On a recent Thursday morning, Boaz Havivian, one of the seven Havivian siblings who run the family’s organic farm near Ashkelon, pulled the van to a halt on Lincoln Street in Jerusalem and hefted a large box of vegetables to deliver across the street.
“It’s heavy this week,” he said, grimacing at the weight of the box. “It’s melon season.”
True enough. In the local world of CSA, or Community Sustained Agriculture, in which city folk support their local farmers with standing orders of fresh, organic vegetables, it’s melon season, as well as squash, beans, and eggplant season. On any given Thursday — or Wednesday — farmers are delivering their baskets of produce to customers around the country, generally charging around NIS 85 for a small box, and NIS 110 for a larger one, sticking in some updates about the produce, as well as a recipe or two.
Most farms also offer the option of customers coming out to the farm as well as neighborhood pickup points. And for customers who haven’t yet committed to ordering a weekly box, there are the local green markets held on Thursday afternoons and Friday mornings across the country, where local farmers hawk their organic produce, green bundles of lettuce, Swiss chard and kale, dirt-encrusted potatoes of all shades, long red peppers and crispy carrots.
Not everyone is buying organic, or waiting for these boxes to arrive each week. But there has been a shift in mentality, said Bat Ami Sorek, the founder of Chubeza, an organic farm and one of the country’s first CSAs, located on the Latrun-Ramle Road in the Ayalon Valley.
“I think that when I was growing up, 25 years ago, [the concept] of seasonality was still here,” said Sorek, a Jerusalemite who spent several years living in northern California, where she gained her CSA roots. “But now hothouses are very common, seasons are longer and we learned how to store produce all year long. It’s not what it was, but CSA is something that’s going back to what it used to be. Everyone used to have family on a moshav, or a small kitchen garden behind the house. Now there’s a need.”
Whether it’s a trend, a real need or a societal requirement in 2013, CSAs are here, providing easy and relatively affordable access to organic produce. Read about five different farms around Israel, providing weekly deliveries of organic fruits and vegetables straight to your neighborhood.
1) Havivian77 is the name of the family and farm located outside Ashkelon and run by seven siblings, following in their parents’ footsteps. Boaz Havivian had just finished his agriculture degree when he decided to take over the family business, relates Orit Havivian, his sister. “It’s a family business,” she said. “One manages, I market, our mother is responsible for Boaz, who grows the vegetables. We’re all involved in the business one way or another.”
With a sister in Jerusalem and another in Tel Aviv, in addition to the other five, the business grew quickly and now supplies some 800 families as well as a stall at a weekly farmer’s market in Jerusalem’s German Colony.
“We work very hard,” said Orit. “It’s about growing and being tied to what we started and what we love, doing what my father and mother did all these years. Now it’s a kind of upgrade.”
Havivian77, Moshav Hodaya, near Ashkelon, delivers from Ashdod up to the country’s center.
2) Maggie Rosenberg always grew vegetables for her family before she decided to make a living out of it. “I grew up in Armon Hanatziv in Jerusalem, on my mom’s stories of being little in the States where she grew vegetables and had a goat,” Rosenberg explained. “I finally said I’m going to do what I love to do, which is growing it and then cooking it.”
Rosenberg, who lives in Nataf, a community in the hills outside Jerusalem, started with just one or two friends and neighbors and now has several hundred customers who receive their organic produce from Maggie’s Garden. She emphasized that it’s not a CSA, in which regular customers receive a box of “whatever’s in season.” Instead, she always makes sure to have cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce, and will provide fruits from other organic growers, while her particular specialty is sprouts — “That’s my big thing,” she said. Customers can also make special orders, “like, I want two lettuces, and half-a-kilo of this, and 10 of those,” she said.
With several dunams of land up on a hill, Rosenberg can grow more greens than other growers, and everything is “super, super organic,” she said. “We’re organic, period.”
Maggie’s Garden, Nataf, delivers to Jerusalem, Emek Haelah, Beit Shemesh, Gush Etzion, and “pretty much everywhere, up to Herzliya.”
3) Bat Ami Sorek may very well be the mother of the CSA in Israel, having started her CSA in 2003, in the fields of Kfar Bin Nun, where she now works with her farming partner. When she first began growing her produce, she sent emails to a list of friends, asking people what they would want in a CSA basket.
“People said it wouldn’t work, that Israelis won’t accept a basket of vegetables without knowing what’s going to be in it,” she said. Chubeza — the Hebrew word for “mallow,” a green that’s gathered in the early springtime — started with around 15 families and now delivers its baskets to more than 800, said Sorek, whose master’s degree was in sustainable community with a thesis about the CSA concept. (Sorek also mentioned a new addition to the CSA neighborhood, Kaima, which means “sustainability” in Aramaic, an NGO and organic farm in Beit Zayit, outside Jerusalem, which is employing troubled teenagers on the farm, in an effort to employ and empower the otherwise marginalized youth.)
“When I studied the subject, I understood that CSAs actually allow way more people to join,” said Sorek, whose website is also in English and, like other CSAs, includes a blog about what’s in season. “If you’re short on money, you can cancel for a week. If you’re a student or one person, it gives way more flexibility. And for the farmer, a CSA offers a very stable income, avoiding the instability of a market or shuk.”
Most of the CSA farms in Israel are a “loose form” of the American CSA, said Sorek, but she’s actually found more advantages to that. “Organic is so small in Israel that there’s way more space for people to join. What I want mostly is to connect people back to the land to where vegetables come from.”
Chubeza, Moshav Ben Nun, with deliveries to Tel Aviv, Modiin, Jerusalem, Gush Etzion and Ramat Gan.
4) At Gan Hasadeh in Kfar Rut, Roee Feuchtwanger grows more than 120 types of vegetables and herbs on his 30 dunam of land. But it’s not a CSA, he said. “We don’t do baskets, we don’t do CSA, we don’t want support from the community,” said Feuchtwanger, who has around 1,000 customers. Instead, customers order what they want through his website, and then can have their selection delivered to them.
“We have the biggest variety in the country,” he said. “It’s not just 10 types of vegetables, it’s a huge selection, from simple vegetables like cucumbers and tomatoes to asparagus, all kinds of beans, eggplants and kale.”
With a weekly farmer’s market on Friday, the concept of Gan Hasadeh is more like an organic produce grocery store. “I don’t want people to tell me what to eat, or to tell someone else what they should eat,” he said, referring to the seasonal CSA basket. “I give people that option to eat what and when they want it.”
Gan Hasadeh, Kfar Rut, with deliveries from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.
5) There are also several CSA farms up north, including Meshek Ben Zvi in the Jezreel Valley, Sde Shefa in Kibbutz Hukuk above the Kinneret, and Savta Yehudit in Yavne’el, named after Amir Dayan’s grandmother. Dayan partnered with Gal Yanovsky, a former graphic designer, when the two met while working at another organic farm, both looking for other, more “real” alternatives in terms of career, said Yanovsky. They planted their fields in 2011, and now deliver to some 100 customers in the region, offering “the authentic stuff that’s seasonal and native to the region,” he added. “We do it all ourselves, all the field work, all the deliveries. I know every single one of my customers.”
Like other CSAs, Savta Yehudit ties its customers to the land with the regular updates and photos on its website, and customers visit the fields every so often, said Yanovsky. “What’s unique about us is that we’re smaller, so we know our people. And they love our corn and our melons.”
Savta Yehudit, Yavne’el, delivering to the Jordan Valley, Tiberias, Kfar Tavor, Golani intersection and Ramot Menashe.