Vine and fig tree: Restoring agriculture in the Holy Land
Introducing a series of farmer profiles from Israel/Palestine that shows resiliency, determination and an agricultural vision greater than the seeming impossibility of sharing the land in peace.

By Greg Bowman, The New Farm® Online Editor

1. Elaine Solowey at Kibbutz Ketura is a California native Elaine Solowey is a scientist with a mission, evaluating plants from around the world in the harsh Arava desert. She wants to discover "small steps towards abundance" (her book title) for the coming years of harsher climates around the world.

"The well-being of the world depends on agricultural stability and health. No one seems to understand this."

2. Kibbutz Neot Smadar – About 20 years ago, a group of unacquainted urbanites formed to explore issues of community: what is means and how is it formed. The place is an experiment to live out what they’ve agreed upon -- a healthy community based on self-sufficiency that includes organic orchards and farms, natural building, a flock of goats, and much more.

“[The organic farmer] made it all seem like a puzzle to us, the connections he was trying to make between plant and earth, plant and plant, human and earth. This was his lifework, a never ending one."

3. Alon and Rachel Zimmerman at Moshav Itamar This West Bank farming couple coaxes an agricultural existence from a no-man’s land between Arab-controlled Nablus (Shechem). and an Israeli army firing zone. Conflict forced changes in crops and marketing that led Alon to devise highly integrated, self-sufficient system of crops, fish, microclimates and livestock.

His fingers wrap around a silver goblet, full with dry red wine, reflecting the eyes of those peering in. A drop escapes and trickles over the side. Prayer sanctifies the wine, which sanctifies the moment.

4. Beit Elisha at Kibbutz Harduf …is Israel's only Biodynamic farm, but one so large that it is also the country's largest supplier of organic produce, from veggies to cheeses. It is also a working agricultural kibbutz -- one of the last in Israel -- whose wholistic environment provides a healing medium for members with developmental disabilities.

"Everything needed to sustain and allow the continuation of creation is already here, given to us with the first light. All we have to do is harness it, gather a small, potent dose and apply." Gadi, farmer.

5. Laithi Gnaim in El-Batuf Valley farms near the Arab village of Sachnin. He is dedicated to revitalize the agricultural lifestyles of the neighboring Arab communities. He is collecting nuggets and glimpses of the past while creating a
co-op/NGO to re-establish organic farming and awareness.

"This valley will be the micro-region for an organic renaissance in the Arab communities... this needs to work for everyone's sake, for a return to dignity. …Even if we have our land, if we have evolved into creatures that don't interact with it, we have lost ourselves."

6. Amnon and Dalie; Amir & Yael The government owns 95 percent of the land in Israel, usually in organized communities such as a kibbutz (a large communal farm) or a moshav, (made up of an agricultural sector with many farms and many homes in a living sector). To create a small family farm that is agriculturally self-sufficient and private, some persistent families just select an unclaimed spot and stay, taking on the legal ambiguity as one of many challenges of living with their particular piece of this land.

“We are working the land organically, setting proper and healthy boundaries, putting a balance together between us and the landscape." – Amir, homesteader

August 31, 2004: There’s land. Then there’s Land. Then there’s the Holy Land.

With this edition, introduces a new writer covering events and individuals at the hopeful edges of agriculture in a new country for our readers – Israel/Palestine.

Yigal Deutscher had already spent the summer of 2003 training in sustainable agricultural and Jewish spirituality (see:
) when he came to our website. He saw the sparkling portraits of innovative Asian and Indian farmers in our series Jason’s Global Organic Odyssey, and this invitation—which still stands:

We’re serious about a network of global correspondents. Help us find farmers from many nations willing to tell their stories in small doses over time, as their lives unfold and their farms develop. Or volunteer, if this sounds like you. Either way, just email Greg Bowman.

Deutscher said it sounded like him. He outlined his plan and submitted his background essay. He soon won our confidence that he could bring alive the principles, passion and practical agricultural adaptations of sustainable and organic farming in Israel.

He set high goals, and he delivered in finding and profiling farmers who are making a difference. In this contested land of with its millennia of occupations, ravages and civilizations, farming with ecological foundations faces harshness from the climate, political tension and a conventionally oriented food economy.

Israel/Palestine nevertheless sustains hope, expectations and determination like few others places on earth because of its importance to Jewish, Muslim and Christian believers. Deutscher will present six stories of “farmers” -- individuals, cooperating households or groups of people – based on his time spent farming with them, listening to them, and eating the food from their fields, orchards, flocks and vineyards.

The stories as a whole capture an untamed, powerful yearning from North to South, Arab and Jew, young and old, for a future beyond conflict where families will be unafraid, where the land will be tended carefully from season to season, and everyone will be able to share a meal beneath their vine and fig tree.