Kibbutz Locavore: Eating Local and Organic in Israel

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February 8, 2010

When we moved to Kibbutz Hannaton in the Lower Galilee this past summer, I was excited about the prospect of buying mostly organic, locally (by which I mean within half-an-hour drive of our home) grown and produced food. This type of eating eliminates toxins in the environment and in our bodies, as well as the huge amounts of fuel used by food-processing factories and by distributors that ship shipping food items across the world. And it helps support your neighbors rather than huge, impersonal corporations run by people you will never meet.

As a rabbi, it disturbs me that despite traditional Judaism’s emphasis on knowing where our food comes from via the laws of kashrut and blessings over our food, communities who take these traditions seriously are for the most part not at the forefront of the movement to raise awareness around food choices. In fact, some observant Jews experience eating kosher and reciting food blessings as license to dismiss other ideologies around food—as if one would have no reason to know about the source of or ingredients in one’s food other than to determine its kosher status or appropriate blessing.

However, despite my assumption that country folk would be more conscious of these issues, and despite fresh, organic local produce being more available in the countryside, it took me a while to discover where to shop; even in the country, I learned, most people opt for what is cheapest and most convenient when it comes to where they shop and what they buy. And so, when I asked where my neighbors shopped, they sent me to a huge supermarket in Upper Nazareth, where, to my chagrin, there was no organic produce at all and a large variety of processed foods. This was a disheartening beginning. Over time, however, I found supermarkets in the area that carry organic produce, whole wheat pasta, and other such items.

I hadn’t moved to the country, however, to find the same shelf of organic canned foods or solitary bin of organic produce that I could find in my local Jerusalem market. I wanted to start buying mostly locally grown or produced organic foods. The question was: where could I find such treasures?

After a month or two of researching the internet and exploring on my own, I finally found what I was looking for. About a fifteen-minute drive from Hannaton is Harduf, a Kibbutz founded on the Anthroposophy spiritual philosophy of Austrian Rudolf Steiner. Here I buy organic produce and dairy products that are grown (and milked) on the kibbutz. There is a fresh foods market three times a week, and the kibbutz grounds are beautiful, the view breathtaking, and the atmosphere calming—especially when I have time to stop in their meditation garden. I buy Harduf’s organic whole grain bread there as well.

When our family is not eating Harduf’s bread, we bake our own, with flour made from wheat grown and ground on a stone mill by Asaf Nov from Yishuv Rotem. Honey we buy (in various exotic flavors, depending on the flowers the pollen was gathered from) at Alon Hagalil—the closest Jewish town to Hannaton—from bee keeper Eyal Ofir, whose father, Yishai, started keeping bees and making honey in 1959. You can buy both honey and wine (he also has a vineyard and winery) in his shop, which is an authentic log cabin (circa 1840) brought over in pieces from Vermont.

About a month after we moved to Hannaton, we discovered on the Internet an organic cooperative farm run by two couples: Ayelet and Erez Margalit and Neta and Gilad Kadshai. It is located at Moshav Merchavia, right outside of Afula—about twenty minutes from Hannaton. These farmers grew non-organic produce for years and then decided to follow their ideals and open this farm. After visiting the farm, I organized a group of Hannaton families who would commit to ordering from them weekly in exchange for free delivery (to cut down on fuel, as well as the schlep factor). Their produce belies any notion of organic food being less attractive or tasty, and their weekly e-mails about what is available, what is growing, and what is being planted are the next best thing to actually working the land myself.

A special treat is Tzon-El Dairy on Moshav Tzipori, where the Ellis family raises goats and makes the most delicious goat cheese, yogurt, and ice cream I have ever tasted (all certified kosher). I love going here with the kids to visit the goats, taste the cheese, purchase a month’s supply of these boutique cheeses at lower-than-supermarket prices, and sit down for some ice cream. The blueberry cheesecake is my personal favorite flavor.

Our eggs we get at Moshav Sde Yaakov. I discovered this free range organic egg farm while visiting the Chief Rabbi of Emek Israel (who lives on the Moshav) to discuss the Hannaton mikveh, which I run. The egg farm is owned by Gadi Ruddik, whose family moved to Sde Yaakov in 1952 and who also has an organic fruit orchard. When I told him I live at Hannaton, his face lit up and he informed me that his nephew, who works part-time at the egg farm and grew up on the Moshav, was moving with his wife, and young daughter to Hannaton in a few days. Since then, whenever I need eggs, I simply ask his nephew to bring some home with him from work. That way I save on the gas and reduce my carbon footprint.

There is always more to discover in the way of locally grown produce—like the passion fruit orchard I happened upon on Moshav Midrach Oz. This orchard is owned by the Koresh family, who sell their fruits and also run a pick-your-own business at harvest time in late summer. And it is well worth stopping by there any time of year to buy their uniquely tasty passion fruit jams, liquors, and passion fruit ice-slush drink.

Then, of course, there are the things that grow here on our own kibbutz. Fruit trees abound, so depending on the time of year, we can grab a snack straight from the tree: carob, guava, tangerines, oranges, pink grapefruits. And when the season for olive picking came around in September, we harvested the olives and brought them over to the neighboring Arab village of Kafar Manda to be pressed into oil. Each participating family got an eighteen-liter jerry can from the deal. For our family of eight, that will last us through the winter.

And even if it’s not organic or “grown,” the home-made falafel Keren and Yonatan sell on Friday afternoons on the kibbutz lawn has been voted “best falafel” by the Ner-David family. There is no doubt that food tastes better when there’s a personal connection.

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