administrative costs associated with running the organization. We are confident that once the garden is established, revenue generated from our educational programs, supplemented by donations from our growing list of individual donors, will sustain the project financially.


Risa Alyson Cooper (Executive Director)
Risa is the Executive Director of Shoresh and the founder of the Kavanah Garden. After completing her M.A. in Contemporary Jewish Environmental Ethics from the Centre for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, Risa worked for five seasons at the Teva Learning Center as a Jewish environmental educator and Wilderness Programs Coordinator. In 2008, shortly after participating in the Adamah Jewish Farming Fellowship in Connecticut, she returned to her native Toronto to serve as the Director of Shoresh and establish the Kavanah Garden. In 2010, Risa was recognized by PresenTense Magazine as a “Woman to Watch” for her work visioning and developing Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden.

Sabrina Malach (Director of Development and Outreach)
Sabrina comes to Shoresh with six years of experience working and volunteering in the Jewish food movement. She participated in the Adamah Jewish Farming Fellowship in 2005, graduated from the Eco-Activitist Beit Midrash in Jerusalem in 2006, and worked as the Program Assistant for Hazon in 2006-2007.

Organizational Structure and Expertise: 

Shoresh Jewish Environmental Programs was established in 2002 to lead the Jewish environmental movement in the Greater Toronto Area. In 2009, with grant funding from Environment Canada and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, and with the support and permission of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto to use vacant land at the new Lebovic Jewish Community Campus, Shoresh established the Kavanah Garden as its flagship programming space.

In the last 2.5 years, Shoresh has experienced incredible growth as an organization.
In terms of organizational structure and staffing, Shoresh has received charitable status and has grown from 1 part time staff person, to a strong staff team including 1 full time Executive Director, 1 part time Director of Development and Outreach, and 2 part time Jewish Environmental Educators. In terms of programming, we have run educational programs for families and organizations from across the Jewish spectrum, developing innovative curriculum that creatively integrates Jewish learning into garden and nature based activities. With limited resources, we have built a temporary garden space that models and inspires Jewish environmental ethics while also producing hundreds of pounds of vegetables for tzedakah. We have also mobilized large groups of volunteers, eager to actively engage in Tikkun Olam by helping build, plant, maintain and harvest the Kavanah Garden.

Drawing on the incredible relationships and partnerships we have developed over the last three years, Shoresh is well prepared to develop a permanent home for its Kavanah Garden. In order to support this process, we intend to hire two additional staff people – a Project Coordinator to design and coordinate the development of the new garden space, and a Master Builder to work with volunteers to implement the garden design. As well, we will increase the staff hours of our Director of Development and Outreach as well as our Jewish Environmental Educators to help promote workshops and volunteer opportunities at the new site while also facilitating educational programs.

Criteria that Enhance Competitiveness: 

New and Innovative Idea:
Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden is new and innovative because it is the only project within the GTA that explores contemporary issues (such as environmental sustainability, healthy eating, and food security) from a uniquely Jewish perspective, while working with day schools, synagogues, camps, community organizations, families and individuals from across the Jewish spectrum. Our cutting edge programs are inclusive, participatory, diverse, transformative and multi-generational.

With one-year start-up grants from Environment Canada and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Shoresh developed an educational model with its Kavanah Garden that can sustain itself with program fees and the support of individual donors. In developing a permanent home for Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden, we will grow and strengthen this model so that the project can thrive beyond the support of Six Points funding.

Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden is already impacting our community locally, nationally, and internationally. Since opening in 2009, Shoresh’s Kavanah Garden has inspired other Jewish communities in Canada (including Montreal and Hamilton) and the U.S. (including Boston and Chicago) to develop similar projects. Shoresh staff have also worked with numerous institutions in the GTA, such as Associated Hebrew Day Schools and Camp George to develop their own Jewish gardening initiatives. The Kavanah Garden model can be replicated at Jewish agencies across North America and we will continue to develop and share our processes so that other communities can integrate garden and nature-based activities into their Jewish communal experiences.

The Kavanah Garden itself is ready to be scaled up. Our current temporary location is at capacity and we are unable to meet the demand for experiential Jewish programs or healthy organic food for the needy in our own community. As well, this project can be grown beyond the first permanent programming space. Our Jewish community is geographically spread out and there is a definite need for Jewish garden spaces and programs in uptown, midtown and downtown Toronto.

For a young organization, securing substantial long-term donations from individuals and family foundations can be extraordinarily challenging. To be selected by Six Points JVPF would clearly demonstrate to potential donors the value of our project and our proven ability to deliver a program that is innovative, experiential and meets the needs of our vibrant and diverse community.