Where we are:
Kibbutz Harduf, Haifa
Kibbutz Harduf is located on a hill in the Lower
Galilee overlooking biblical Mount Carmel, the
Valley of Zevulun, and the modern city of Haifa.
Yigal Deutscher had already spent the summer
of 2003 training in sustainable agricultural
and Jewish spirituality when he came to our website
and noticed our standing challenge to:
us find farmers from many nations willing to tell
their stories in small doses over time, as their
lives unfold and their farms develop.
He set high goals, and he delivered
in finding and profiling farmers who are making
a difference. In this contested land 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.
The journey begins in the southern
deserts, leads us north through the West Bank
and continues all the way up until we near the
Lebanon/Syria borders. (Click
here for complete series line-up.)
Where we have been:
Sachnin Squatters scattered through
out the largely communal country often share similar
struggles. Amir and Yael live an hour West of
Jerusalem, near the coast of the Mediterranean
Sea. While, Dalia and Amnon live near the town
of Sachnin in the Country's Northern Region.
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
co-op/NGO to re-establish organic farming and
"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."
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
of the world depends on agricultural stability
and health. No one seems to understand this."
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.
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."
Itamar: Alon and Rachel Zimmerman at
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.
Where we are going:
Yigal reflects on his experiences over the last
six months, the lessons learned, the challenges
that remain and of course the amazing people met
along the way.
Israel is a paradise for seed production.
The small country contains a remarkable set of
diverse geographic regions, including mountain
ranges, a long coastal plain, and a sprawling
expanse of desert. The climate ranges from arid
to temperate to tropical, with regional conditions
and soil types varying considerably. Within an
hours drive, you can link a landscape here to
one resembling North Africa, another to one in
North Europe, yet,the entire country would fit
into New Jersey.
Genesis Seeds has over 20 growers around the
country. Besides the biodynamic research station
at Kibbutz Harduf, there is also one in the Negev
desert. The long, dry summers provide ideal conditions
for seed growth. The climate rarely shifts from
warm to moist and back again. The danger of fungus,
leave damage, or seed contamination is minimal.
In the Negev, a frost free area, provides for
The research station at Kibbutz Harduf is involved
in post-harvest management and control, stocking
seeds, breeding new F-1 hybrid varieties, as well
as introducing new varieties of vegetables, culinary
and medicinal herbs and wildflowers.
All seeds are sold to seed companies and dealers,
usually in the American and European market.
of Kibbutz Harduf's School of Anthroposophy have adopted the
woods as they have adopted me. They are honest. After months
of education they still can't tell me what Anthroposophy really
is. But that probably means more than an exact definition.
A group of them is gathered on a wooden platform, hand-built
for the occasion, preparing for their production of Ibsen's
“Peer Gynt.” The Hebrew is lost on me. I interpret
the scenes through the delicate fantasy taking shape in my
head, one of troll-kings, brides and wild animals; my evening
After practice there are tea and Latin funeral songs around
a fire. Slowly the voices fade and the bodies disappear and
I am alone under the skeletal frame of the geodesic dome, 36
wooden triangles illuminated by glowing flames.
As best as it can be defined, anthroposophy is a teaching
philosophy based on the writings and lectures of Rudolf Steiner.
Followers believe personal growth, which can not be attained
without spiritual development, can be greatly assisted through
the scientific study of the spiritual nature of humanity and
the universe. A key element introduced in the anthroposophy
teachings was the idea of an agricultural science of life-forces,
better known as biodynamics. All the land at Kibbutz Harduf
is cultivated under the principles of biodynamics, but more
than that the members strive to incorporate these values into
all aspects of their lives--from the School of Anthroposophy
to Beit Elisha, a home for adults with developmental disabilities
At Beit Elisha members live and learn through both academic
teaching and practical participation. Throughout the day,
the about 20 members of Beit Elisha spend time in the gardens,
some with the animals, and some in the fields. Lust like weaving,
painting, pottery or cooking, working the fields is a healing
channel for many members of the household.
