Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Israeli organic farms rooted in tradition

By: Margaret Krueger
Produced and edited by: Kaylyn Hlavaty

Midway between the metropolitan bustle of Tel Aviv and the religious tension of Jerusalem, interns like Ellen Brown sowed the soil just outside the city of Modi’in at Hava & Adam Eco-Education Farm. For Brown, thoughts of agricultural heritage consumed her time in Israel.

“The land of Israel, and this idea of land, isn’t talking about the political borders of Israel,” Brown said, referring to Jewish scripture. “It is talking about the earth.”

Brown, the current farm coordinator of upstate New York’s Jewish Farm School, said she pursued a five-month internship at Hava & Adam Farm, seeking a connection to Israel removed from the political tension of the region.

According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, since September 2000 there have been over 6,500 Palestinians and 1,000 Israeli have been killed in the hostilities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Amid a time of national turmoil some communities, have found organic farming as a way of promoting stability.

Kibbutz Lotan, like Hava & Adam, is a sustainable and organic farming community in southern Israel, which strives to “cultivate[s] the values that drive peace and social justice.”

A view of the Havaveadam Eco Farm domes where interns and workers live.
Credit of Hava & Adam Eco-Israel
“(Participants) work alongside  Palestinian-Arab, Bedouin and Jewish Israelis who aspire to move beyond dualistic thinking for equitable and long-lasting peace,” according to Kibbutz Lotan’s overviewing statement.

Adam and Kibbutz Lotan are not alone, as initiatives in the Negav desert of southern Israel such as Project Wadi Attir, farm with a lens of sustainability – an aim for complete self-sufficiency of resources, the elimination of waste, and bringing people closer to their own food production, defined Hava & Adam Marketing and Recruitment Coordinator Gili Chupak.

Hava & Adam Eco-Education Farm Hava & Adam farm, founded in 2003, was the vision of Israeli businessman Yigal Deautscher, who saw the need for hands-on experience in the context of sustainable living, Chupak said.

This vision took the form of a farm, which obtained eight acres of land from the municipality of Modi’in to forward sustainable education for the city, local schools, and individual interns living on site.

“The notion (is) that a sustainable individual is really someone who is a moral person,” said Chupak, “someone who is aware of the impact that they have on the people and the place that surrounds them.”

This moralistic take on sustainable farming is also reflected in Hava and Adam’s connection to Judeo-Christian principles. As Chupak explained, the word “hava” in Hebrew means Eve as well as farm, with the farm’s name serving as a direct reference to the story of the Garden of Eden.

Hava & Adam’s goal of establishing sustainable practices takes many forms. Hava & Adam has worked to start a composting program in Modi’in, provide community gardening plots, and organize with the local education department to provide sustainability education programs to local schools and daycares.

Kibbutz Lotan is located in Arava Valley in the Negav desert of southern Israel, Kibbutz Lotan was founded in 1983, said Director of the Kibbutz Lotan Center for Creative Ecology Mike Kaplin. Additionally, he noted that the kibbutz is affiliated with the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism.

“The act of growing food, nourishing the land we live on and also nourishing our own bodies, is a very Jewish act for us,” said Leah Zigmond, Kibbutz Lotan’s Director of Education.

A view of the Havaveadam Eco Farm domes where interns and workers live.
Credit of Hava & Adam Eco-Israel
As a kibbutz – a kind of collective settlement – Lotan currently houses 75 adults and 54 children, working to grow organic vegetables in their eco-education park, explained Kaplin.

“The way we see it, the first job of our ancestors was tilling and tending the earth,” said Zigmond. “The reason that Jews from all over the world are drawn to this tiny country is because our roots are here, figuratively and literally.”

Kibbutz Lotan’s ecology work is rooted in many programs, from organic gardening to recycling programs, to land preservation. The kibbutz annually welcomes between 20 to 40 young people who participate in educational programs that empower visitors to take environmental initiative in their own lives.

“In Hebrew we say there is ‘no Torah without bread, and no bread without Torah,’” said Zigmond. “We need both spiritual sustenance and also real nutritional nourishment in order to be complete human beings.”

Project Wadi Attir is one Bedouin community in the Negav town of Hura. Dr. Michael Ben-Eli hopes advancements in organic farming practices will restore sustainability and economic sufficiency for indigenous Bedouin people.

In 2008, Project Wadi Attir began as an initiative of the U.S. non-profit Sustainability Laboratory. Founder Ben-Eli launched the laboratory after becoming increasingly aware of the huge gap between the rhetoric of sustainable development and what was actually happening on the ground.

Witnessing the impoverished conditions of many Bedouins during a trip to Israel, Ben-Eli explained he saw this as a need that the lab could fill.

“There have been a lot of attempts to do something right after 60 years of doing everything wrong,” said Ben-Eli, concerning the state of Bedouin poverty and the response of the Israeli government.

“I think there is a growing sensitivity,” he said.

The project has received diverse support from many sectors of Israeli society who don’t usually work together.

“Most of the government officers see this as a good opportunity,” said Mayor of Hura Dr. Mohammed Alnabari. Alnabari has been instrumental in securing over three million dollars in government funding for the project.

What is unique about the initiative is that it will give Bedouin families, including women, a means of returning to economic independence.

“Bedouin women use to work with their families in their own gardens,” explained Mariam Abu Rakayek. Rakayek currently works to provide Bedouin women a larger involvement in the household economy through the planting of home gardens.

Project Wadi Attir also plans to leverage the Bedouin experience and knowledge of the desert, with advanced technology that would allow for such production as milk, cheese, and produce for mass consumption, explained Ben-Eli.

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