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4 lessons farm life teaches for Earth Day

You can improve our ecological footprint by paying attention to the water you use, the food you eat, and the energy you burn
Illustrative: An undated image of a farmer in the western Negev town of Kadesh Barnea inspecting a crop of cherry tomatoes. (Gili Yaari / Flash 90)
Illustrative: An undated image of a farmer in the western Negev town of Kadesh Barnea inspecting a crop of cherry tomatoes. (Gili Yaari / Flash 90)

I live in Israel, an arid-but-blooming country where we practice ecology and adaptation every day because we have to. At “Hava ve Adam” (“Eve and Adam” or “Farm and Man”), a 10-acre educational organic farm just outside of Jerusalem, we operate on a system of sustainability because there simply is no other option. The farm is where we teach, study and apply the principles of ecology and offer young adults from across the world an opportunity to participate in permaculture and sustainable living programs. As the facilitator for the Eco-Israel five-month program, the vehicle for my teaching is Masa Israel Journey, the leading conduit for immersive international career development and leadership experiences in Israel for young adults. It’s a cliché to say “treat every day like Earth Day” but on our farm, that is exactly how we operate. We teach sustainability and ecological design with the hope those who come here will take back these practices to their home countries because they are so universal and adaptable. All of us, including those who do not live and work in the ecological realm, and those who do not have the concept of “sustainability” at the forefront of their consciousness, can make a tangible difference.

Through observing and interacting with nature and understanding our ability to impact the environment, those who come here can see how to apply the lessons in ecology they learn here in their everyday lives and wherever they may roam. From our farm in Israel to you, here are four lessons for creating a healthier, cleaner planet that our grandchildren’s children can enjoy:

  1. Conserve water however possible.

In nature, there is no such thing as waste. In a place like the Middle East, where there’s so much less available freshwater than in water-rich countries, innovation and conservation is a must. Water should never go to waste. A global leader in irrigation and water technology, Israel reuses 70 percent of its wastewater. At the farm, we treat water like the life-giving precious resource it is. We use wastewater to support healthy marine ecosystems and even collect rainwater to irrigate our crops. We teach those who come here to continue treating water like it is a treasured commodity even when they return home. Take a look into how much water it takes to create your food, you might be shocked. Consider supporting water conservation methods, stopping leaky pipes, or installing a low-flow toilet if you can. Even if you don’t have a farm, try catching your own rainwater for watering your yard and houseplants. But most importantly, always think about conserving water, and it will become more natural to do so. If you think of water as limited, you will find your own personal ways to conserve it. That’s better for you — because we all pay for water somehow — and better for the planet.

  1. Use renewable energy every time you can.

Because our farm is off the grid, we have no choice but to live off 100 percent renewable solar energy. Israeli rooftops are covered in solar panels and hot water heaters, and Israel is a country on the cutting edge of solar energy technology. The lack of connection to the electrical grid on the farm forces us to become creative about our energy needs and how to fulfill them. Of course, if you live in a city apartment you shouldn’t expect to make all of your own energy or grow all of your own food. But there are always ways to reduce an energy footprint if you consider it. Whether it is investing in energy efficient lighting or choosing to ride your bike to work instead of taking a car, renewable and clean energy is a crucial piece of investing in our healthy future. It’s not just what you plug into your electrical socket either, you can join a community-supported agriculture co-op, buy shares in a solar farm, or shop at a local farmer’s market to support environmentally sustainable products and services. The key lesson is to think about what you can do, and you may find yourself surprised by the number of answers.

  1. Think of meat as delicacy, not a staple.

On our farm, we serve only vegetarian fare and grow enough vegetables to feed some 200 people a day. Because we grow as much as we can on the farm we know that it takes less space, time, and energy to raise enough vegetables to sustain a person than it would to use the same land for livestock. Livestock account for 15 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions, even by conservative estimates. Because of our limited natural resources, it’s probably not a coincidence that Israel is home to the highest per-capita rate of vegans in the world, with five percent of people identifying as vegans and eight to ten percent as vegetarians. Sure, a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle may not be to everyone’s taste. But after looking at the amount of crops an acre of farmland produces, and thinking how many additional acres are required for livestock of any kind, reframing meat as more of a delicacy than a staple is one way we can all be a part of building a healthier planet. Today, transitioning to a plant based diet is easier than ever, with delicious and nutritious meat alternative products making their debut in meat aisles for the first time ever.

4.  Throw out less food.

One-third of all food grown gets tossed. An insane amount of greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere each year from food waste, accounting for a stunning eight percent of human-made emissions. Try to compost all kitchen scraps and look to reinvest the nutrients of wasted food into your soil. If you are unable start a composting operation, you can support a food rescue in your region, or do some research to find out if your city or local town has some type of compost project of which you can partake easily. You can also put your lettuce heads, celery, green onion, garlic heads, mint and basil stems into water, then move them to soil and enjoy turning waste into taste.

Ultimately, by studying and evaluating our water, energy and food consumption, we can begin to think about taking steps to improve our overall ecological footprint and usage of these resources. At the farm, we live by Lao Tzu’s dictum: “If we don’t change our direction we will end up where we are headed,” and Gandhi’s motto to “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

That’s what Earth Day is all about.

Jonah Goldman is the Eco-Israel Facilitator, Visitor Center Manager, and Farm Developer at “Hava Ve Adam,” an ecological educational farm that offers a five-month certified semester program through Masa Israel Journey for young people from around the world to learn about and experience sustainable living in an intensive hands-on environment. Masa is the leader in immersive international career development and leadership experiences in Israel for young adults ages 18-30, and is a cooperation between The Jewish Agency and the government of Israel, made possible by the generous contributions of The Jewish Federations of North America, Keren Hayesod – UIA and other donors worldwide.

About the Author
Jonah Goldman is the Eco-Israel Facilitator, Visitor Center Manager, and Farm Developer at “Hava Ve Adam,” an ecological educational farm that offers a five-month certified semester program through Masa Israel Journey for young people from around the world to learn about and experience sustainable living in an intensive hands-on environment.
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