Beersheba farmers' market370.
(photo credit: Katherine Martinelli )
Transforming an urban center into an agricultural oasis, the Beersheba Kalisher
Absorption Center showcased the colorful fruits and vegetables of its Ethiopian
immigrant gardeners in an Ecotopia Festival on Wednesday evening that attracted
some 800 visitors.
The absorption center – run by the Jewish Agency – is
home to about 50 plots of community gardens. The immigrant families are the ones
who cultivate them, using equipment, irrigation, seedlings, agricultural
know-how and pest control provided by local NGO Earth’s Promise, which has been
operating since 2007.
Organized by Earth’s Promise and the Jewish Agency
in conjunction with the Beersheba Municipality, the fourth annual Ecotopia
Festival enabled the families to display their crops and celebrate Ethiopian
Greeting visitors as they arrived was an agricultural oasis of
sprawling corn stalks and pumpkin vines, according to Adam Ganson, co-executive
director of Earth’s Promise.
In addition to showcasing the fruits of the
community’s labor through guided tours, the festival included a traditional
Ethiopian gojo home with a photography exhibition inside. Guests could also
attend an Ethiopian cooking workshop, while their children made recycled paper
artwork within an urban orchard, Ganson told The Jerusalem Post
on Thursday. A
main stage hosted shows from two bands and a DJ, Ethiopian food was distributed
for free, and seedlings were on sale.
At the absorption center, each new
immigrant family tends to their own garden plot and can grow fruits and
vegetables for their own consumption at home, the Jewish Agency explained. In
addition to growing Israeli crops, the families raise a variety of traditional
Ethiopian vegetables like gomen (a type of lettuce), ma’ashila (a type of corn),
doba (a type of pumpkin), barbery (a type of hot pepper), teff (a traditional
grain used to make injera flatbread) and zekagbe (a type of basil).
goal of the community garden setting is to provide the new immigrants with
small-scale agriculture that can connect them to their pasts as well as
facilitate their absorption into Israel, according to absorption center director
Talia Artzi. The center is home to about 320 immigrants.
Families tend to
farm their plots when they first move to the country, and afterward “pass on”
the plots to newer families as the original families advance further in their
careers, explained Ganson, who has been running Earth’s Promise for the past two
years with his wife, Moran. A good amount of food-sharing goes on among families
as well, he added.
“Our vision is to make this marketable,” he said. “We
thought that using urban agriculture as a basis for a local sustainable economy
is a good way to keep food sources local.”
In the Gimmel neighborhood
near the absorption center where many of the immigrants live, Earth’s Promise is
now establishing a type of “local sustainable economy,” in which residents will
be able to exchange not only products, but also time – such as taking turns
babysitting an hour for each other’s children, Ganson said. The local economy
will be making use of the Osher System, which digitally manages the use of an
alternative, local currency.
“It’s keeping resources within the
neighborhood,” Ganson said.
As part of the local economy, Earth’s Promise
has a plot of land, spanning somewhere between 0.6 and 0.8 hectares, that it
intends to turn into an urban farm run by a resident farm manager. That farm
will be able, for example, to sell tomatoes to the local pub and peppers to the
local felafel stand using the neighborhood-only coin, Ganson
“Basically it’s connecting the urban agricultural concept with
the local sustainable economy concept,” he said. “The way it connects in our
view is that it’s an overarching way to localize food sources.”
the group has the Beersheba mayor’s support for this venture, but will be
meeting with the municipality on Sunday about the logistics, Ganson
Both he and his wife have master’s degrees in environmental
fields, and each worked at various green organizations before taking on the
co-directorship at Earth’s Promise. While acknowledging that there are many
challenges to living in the South, Ganson stressed that “on evenings like
[Wednesday] night, it’s really magical, to see the black and white, kids and old
folk, local residents and people coming from afar – that really makes it worth
In addition to the activities in Beersheba, Earth’s Promise has
community gardens in Ashkelon and Arad and will look to expand into other
specific projects that match the organization’s interests in the
“We’re making urban agriculture a reality here in Beersheba,”