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.
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
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."
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."
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."
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
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 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
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
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
"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."