The vegetables and fruits are grown by the members, harvested
and served at their communal meals. The herbs are boiled and
mixed, dried and processed into tinctures, oils, ointments
and teas. The model for the gardens is the Camphill Village,
a set of international communities where social healing finds
a medium through meaningful contribution. Avi and Sandra,
members of Harduf, were apprentices at such a community in
Ireland and brought the concepts with them to Israel. "All
this space could easily be worked by two or three people,"
Avi admits. But production is secondary to the environment
In one garden there is a group of students studying the earth.
Jonathan stabs the compost pile with a shovel, deep in dialogue
with the dark mound. Adi sits amidst the carrots, groping
the leaves and pulling the roots from the ground. Roi loosens
his grip on the hoe and smiles silently at me, penetrating
my innards. Behind him a grove of pomegranate trees blossoms.
Those not choosing to be outdoors work with the natural medicines,
from processing to packaging, based on their capabilities.
"The goal is to create a personalized healing situation
for each individual, to place them with the specific opportunity
that will allow for the most meaningful contribution to be
made," Avi says. As social therapists and farmers, it
is Avi and Sandra's responsibility to use proper discernment
that will allow for such sensitive placement. Progress must
be watched carefully and with generous patience.
"People with such needs also fill the role of teacher
and caregiver," Avi tells me. Their minds are not held
by the same rational and boundaries that other minds are;
they are more open and available to natural perceptions in
The lessons of Kibbutz Harduf
A 30-minute walk from the woods, gardens and homes, through
the green forested hills of northern Israel, is the kibbutz's
allotted agricultural sector. We are sitting in the shade
of an enormous carob tree, one of the oldest trees I've seen
in the country. Gadi, the community’s biodynamic shaman,
part medicine-man, part teacher, picks through the mess of
cow horns at our feet. They look like they have come from
the sea, washed ashore, bleached by the elements. He lifts
them, one by one, to his nose, gently smelling their filling,
an investigation of the senses. He is a connoisseur of cow
manure, celebrating each specimen that meets his standards.
"See how moist this one is?" he shows me excitedly.
Other times the manure is dry, crumbling between his fingers.
The horn is thrown to the ground in disgust. Although not
a farmer himself, Gadi is responsible for all the kibbutz’s
He stops what he is doing to make certain I learn the lesson.
"There are four elements of creation in this world,"
he tells me, "a hierarchy of mineral, plant, animal and
human. When plant and animal life forces combine, the plant
life ascends to a heightened state, one that has a spirit
The final result of our conversation and scrapings will be Preparation
500, commonly referred to as the horn manure spray. Every Fall
Equinox cow horns are filled with the animal's manure and buried
in the earth to be uncovered, six months later, on the Spring
Equinox. In the winter, everything is dormant except for the
ground. All the energies are thriving, concentrated underfoot
at this time. When the horns are retrieved, the manure is potent,
full with roots extending into themselves.
Gadi has taught me that the horn concentrates the energy
of the cow; it serves as the antennae for all the energies
surrounding and penetrating the animal. In the ground, it
allows the manure to absorb the necessary energies.
The cows at the Kibbutz are young. They are not yet supplying
Gadi with the horns he needs. He tells me of his odysseys,
tramping from hill to hill in search of available horns, a
commodity hard to come by in Israel. The Bedouin Arabs have
enough land to let their cattle roam the hills but, when the
animals die, they die in place and are left to be consumed
by the wild. "The collection must be immediate, even
two days after death, they become useless to me." When
he finds a freshly deceased cow, the horns are removed and
Gadi continues on his way.
The closing the circle
Kibbutz Harduf's agricultural sector is composed of neighboring
fields. Each farm is a separate entity, worked by different
farmers from the kibbutz. In one field there is an olive orchard,
young trees, maybe 20 years old, with trunks a deep gray,
already gnarled and arthritic. Native to the Mediterranean
region, the trees survive on rainwater alone, producing fruit
once every two years. There is also a market garden, some
greenhouses and, in a corner, beehives and their associated
melody. There are pasture fields of corn, vetch and wheat.
