Nancy Strichman
Spotlight on Civil Society

Want to feel a sense of abundance? Get to a community farm!

Teenagers working the fields at Kaima Nahalal community-based agricultural farm, a nonprofit that employs girls and young women. Participants are referred to the farm primarily by social welfare services, rape crisis centers, and boarding schools. Spring, 2020

A delivery of organic vegetables from the Kaima Nahalal community farm just arrived at our doorstep. Yay! Score more mommy points for me. It is tough these days with kids whose standards for environmental activism are set by Greta Thunberg. So I am ready to take on the acorn squash first if anyone has a good recipe.

The word thriving isn’t one we hear too much lately. Instead we are weighed down, boxed in. But when you get to the Kaima Nahalal community farm in the Jezreel Valley, suddenly there is an open, welcoming space that doesn’t feel confined. It is the opposite of desolation, with vegetation spilling out everywhere.

A basket of vegetables delivered this week to our home in Kiryat Tivon, from Kaima Nahalal community farm. Photo Credit: Nomi Strichman.

And thriving it is. The demand for Kaima Nahalal’s agricultural output is higher than ever. Nothing like a pandemic to remind everyone how important it is to support locally grown produce and to consider issues of sustainability.

In the past few months so many of us have become almost mystical about nature, showing it a new kind of reverence. We all marveled as urban spaces were taken over once us humans got out of the way. Lots of us have now fashioned ourselves professional flower photographers. And as we have often scrambled to fill our kitchens, most people I know have begun to think carefully about the food chain -not simply taking for granted the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Tslil Adiv (left), a Kaima Nahalal youth guide, working with teenage girls. Fall 2019.
Merav Carmi (right) working with one of the teenage girls. As she explains, Kaima Nahalal hopes to convey the healing power of nature and provide positive role models for the girls who suffer from various challenges such as drug/ alcohol addiction and a history of sexual abuse. Fall 2019.

Merav Carmi, founding director of Kaima Nahalal, tapped into such sentiments- newfound realizations for many of us- over a decade ago. More recently, at Moshav Nahalal, she started a Kaima farm as part of a network that combines community-supported agriculture  and an alternative educational framework for teens.

The Kaima model, first established in 2013 by Yoni Yefet Reich at Moshav Beit Zayit, has made its way from the Jerusalem area to other parts of the country, and has even reached as far as Tanzania. Kaima farms employ troubled youth who are having difficulties fitting into the standard framework offered by the educational system. Merav has brought her own sensibilities to the field of agriculture, which is largely dominated by men, establishing in 2017 the only Kaima farm led exclusively by women and girls.

Lior Hollander (left), who has a BA in environmental science and education and is a certified permaculture designer and organic agriculturalist, working with a teenage girl on the farm. Winter, 2020.

Back in 2007, Merav made one of those big, life-changing moves – leaving her job as a television documentary researcher and journalist to sign up for a permaculture course at Kibbutz Lotan in the Arava Desert. Upon graduation and full of new ideas, she promptly moved back up North, ready to revitalize her family farm at Moshav Nahalal.

For Merav, it was coming home in so many ways. She knew well from her life experiences what the stillness of nature, and the quiet, almost meditative practice of simple farm work can teach. Inspired by her own agricultural heritage going back six generations, she returned to the place holding memories of youth spent with her grandfather out in the fields. Merav and her family live right next to the farm, and she works hard to create a space that gives so many other women and girls a connection to the land that she feels so instinctively.

Sagie Gottleib (middle) the farm manager and agronomist, with a background in agro-forestry research, shares her experience with hands-on social-agriculture with the teenage girls working at Kaima Nahalal. Fall, 2019.

Creating Kaima Nahalal came in stages. First, building on her expertise in permaculture, Merav operated an ecological farm for sustainable education. Then, in 2016, after discovering the Kaima model, Merav began her training and mentorship at the Kaima prototype farm just outside of Jerusalem.

While setting up her own Kaima farm at Moshav Nahalal, Merav had another intuitive sense about the direction the farm needed to go. In the middle of an impromptu conversation about the #Me Too Movement with her team, who all happened to be women, Merav realized the power of setting up Kaima Nahalal as an entirely female community.

Such began the Kaima Nahalal model, a farm that is a healing space for girls and young women together. Participants are either considering or have already dropped out of school or have aged-out of other programs. Often there is a history of sexual abuse.

The Kaima Nahalal team from left: Irit Rotem, Merav Carmi, Lior Hollander, Sagie Gottleib, and Tslil Adiv, with May Safra, a former national service team member who stayed working at the farm. Spring 2020.

The Kaima Nahalal staff help their young employees – yes, this a workplace with very clear responsibilities and expectations – become acquainted with themselves in new ways. They are hoping to give the teenage girls space to step back a bit in order to make sense of their experiences.  The entire team each week can enjoy the fruits (or vegetables, to be more precise) of their labor. And each week they have the satisfaction of getting their harvest to so many families in the surrounding region.

Each Wednesday is packing and delivery day, when shipments are prepared for about seventy families residing in the surrounding region of the Jezreel Valley and Kiryat Tivon. Spring, 2020.

The lessons being taught daily, through the practice of nurturing both an organic farm and each other, are valuable to all of us. That having a vital connection to nature can be so restorative, especially when the connection to people may not be going so well. That there are cycles and seasons for all things- and emotions too can shift and evolve. That yelling at the lettuce for not growing will yield little. It is teaching compassion by example, pushing us to think more about what we can take responsibility for, what clings to us and what we have to let go.

Mazi, employed by Kaima Farm, is loading hay for mulch. As with all team members, there is the hope that the physical labor and the nature of the work will strengthen them in every way to move forward in life. Spring, 2020.
Lishai, donning a protective mask, prepares to operate a weed wacker. When her boarding school closed during the coronavirus lockdown and she was unable to return to an unsafe family environment, Lishai was hired at Kaima Nahalal. Spring, 2020.

And there is such generosity that can be found in this field of community farming. Guidelines, resources, and practical tips are available to colleagues here and aboard. As with Merav and many others, Yoni offers support and mentorship, including to a former student of mine at Hebrew University – Fabian Bulugu – who brought the Kaima model to his own Tanzanian village in 2018.

Of course, we always have reminders that nature can be fickle, unkind, unforgiving. Community-supported agriculture is hard work. It is a tough go financially. And it is not for everyone. But as we all know, we have had to carefully rethink our habits these days, and how we nourish and sustain ourselves is high up on the list.

Another basket of vegetables fresh from Kaima Nahalal. Spring, 2020.

Community farms address a wide range of key issues, including sustainability, environmental consciousness, health and nutrition, and – the Kaima model in particular- can offer opportunities for disengaged youth to find their way in their world. These farms are a winning proposition all around.

So I have to get started with dinner, and I will be happily using the vegetables from Kaima Nahalal. Yes, I definitely get points from my kids. But really, supporting the efforts of Merav and everyone at the Kaima farms should score a high amount of points for all of us.

 

About the Author
Dr. Nancy Strichman teaches graduate courses in evaluation and strategic thinking at the Hebrew University’s Glocal program, a masters degree in International Development. Her research has focused on civil society, specifically on shared society NGOs and gender equality in Israel. She lives in Tivon, Israel with her four children and her very patient husband.
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