Grassroots endeavor

A community gardens project encourages residents to get down and dirty.

organic vegetables 88 (photo credit: )
organic vegetables 88
(photo credit: )
Imagine that instead of buying your fresh vegetables and herbs at the local market, you could pick them from your garden. There would be no more schlepping your bags from Mahaneh Yehuda market or the nearby supermarket, no more throwing away unused produce. Thanks to the efforts of a branch of National Service, in 12 neighborhoods around the city this dream has come true. In these areas, Garin Dvash (Honey Unit) has helped residents create community gardens, each one different from the next, some emphasizing vegetables, some herbs, some organic produce and still others beauty. The gardens are managed with the support of the municipality, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and the Community Center Company (Hevra Lematnasim). Friends Gali Agnon and Hagai Shapira developed the idea for the ecologically oriented unit while still in high school, and successfully proposed it to the SPNI. "I wanted to do something meaningful with my term of National Service," recalls Agnon. "I thought that I could create something new that would suit my aspirations and my beliefs... when Hagai introduced me to ecological issues and gardening, I thought why not - that could be a meaningful way to fulfill my service." "When Gali and I decided to propose our own unit of National Service, we went to talk to the people in charge and it worked," says Shapira. "They believed in us and although it is still very precarious and we still need more funding, at least it was not rejected. "We started with six people, including us two, and this year, the third round of the project, we are eight," he continues. "We scour the country for more high-school graduates to join. "There is a lot of interest in what we do and I believe it will only grow," adds Agnon. In Kiryat Hayovel, behind the neglected apartment blocks along Rehov Olswanger, residents' involvement in their community garden has spread to other communal interests. These once disparate neighbors have united in opposition to a large, prestigious building project nearby, which they say has been planned without consulting them or taking into account their interests. Creating community gardens "means that you're taking responsibility for your surroundings instead of waiting passively for someone else - like an administration - to do it for you," says project coordinator Adiel Shnior. "It means that you're acting by using some kind of power. You actually take over an open space, a space that belongs to the community, and you give it back to the community once it has become a kind of asset, something that will work for the benefit of the community. "In fact, it is the basis of building a community, like you do when you create a synagogue or a grocery in your neighborhood or anything else that draws people around it," he continues. "And it is not just another community, it is a community that gathers around a sustainable way of life. You no longer need to be part of the modern consumer society and instead become part of a community that uses only what it needs and avoids waste." Shnior, who has a masters degree in permaculture (permanent agriculture), specializes in implementing an ecological way of life based on a community's original agriculture as an alternative to the wasteful consumption typical of Western societies, Israel included. "This is not just some fun thing to do with your neighbors," he emphasizes. "It needs a big investment of knowledge, work, care and education, and it does not matter what kind of community garden you decide to create. "We have among the 12 already existing gardens, those that are primarily ornamental and those that are a self-sufficient source of produce for the community, with their own vegetable and even fruit trees," he says. "The heart of the matter is the educational and ecological attitude it develops among the neighbors who decide to go for it." In one of the gardens, for example, the community decided to screen An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's documentary film about global warming. "It was the residents' decision to screen it, and by doing so, they in fact became a part of the large movement of people who understand that we cannot go on destroying and wasting our planet's resources," says Shnior. "They became part of the ever-growing numbers of people all around the world who disconnect themselves from consumer society and return to the original way of life: consuming only what they really need, caring about the health of the earth and their surroundings and so on… and it all happened because they planted a community garden."