ENCINITAS, Calif. — Fifth-grader Eden Cohen and her friend, Stella, sunk their shovels into a hole they were digging recently to plant a pomegranate tree at Coastal Roots Farm.
Then they simultaneously lifted their shovels, causing a collision that spilled dirt and sparked a cascade of giggles.
The friends joined about 600 others at the Tu B’Shvat Food Forest Festival, an event highlighting Jewish community farming practices.
Tu B’Shvat roughly translates to birthday of the trees and is celebrated by planting trees, eating fruit and connecting with the land, said Kesha Dorsey Spoor, philanthropy and communications manager for the nonprofit Coastal Roots Farm.
Organizers expected visitors to plant roughly 100 trees along a Food Forest Peah Trail running through eight acres of Coastal Roots Farm.
The trail symbolizes a Jewish agricultural value of leaving the corners of fields unharvested so the poor or strangers can collect the remaining crops, said Dorsey Spoor.
Eventually, Coastal Roots Farms hopes to have a trail lined with trees from Quail Gardens Drive to Saxony Road where anyone can gather fruit as needed, she said.
“We are informed by generations of Jewish agricultural wisdom,” she said. “The idea is take any shame out of the experience of needing food. We are not there yet. But that is the vision.”
Benjamin Savage, 4, and his sister Paloma, 3, took turns wielding a small shovel to make a hole to plant a Leucaena, a tree that doesn’t bear fruit but is good for the soil.
Asked why he was digging the hole, Benjamin said “because it’s the tree’s birthday.” As soon as it was in the ground, he grabbed a water bottle to give it a drink.
Benjamin and Paloma’s father, Tom Savage, is a Marine helicopter pilot who has been stationed at Camp Pendleton and Miramar since 2010. The family is Jewish and came Sunday to take part in a Jewish community in North County.
Coastal Roots Farm is an agricultural and educational nonprofit that occupies 20 acres in the former Ecke Ranch poinsettia farm in Encinitas.
In 2012, the Ecke family sold the remaining 67 acres of its once 800-acre poinsettia ranch to the Leichtag Foundation, which is focused on combating poverty and increasing self-sufficiency for residents of coastal North County, as well as supporting the Jewish community.
The Leichtag property — with its greenhouses and smells of wet soil and wood chips — is surrounded by ocean view, million-dollar homes. It one of the few agricultural oases remaining in North County.
Coastal Roots Farms was incubated by the Leichtag Foundation before setting out on its own in 2015. It grows food and shares it with those in need. About 70 percent of the roughly 30 crops it grows each year are distributed to veterans, active military personnel and immigrants.
“We also do a Holocaust survivor program where they get deliveries from us weekly or monthly,” said Dorsey Spoor.
In addition, Coastal Roots Farms operates a “pay what you can” organic food market on its property a few days a week, where it sells roughly 30 percent of its harvest and eggs from the roughly 150 hens on the property.
“We have people coming who couldn’t afford organic food otherwise,” said Dorsey Spoor. “Some people pay more if they do have the means. They are giving back. But some people pay with EBT (food stamp) cards.”
The farm also has an education program, which teaches children and others about sustainable agriculture.
“The farm production and the education work together,” said Javier Guerrero, executive director of Coastal Roots Farm. “We want children to have access to these types of experiences.”
Despite banging shovels, Eden and Stella enjoyed planting the pomegranate tree. They want to come back again, perhaps making the festival an annual ritual.
“It will be fun to see the tree growing, to come back here and see the plant grow and get big,” Eden said.