Harod Valley for locavores
Roman Giler is a nurturer and a baker, but most of all he’s a man with a vision. Assiduously, step by step he shapes his vision - to make proper food accessible to everyone - into a reality. Looking at the world from the windows of high towers of Tel Aviv, Roman felt disconnected from nature. It dissuaded him from pursuing a career in high-tech. He left Tel Aviv to study permaculture in Kibbutz Lotan in the south, then returned home to the Harod Valley. Following his interest in natural processes, organic agriculture, food and building with mud, Roman started working in The Organic Farm in Merhavia and then with Dr. Uri Mayer-Chissick.
He began cooking and baking in the earth ovens he was building. A couple of years later Roman combined all the knowledge and experience gained from working with Dr. Mayer-Chissick into making a product that complies with the necessary regulations and can be widely distributed. Incidentally, Roman sees his business, “Ovdey Adama” (Workers of the earth), as the production branch of Dr. Mayer-Chissick’s center that makes research accessible to the public.
Roman chose to take us to a few places in the Harod Valley that are meaningful to him and are part of his life. This is the perfect day-trip for anyone who’s into a sustainable lifestyle and local, high-quality produce. Another unexpected and fascinating part of that day turned out to be a tour of the old kibbutz canteens. These half-abandoned, historical buildings have gained a new life at the hands of younger people, who are returning to the valley.
First stop - Ayelet Margalit and Neta Kadshai, The Organic Farm and Shop, Merhavia
The farm was founded by Ayelet and Neta about 10 years ago. Like many similar businesses, the organic field was not built on knowledge, but rather the fruition of an urge to benefit the community while adhering to the “old” values of fellowship and mutual assistance. Through hard work and patience they succeeded in setting up a CSA model farm and an organic shop that works with small businesses in the valley, while employing mainly women of all ages.
It all started with one hectare (2.5 acres) of pesticide free land and cucumbers. Today they have 10 hectares, leased from neighbours from Merhavia. who have pulled out of agriculture. It’s a way to make sure that the surrounding land remains clean. Traditional organic agriculture recognizes that “nature owns the land, rather than people”, Ayelet told us during our walk around the fields. In a balanced biological environment every pest has its natural enemy. They’ve been witnessing a gradual return of various insects, birds, animals and plants that had almost disappeared from the valley, like mongooses, turtles, hedgehogs and a variety of butterflies and bees. Everyone is welcome in the farm of Ayelet and Neta who prefer to grow more, so there will be enough for all. For example, the first four meters of the row of lettuce are saved for the disciplined rabbits that don’t wander any further. To further ease the return of wildlife, they’ve created a wild, swampy area fed by surplus irrigation water - a small nature reserve amidst the fields.
The women of the farm strongly believe in recycling and repurposing, and sometimes give away lettuce in return for a cardboard box. But they also had to compromise and use plastic row covers for some crops to prevent the overgrowing of weeds. These rows get twice as much renewal time as regular rows that rest for six months, providing food for animals and organic matter that rots and enriches the earth for the next planting.
Second stop - Roman Giler, Ovdey Adama bakery, Kibbutz Beit Hashita.
The bakery, situated in a red brick building dating from 1945 that used to be a children’s mess hall, produces 10 different kinds of breads, up to 700 loaves a day. Every day, except Saturdays, the bread loaves are made by hand, baked in the evening, packaged at night and delivered in the morning to health food shops, groceries and homes in the delivery area which extends to Pardes-Hanna and Zichron-Yaakov. You can also pick up bread at the bakery, with a pre-order via the online shop.
It all began with 20 loaves a day, baked in three regular, domestic ovens. After a while Roman who takes care of production, found a partner in Shaked Zeevi, who concentrates on business development. Both wanted to create a worthy business, and making healthy bread accessible to people is definitely worthwhile. They also have a complimentary online health food shop, where every item is rigorously reviewed.
“Everything here is very simple”, says Roman. “We mix flour, salt and water, and make bread”. There are no other additives; even their salt does not contain anti-crystallizers. “Ovdey Adama” uses flour from “Kemah Haaretz” (The “Land Flour”) mill, made from coarsely ground whole wheat berries. For Roman taste comes first, so he knowingly chooses the non-consistent, but better tasting flours than those of commercial brands. That also brings the bakers’ alertness to the test, as they have to adjust the proportions of water each time anew, depending on the flour. The sourdoughs change with the seasons as well, requiring drying in the summer and the addition of water in the colder months.
