Dining: Branching out

The Ofaimme Cafe in Beit Hakerem is based on a vision of sustainable agriculture

The Ofaimme Cafe in Beit Hakerem (photo credit: YAEL BRYGEL)
The Ofaimme Cafe in Beit Hakerem
(photo credit: YAEL BRYGEL)
Seven years ago, Hedai Offaim and his brother Yinon examined their farming business in the Arava and struggled to find traces of the pioneering spirit that had sparked its creation a decade earlier. With plastic-covered greenhouses spread over hundreds of acres of land, and 65 Thai workers managing day-to-day operations, their farm on Moshav Idan brought to mind steel factories in Ashdod rather than the inspiring tales of pioneering they had grown up with as young boys in Haifa.
“Our family went from being nomadic Jews in Poland to farmers in the Land of Israel,” explains Hedai, whose father came to the Jewish state after surviving the Holocaust and whose mother grew up steeped in agricultural life on Kibbutz Yagur at the foot of the Carmel. “We had a utopian vision of what farming should look like, and that simply wasn’t it,” recounts the 36-year-old.
That auspicious awakening propelled the brothers into the exciting world of sustainable agriculture. Together with their business partner Golan Max, they embarked on a series of ventures, including the recently opened Ofaimme Cafe in Beit Hakerem.
At the cafe, which was packed to the brim on a recent Friday afternoon as the rain gushed onto Beit Hakerem Street, customers chose from a wide selection of organic goat cheeses produced on the brothers’ two farms – the second is one based in the Ella Valley, where Hedai lives – as well as delectable dishes created by acclaimed Palestinian chef Kamel Hashlmon.
The menu includes a spectacular shakshouka and a light “burekoson” dish (a combination of burekas and croissant) filled with cheese, greens and herbs.
Kashrut is under the supervision of Hashgaha Pratit.
Ofaimme, which means “tree branches,” is the name given to the collection of initiatives that the Offaim brothers and Golan have created over the past few years. These include experiential learning programs on their farms for pre- and post-army Israelis and international agriculture students.
They have also opened several organic stores around the country and are planning to open more. Their farms run according to strict ecological principles, inspired by sustainability practices implemented in the countrysides of Tuscany, Provence and Vermont, and they resist the overwhelming industrial forces that dominate today’s farming industry.
Hedai, a visionary with an acute sense of social awareness, stood amidst the busy Jerusalem cafe explaining in great detail to this writer his vision for a more equitable farming industry and a more just society.
“In the current system, farmers own only 15 percent of the chain of value of the farming industry,” he said. “Our model offers independence and control to the farmers and removes the bureaucratic layers that come between the farmer and the consumer.”
Hedai and his partners, with the assistance of his older sister, Nitzan, grow their own fodder to feed their Alpine goats. The goats’ milk is used to make cheeses and yogurts. They use the goats’ manure as fertilizer, while the water on their farms is recycled, and electricity is generated by solar power. This is a marked change from just a few years ago when fodder, for example, was brought from northern Israel on 30 trucks, which represented a huge investment of resources and produced significant environmental ripple effects.
“Sustainability is the key,” Hedai asserts.
“I want to create a system that is self-sufficient, provides economic security and where I know that a tree that I plant will be there in years to come for my children to benefit from.”
Hedai, who describes himself as a humanist and a “frum [religiously observant] atheist,” is as much committed to the social consequences of his business choices as he is to the ecological sustainability of his farms. He hires locals and pays waiters (and other staff) a living wage so that they are not dependent on tips. He also chooses to open stores in residential areas rather than malls, creating partnerships with local businesses and communities and ensuring that Offaime is an integrated part of the neighborhood fabric.
Despite being a former food columnist for Haaretz and a passionate foodie, Hedai says that his major focus is the state of the world around us.
“While food is one of my main reasons to live – other than my beautiful family – when I get up in the morning, I go straight to the news section of the newspaper and not the food column,” he says. “If the country loses its moral values, that is more of a concern to me than anything else.” •