To the north is the research and development site for Genesis
Seeds, an international organic seed company based in Israel.
Where modern farming treats the plant, organic farming treats
the soil. When there is strong soil, there is a strong plant.
And the compost is what enlivens the soil. In a biodynamic
operation, the equilibrium of giving and taking must be upheld;
the earth is always breathing, just as the moon is waxing
and waning. This balance of give and take must be played out
on the farm. A circle must be created between the farm, farmer
and the cosmos. The cow closes the circle, eating from the
fields and returning refined nutrients to the same fields,
through the compost.
Biodynamics approaches the soil by respecting the movement
of biology, the circulation of the elements through life forms.
All of creation is built on protein, composed of hydrogen,
carbon, oxygen, sulfur and nitrogen. In nature, this is all
scattered but in order for a plant to thrive it must have
access to each. Nitrogen is the crucial element, the bridge
between carbon and oxygen, between solid form and life spirit.
With nitrogen, there is a constant interchange between the
two. The compost is the main provider of this nitrogen.
"The celebrated N-P-K [fertilizer] formula feeds the
plant aggressively, bloating them," Gadi tells me, dismissing
the fertilizer application commonly used by conventional farmers.
"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
The long dark windrows of cow manure unite the farmers of
Kibbutz Harduf. In the dry, hot summer months, the compost
is the center of attention, with exact schedules of irrigating
and turning. Not enough water and the nitrogen is lost to
the air. Too much irrigation and the element seeps into the
ground. Homeopathic applications of oak bark, chamomile, yarrow
and valerian are also added to further activate and enliven
"OK, let us again return to the practical," Gadi
continually stops and promises, but he says this only for
my sake, to remind me that such a realm has never been left.
Biodynamic agriculture turns chemistry and biology into an
alchemy, a science that flirts with the mystical.
A practical dynamic
The research station on the northern corner of Kibbutz Harduf
is just one of many small farms through out the country whose
collective presence forms the Genesis Seed company. Because
as a whole Genesis Seeds is not a biodynamic operation, researchers
and farmers here must teeter on what is sometimes an imperfect
balance between the biodynamic principles of the kibbutz and
practical application. "The concept of our farm is based
on research and development,” Ilan, an apprentice with
Genesis Seeds, explains, “but there are times when the
pressure does not allow us to follow through with certain
accepted methods. There are also times when we receive seedlings
directly from Genesis, unaware under which zodiac sign they
The biodynamic principles are added to an established foundation
of organic agriculture. Crop rotations must be followed, companion
plantings too--biodynamics cannot work isolated from the rest.
Ilan, who comes from a conventional farming background, is
not sure what works and what doesn’t. "We don't
collect the weed seeds, burn them and spray the ash formula;
we just do our best to make sure the weeds don't flower."
Experiments performed by the research facility have found
scientific support for at least some principles of biodynamics.
. Moonlight has an effect on growth. In regards to factors
such as germination, harvest quantity, color, size, and quality,
an experiment done on radishes showed that when they were
planted on the earth zodiac sign, with a full moon, they resulted
in better crops than the ones planted at other times. But
the moon moves fast. And when you are growing commercially
you may not have the luxury to wait.
Researchers here have found success in these small experiments
but realize they will be unable to convert the whole farming
operation to this aspect of biodynamics due to the pressures
of farming on a consistent, rolling basis.
A labor of spirit
In the fresh, developing Israeli organic market, there is
no specific demand for biodynamic seed or produce. The farms
on Kibbutz Harduf are biodynamic out of self-motivation. Such
farming is returning spirit and belief to a practice devoid
of it, raising farming from the material, returning it to
the spiritual. Science has taken over the field.
"We talk of science as well, but one where man is only
a part, not the whole entity," Ilan says.
Agriculture is the culture of the land and those living and
working on it. That culture must be a healthy one, composed
of a healthy medicine, education, ecology and humanity. In
this framework, the farmer becomes a spiritual mediator between
plant and elements- the stars, moon, planets, air, water,
"Look at the plants, growing upwards, defying gravity,"
Avi points out in simple amazement. "It is an imprint