As opposed to boutique bakeries that praise large air bubbles in their bread, “Ovdey Adama”’s motto is quite the opposite. Roman strives to make regular bread that people are used to, only one that is worth eating. It is not a pretty, but a very practical bread with a denser texture that can hold your tahini from trickling through. It’s very simple and everyday, super tasty and healthy.
The bakery caters to any taste with its whole wheat, organic and white breads. Soon it will be offering to its customers buns, healthy crackers, cookies, energy bars and cakes - all without sugar. Next in line are spreads and other healthy goodies. Stay tuned.
Third stop - Arnon Enoch, Amalya brewery, Kibbutz Beit Alfa
“Amalya” brewery was born and raised in Nir David, much like its founder, Arnon. In fact, the name “Amalya” refers to the original name of the kibbutz, Tel Amal. In 2009 Arnon returned from the United States with a stack of books on beer making. He started brewing small batches at home, with precision and attention to the tiniest details. Arnon’s perfectionism has paid off, as his three main beers have preserved their identifiable taste over the years. The brewery grew, and three years ago production was relocated to the neighboring kibbutz, Beit Alfa. It’s one of the oldest kibbutzim in the country, and the mess hall was one of its first buildings erected in the 1920s. In Beit Alfa, similarly to other kibbutzim canteens, a large part of the building, including storage and refrigeration rooms, had not been in use for quite some time, so it became the brewery’s new home.
Usually breweries order a complete set of equipment, but the brewery in Beit Alfa was custom-made according to Arnon’s planning. “Amalya” produces about a 1000 litres of beer per month, not an overwhelming but a significant amount so as to be classified as a microbrewery. The entire process, starting from soaking the barley and wheat malt in water to fermentation and bottling, takes from about a month and a half to two months.
The brewery, besides providing additional income, is Arnon’s place to create. His creativity is evident in the unusual taste combinations and the color-coded branding. Incidentally, those familiar with “Amalya” beers order them according to the color of the bottle caps. “Spring Ale” with the blue cap contains honey. Light but not fruity, it has a flowery honey aroma and contains 6.5% alcohol. “Yellow Top” with the yellow cap is a local, Canaanite wheat beer. In addition to wheat malt it contains freekeh (green smoked wheat) and has a light smokey aroma. “Maple” with the black cap exhibits Israeli-Canadian influences. It contains maple syrup and smoked barley malt. Sometimes Arnon makes limited editions, such as pink grapefruit beer or does creative co-operations such as carob beer for “Mekomeet” in Neve-Eitan. His latest project with “Rotenberg” restaurant is a special recipe for a beer to be aged for a year in wine barrels.
“Amalya” beer is available for purchase through its online shop, and can be sampled in pubs, restaurants and local fairs.
Fourth stop - The Centre for Health Leadership, Kibbutz Neve-Eitan
The centre in Neve-Eitan, unsurprisingly located in the former kibbutz’ mess hall, aims to make knowledge and information accessible to a wider audience, through a program called LocaLeaders. The program, created and led by Dr Uri Mayer-Chissick, a researcher and historian of health, food and nutrition, is attracting students from all over Israel.
This one year program offers a once a week studies schedule, during which participants gain knowledge and explore various issues pertaining to community health. They examine the connections between a person and a community, the ways they influence each other and health. They discuss questions regarding the history of nutrition and the history of medicine in order to find out who is responsible for our health. Among additional topics covered are the origins of food and gardening in the accessible environment. Theoretical studies are supported by practical lessons in the kitchen with exploration of food traditions such as sourdough, fermentation, wine and vinegar making and so on.
Some of the recipes jointly developed with Roman are still posted in the kitchen, and wonderful fermented mustard and spicy spreads are available in the little shop. A visitors’ tip: ask to see the “cave” - a special fridge containing shelves lined with jars and bottles of research experiments, including various fermented foods, cashew cheese, dried meats, koji, capers and more.
Fifth stop - Springs Valley Park (Park Emek Ha-Maayanot)
What saves the Harod Valley dwellers from the excruciating summer heat are the cooling waters of the numerous springs, offering a welcome respite all year round. Springs’ Park area is accessible by foot, on a bike or with a cart. The winding road between the springs runs along mango groves, fields and fish ponds, and if you’re lucky enough to come in season, there are plenty of fig trees, wild blackberry bushes and jujube trees to go around.
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