Growing people

Finding your future on an urban farm

By: Chandrea Serebro

Greg Sacks[1] graduated from school and even managed to study towards a higher degree, but somehow nothing worked out for him. Academically, he didn’t make the grade and the life of a student did not agree with him. In a world where young matriculants largely follow a predictable path after school, Greg found himself lost, alone, bored, and unmotivated, without a vision for his future. As soon as Greg heard from his Life Coach about a farm in the thick of Jewish Johannesburg which welcomes young adults and encourages them to find themselves and a deeper meaning in life while discovering the joys of farm life, under the helm of Gilad Spitalnik, he jumped at the chance to try something new. After just a week there, Greg found himself loving the farm life, looking forward to going each day, and even enjoying the hard, physical work. “I used to be bored all day, watching TV or playing PlayStation aimlessly. Soon after joining the farm, I found myself feeling more sociable, feeling less bored and lazy, and I started becoming happier and excited to do something. For the first time, I felt motivated.”

This is exactly what founder Gilad Spitalnik envisioned for the farm, known as The Kibbutz. In 2020 when everyone in the world “became more conscious”, Gilad and his wife looked at what messages, influences, skills, direction, and narratives the schooling system was espousing, and decided that they were not in line with what they believed in. “We realised our world is in need of future leaders.” They decided to shift their whole family “into a space of leadership and leadership education”, taking their children out of school to homeschool them along these lines, and together they sought out to proactively help create a better tomorrow, first in their own home, and soon, further afield. It wasn’t long before Gilad was approached by a Rabbi to help uplift a young man in the community by employing him to help out on the farm. “It would be giving him an opportunity to be able to work in a safe environment with the animals, and to teach him life skills, to enable him to take a step into the working world, and contribute to society.”

Having lived in the Drakensberg on an organic farm for a year in his youth, which “ignited a real passion and love for nature and the concept of a farm”, and his wife Shira having grown up in a welcoming home, an old Turkish inn surrounded by orchards, the Spitalniks moved into their Sandringham home five years ago and the rudiments of what would become The Kibbutz began – with a few chickens for organic eggs. This expanded to keeping ducks and then bunnies and guinea pigs for the kids. The next step was composting and a vegetable garden. “All of this was more lifestyle-cum-hobby. In 2021 I decided that I wanted to grow all my own food, that there would be no growth hormones and other additives, and this paved the way for us to begin creating a fully self-sustaining space in the middle of the city.”

Now, The Kibbutz, still in its early stages. is surprisingly productive. With three young community members helping out and the Spitalnik family integral to every process on the farm, each member of the 11-strong team is invested in every part of the farm. “My daughter loves animals, so a major part of the intention was to have many animals for my daughter. My son’s hobby is fish, so besides the farm we have several aquariums in the home. We also have sheep, two mini horses, two dwarf goats, and egg-laying chickens.” Each member of the team feeds the animals, cleans some of the pens, takes care of any hurt animals, shears the sheep, maintains the general areas, plants seedlings or saplings, collects the waste for composting, helps make our special organic tea, and more. “Farming is about the long term and requires lots of patience and learning. We are moving into a new space of growing vertically and in numbers, which again is a lot of learning via trial and error as well as a long process, and we hope to provide the community with insect-free vegetables and herbs in the near future too.”

Along with finding his green fingers all those years ago, Gilad is no stranger to the young generation, and has enmeshed himself with youths for over 24 years – from formal education to informal education, leadership programmes to coaching, and generally uplifting the next generation. Gilad’s new focus on building up our youth for tomorrow is by providing an environment that allows them to grow at their pace where there is nothing else out there for them. And by inspiring them in a real way, to encourage them to one day pay it forward as well. “Youth: they are our future. If they fail, it means the generation before failed. If they succeed, then we have succeeded.” It is all too easy, says Gilad, to look at the success stories we are all too quick to bandy about and judge ourselves as a generation by that measure, but “a chain is as strong as its weakest link”. “We need to be able to strengthen and upskill in order to empower all of the youth.”

“There are many young men in this community that 20 years ago would have gone to a Technikon or college and become tradesmen. However, if that isn’t an option for these young men in our community, where does that leave them?” asks Gilad. “We decided to empower them. To bring these young men to the farm to work, learn skill sets, whether life skills or working skills, growing and directing them to be able to go out into the working world and live a fulfilled life. Allowing them to have a safe space to grow in, and to make mistakes with the freedom and patience granted to them to learn from their mistakes.”

“When I finished school, I didn’t know what I wanted to study and really didn’t want to repeat my terrible school experience,” says Peter Cohen[2]. “I got involved with smoking marijuana, and I didn’t do anything much except play games and vegetate. There was a lot of tension with my mom and dad at home, they were going through a divorce, and I really had no idea of what to do and no real drive at all.” With no choice other than to do something proactive to change his lot, Peter approached Gilad, and when he discovered the animals on the farm, he was ‘hooked’. “At the beginning, I cleaned the horse and sheep cage from manure, and would take them across the road to eat. I would then spend an hour watching them there. During that time, I would meditate on the things Gilad helped me to think about to change my life. One of the deals we had made was that I was not allowed to smoke, and this, coupled with the meditative time outside, really helped me. I am no longer at the farm, but my time being there with the animals and being coached by Gilad gave me the confidence to go out into the world. I looked at a course and got a job and I’m doing well now. I have come to understand how much I have achieved and that I can, and will, keep moving forward.”

“Every day inspires me,” agrees Greg. “Every day I realise how astounding and perfect nature is, and how everything has its own, rightful place and time. I’m so lucky to be a part of this farm because I’m not just giving back to my community, but also giving back to nature.”

For more information on The Kibbutz, contact Gilad on 065 866 4083.

  1. not his real name
  2. not his real name

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