A tree grows in Tel Aviv

At CityTree, green, urban living is modeled, taught and spread to homes throughout the country.

CityTree 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
CityTree 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
It started as a blog; an attempt by one woman, Tami Zori, to share what she knew about ecological living in the modern world. Then people started to join in. They contributed recipes, ways to green your home, how to garden in a city and how to compost. As more and more people began to share their knowledge of the ways that individuals can make positive and healthy changes that are good for the environment, the more it became clear that there was a need for a place to exchange information. A place where those who had an interest in ecologically minded living could learn as well as share what they knew. From a humble blog began a movement.
The movement’s headquarters, CityTree, opened in Tel Aviv six years ago. Since then, it has blossomed into a place where green, urban living is modeled, taught and spread to homes throughout the country.
“Vegans used to suffer, but now it’s no longer about suffering for a cause; it’s about having a better life,” says project and community coordinator Tammy Avichail, a gentle and sunny smile on her face as she scrapes used tea leaves into the compost bucket in the CityTree kitchen. The kitchen is bursting with boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Orange rinds lie on the table waiting to be composted too. For the residents of CityTree – about seven of them at any given time – ecologically minded and vegan living is not a concept to be proselytized to unwilling audiences, but an enjoyable way of life to be shared among a community.
Workshops are the lifeblood of CityTree. With a variety of projects and campaigns going around Tel Aviv and throughout Israel, the workshops offer a steady medium through which to teach different basic or fun skills to small groups. CityTree offers weekly classes on how to make vegan chocolate without any industrialized materials, including processed white sugar. Other regular workshops include vegan soap and household cleaners. With Passover around the corner, a special holiday workshop for Passover desserts is scheduled for Friday, March 22. Other holidays also have their own relevant workshops.
Movie nights, discussions and Shabbat dinners round out CityTree’s offerings and provide a forum to discuss the ideas and practicalities of urban green living.
The strength of CityTree, Avichail explains, is that it recognizes and addresses the fact that living this way is difficult; they know it is a challenge.
However, says Avichail, it’s much easier with a supportive community. The CityTree community is built through the sharing of information both online – on the group’s Facebook page and website – and in real life at workshops and events.
Some of the most useful information for those who want to make even small changes in how they purchase and consume comes from the online community.
Between their main Facebook page, a Facebook page called “Exiting the Supermarket” (both in Hebrew) and their website, there is an air of collaboration as people exchange information and ask questions about where to buy products, what places and brands to support and how to make their own, natural versions of their favorite things.
On a larger scale, CityTree is working with the municipalities in Tel Aviv, Givatayim and Rishon Lezion to educate and support people who want to begin composting. Since 40 percent of the waste that humans produce is organic, composting is a straightforward change with a significant impact.
As an organization that professes to model what it teaches, you might wonder where CityTree’s shopping gets done. If you imagine that everything is triple-checked for organic certification, you’ll be surprised to find out that, in fact, much of the produce eaten on the premises is not certified at all. The balconies of the CityTree apartment are lined with planters, each one sprouting herbs that are used by the residents.
They also grow their own kale and a neem tree. The bulk of their vegetables come from the Gan Hasade sustainable agriculture farm, and their fruit from a grower in Moshav Beit Hanan who is not certified but uses organic methods.
While certification is useful for regulating large-scale operations, it can be a big expense for an independent farmer.
When you are buying from an individual or a small collective, it’s enough to speak to those who are actually growing your food first-hand. CityTree residents value the personal relationship that they have built with their grower, Tzvika, with whom they have worked for many years and whose honesty they trust.
In fact, Avichail says that one of the most important changes that people can make to live a greener life is simply to buy from people they know and to build a relationship with the people they buy from. This could mean just speaking with and getting to know the owner of your local grocery store or mini-market. There is a good chance that shop owners will listen to the requests for more organic products from customers they know and with whom they have built a rapport.
As CityTree has grown into its own flourishing entity, its founder has branched off into other projects with the support of the organization that she has nurtured. Her latest venture is a performance art piece in Bat Yam. The Zero Home is a structure open to visitors that is meant to upend our idea of what a home is and should be. With a vision of a simpler future, Tami Zori tackles what it means to “live green” by inhabiting a home without the basic comforts of modern life, such as electricity and running water. She has again built a community around an ideal of living and they have rallied together to model a way of life that may seem just a dream, but with some practical knowledge and an open mind, could be closer than we think.