Emerging permaculture

Environmentalists teach DIY and grow-your-own to thousands all over the country.

A herb garden in a recycled pallet 521 (photo credit: Courtesy Beyadaim)
A herb garden in a recycled pallet 521
(photo credit: Courtesy Beyadaim)
As the world’s populations abandon the countryside and stream into cities, the need for sustainable methods of growing food inside those cities is becoming more and more urgent. Permaculture offers viable solutions to the increasing problem of food insecurity.
Take Cuba, for example. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, Cuba lost its main trading partner.
Suddenly, there was no more oil. There were also no more agricultural chemicals and pesticides. The Cuban economy plunged; food became expensive and scarce.
By 1993, Cubans realized that using pre-industrial agricultural methods was the one way to prevent mass starvation. The government adopted permaculture, a philosophy embracing ecological and environmental design and engineering that is modeled after natural ecosystems. Today, 80 percent of Cuba’s food comes from small, local, mostly organic farms, as well as from gardens on rooftops, in building lots and backyards. Every empty space is regarded as potential agricultural ground.
Here, it seems a food crisis such as that which Cuba survived couldn’t happen. Our scientists and agronomists work ceaselessly to improve the quality of our food. Our kibbutzim and moshavim supply the markets with a huge variety of fresh produce. Yet statistics show that 400,000 families in Israel suffer from food insecurity – that is, they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
According to the Yad Eliezer charitable organization, a third of the country’s children live under the poverty line. Such families struggle simply to keep a roof over their heads and have no money for regular – or even adequate – meals. It’s estimated that in Bnei Brak, 50% of the children go to sleep hungry each night. If rooftop gardens were set up in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, tended by families living in those buildings, there would be fresh food to fill those empty stomachs every day. Children and adults would benefit from the work in fresh air – and in overcrowded cities like Bnei Brak, it’s likely that the only fresh air is found on rooftops.
Surplus could be shared or sold for income.
It happened in Cuba. Why not here? The permaculture point of view fits easily into Jewish life and laws. We are commanded not to waste – workshops at the Beyadaim center in Kiryat Tivon teach how to upcycle pretty much anything people throw out. We are told to care for the earth – learn how to rehabilitate exhausted soil at the Hava & Adam permaculture farm near Modi’in.
You only have a small balcony but want to grow tomatoes? No problem; the Shdema ecology center near Gedera specializes in urban farming. There you can learn how to grow up to 25 varieties of food in an area as small as 20 by 80 centimeters.
A quick Google search reveals permaculture centers all over Israel. This column mentions some; the oldest is the Hava & Adam farm, founded in 2003. Although volunteers and youngsters doing their national service live on the farm for short periods, it’s an educational facility rather than a homestead. The site proclaims: “Hava & Adam Farm is a multidisciplinary center involved in environmental and social education located near the city of Modi’in. The founders of the farm – educators, environmentalists, architects, scientists and social activists – established the farm as a platform that allows for personal growth and observation of the deep connection between man and his natural environment.”
Classes are held for children and adults, as well as professional courses in practical ecology for teachers and guides. Tours may be arranged for groups in Hebrew, English and Russian. Over 10,000 visitors tour the farm yearly, participating in activities and courses such as organic agriculture, recycling and reusing, water systems, alternative energy, medicinal herbs and mudbuilding, or how to build sustainably with earth and recycled materials. One aspect of the farm that for some reason fascinates visitors is the humanure system, where the contents of toilets are composted.
Beyadaim in Kiryat Tivon is an open-space project that teaches do-it-yourself methods. Assaf Chertkoff established Beyadaim three years ago, after 10 years of studying permaculture all over the world.
“It’s an ongoing workshop,” says Chertkoff. “Regular participants pay NIS 50 a month to bring their projects in and use our tools. Or you can join someone else’s project for the education. For example, someone brought in a dead tree he’d found in the street. Together, we built stairs for the back of his house out of it.
“We call teachers in according to need. Say a group asks for a class on welding, or vertical gardening, or repairing furniture, or nutrition. If we don’t have someone qualified to teach, we’ll arrange for a visiting teacher.
“Our participants learn about us by word of mouth.
We have several dozen regular participants, and over the year, hundreds come for specific workshops or classes.”
Beyadaim offers an enormous variety of learning experiences, working with materials as diverse as electronics to soil rehabilitation in their garden. It seems that the need to learn urban permaculture is at least as pressing as working the ground. “About half our participants are city dwellers,” notes Chertkoff.
The Beyadaim website (in Hebrew) offers a comprehensive list of its workshops, plus links to outside resources.
The eco-center in Moshav Shdema is the fruit of Eyal Barkan’s commitment to urban agriculture in Israel.
Barkan, an agronomist and environmentalist, says, “There doesn’t have to be a crisis like Cuba’s to provoke a need for urban agriculture. Our produce is becoming expensive. And if suddenly there’s no running water, a long-term problem with sewage or food supplies, the ordinary person will need to be resilient and have the skills to survive. Permaculture is a tool to avoid a collapse when there are emergencies.”
Shdema’s core group consists of about 15 families that live in the area. At the studies center, they learn methods of urban food production such as hydroponic window farming, a concept that started in the US and is just catching on in Israel; vertical farming; and hanging gardens.
Barkan’s company, Farmit, produces a sort of pocket garden called Kis-shtil. Similar to the World War II method of growing potatoes in a sack, the kit is a bag that’s drilled to a wall so it can stand when filled. Fill the bag with rich soil and compost, make slits in the bag, and insert seedlings. This is where a householder can grow up to 25 varieties of herbs and leafy greens in a tiny space.
Wall gardens, says Barkan, are complex systems that should be undertaken with the guidance of an experienced gardener.
Since the founders of permaculture farms and workshops have traveled to study the methods and obtain degrees, most of them speak English.
Hava & Adam Farm: www.havaveadam.org (in English) Beyadaim: www.bayadaim.org.il; contact@beyadaim.org.il. Open Sundays and Tuesdays, 4:30-9:30 p.m., and occasionally on Fridays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Shdema Eco-Center: 052-434-5663; shdema.ecocenter@ gmail.com