Pearlstone Center program director Casey Yurow has two primary aspirations in this life: working to create an inspirational model for what can be achieved in community farming that he hopes will be emulated by cities beyond his hometown of Baltimore … and profoundly radicalizing the perception most people have of vanilla.
“I’m a huge fan of vanilla,” the 35-year-old, who lives with his Israeli wife of four years in Stevenson, said.
“I love the taste and it’s an exotic orchid flower,” Yurow added. “It gets a bad rap sometimes, often being equated with ‘plain.’ But I’m on a sort of personal mission toward a largescale renewal of appreciation for vanilla.”
Yurow has meanwhile enjoyed the opportunity of working toward his secondary life’s work during his tenure at Pearlstone, a full-functioning farm and Jewish retreat center for visitors from all lifestyles.
Having grown up “down the street” from the estate, after his family moved from Park Heights to “the countryside of Owings Mills” when he was in the fourth grade, the space was long in Yurow’s purview.
After graduating with a bachelor’s in the fairly new discipline of environmental sciences/policy from the University of Maryland, College Park, stints living in locales as close as Connecticut and as distant as California and Israel followed.
Yurow joined the permanent staff at Pearlstone in 2008 as education director before leaving to California in 2010. He came back as program director at Pearlstone in 2015.
“This is Chapter 2 for me here at Pearlstone,” Yurow declared proudly.
How did you get interested in the intersection between Jewish connectivity and community farming?
While I was at the University of Maryland, I got really turned onto the Jewish community for the first time. It was very interesting to me and became an important part of my life. After graduation, I decided I wanted to spend some time in Israel and was there for two years, from 2003 to 2005. I was learning and traveling and playing throughout Israel, then came back to work at a place called the Teva Learning Center, the only full-time Jewish environmental education center in the country, in northwest Connecticut. They really sent me on my professional career path — experiential outdoor Jewish education — that’s been going strong for 11 years.
How did you end up coming home to Baltimore and ultimately Pearlstone?
For the three years I worked as an educator for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at Teva during the seasons — spring and fall — I would go to Israel every winter and fall. I also led a month-long backpack trip there with some teenagers, which was awesome. At the same time, I was involved in Palestinian-Israeli peace work, playing music and just being Jewish in places like Jerusalem. After those three years, I was ready to plug into a place again and this was around the time Pearlstone’s farm started, around 2007.
There was a lot of growth there both personally and programmatically, but my partner at the time (who is now my wife), wanted to expand her own learning and I was still young and up for an adventure, so I went with her to California where she studied herbal medicine. On the way, we stopped at Eden Village Camp in New York and worked there for what was the first summer of this new residential, pluralistic, organic farm sleepaway camp that two of our best friends started. I was farm director, and my wife was spirituality director.
When we moved to California, I worked as one of the founding team members for Urban Adamah (“Earth” in Hebrew), which was just starting as a new model of a Jewish community center. Instead of being based in a building, it was based on a one-acre farm in the middle of Berkeley, Calif. It was a tremendous four years I was there, first as director of education and then associate director. Then I left there and moved back here.
You play music, too?
I’ll play anything I can get my hands on but mainly mandolin and guitar. Also flute, drums, kitchen tables and pots ’n pans!