Vine and fig tree: Restoring agriculture in the Holy Land
Teaching farming as a balance of spirit,
soil and a healthy culture

Kibbutz Harduf is not just a biodynamic farm, it's a biodynamic community

By Yigal Deutscher
June 3, 2005

 

 

Where we are:
NORTHERN
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.


Editor's Note:

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:

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.

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:
NORTHERN
Arrasid
micro-farms, 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.

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."


SOUTHERN
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."

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."

WEST BANK
Moshav 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:
Home

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.


GENESIS SEEDS

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 year-round production.

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.

The students 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 entertainment.

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 created.

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 field.


The lessons of Kibbutz Harduf


Unearthed cow horns

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 biodynamic preparations.

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 and soul."

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 and apply."

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 the pile.

"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 were sown."

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, sun.

"Look at the plants, growing upwards, defying gravity," Avi points out in simple amazement. "It is an imprint of God."