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Kaima Organic Farm – A Win-Win-Win Enterprise

Kaima Organic Farm – A Win-Win-Win Enterprise

Kaima Organic Farm

Working and socializing in the greenhouse. Kaima Organic Farm

Kaima Organic Farm

Win, win, win; getting there; breakfast time; daily assignmnet; in the fields; packing house; win for customers; win for kids; old fashioned idealism; win for the planet; corona, corona, cascading model

Note: because of the pictures, it is often necessary to scroll a bit up or down from where the link anchors!

In the Judean hills near the village of Beit Zayit, there is a magical place where dropout children and young adults work together to redeem a degraded piece of land, turning it into a flourishing paradise.

You can listen to instructions hanging on the tree.
Team listening for the daily assignments

Kaima Organic Farm - Win Win Win

The marvellous project I am about to describe here is the quintessential win-win-win idea:

A win for the youth

Teenage youth who, for various reasons, cannot complete high school, find their place here in a loving, accepting, yet demanding atmosphere. They work, earn money, socialize and learn hands-on about organic agriculture from professional young adults dedicated to both education and earth-oriented farming. They also learn to respect deadlines, cooperate with others and be responsible. The environment and the work build up their stamina, strength and health in every way. Once their time on the farm is over, they are ready to integrate in all aspects of society.

The good friends. Kaima Beit ZayitBest friends.

A win for the customers

We, the customers, receive a crate of wonderful fresh, organic, seasonal vegetables on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Kaima Organic Farm delivers the produce to collection points in various neighborhoods, or alternatly directly to our homes for an extra fee. 

This is how we, customers, get our orders. KaimaWhat the customers get.

A win for the Earth

Deteriorated pieces of land are transformed into thriving gardens. The farms use organic methods and employ mixed agriculture.

Lush and varied. Various crops grown on Kaima Organic Farm, Beit ZayitLush and varied: the gardens at Kaima Organic Farm

Kaima Organic Farm - How did I Get Here?

Word of mouth

On one of my southbound trips to the Desert Ashram in Shittim, I gave a ride to Assaf, a sweet young guy. There were many hours to share and talk, and he told me that his girlfriend convinced him to become vegetarian. To help with that process, they order vegetables from an organic farm near Jerusalem, where dropout kids work the land. 

He informed me that the vegetables were not like anything he had tried before. They were fresh, beautiful, completely organic. As a former meat and potato eater, this was the first time in his life he started to like vegetables. Every week they received different vegetables and fruit in their basket. He had learned to love and try things he was not familiar with previously, like greens.

Less finicky

The “organic flow”

As to me, I tried organic deliveries from another co-op before, but it did not work out too well for various reasons. This time was different. There was the extra incentive for me of helping the social agenda of the place, plus I decided to be less finicky and go with the “organic flow”. Even if the potatoes were a bit small, or the carrots too thin, I now told myself that this was a work of love, that there wasn’t an ounce of pesticides or herbicides in the produce.

Furthermore, the universe tends to balance itself. Most of the vegetables actually come extra big, lush and highly appealing. And after all, what’s wrong with small potatoes? If they are too much effort to peel, I now just cook them as they are…

How it works

The default “basket” is determined by what is currently available in the fields, but for a tiny extra fee, you can pick the vegetables of your choice. Even with the fixed order system, you can state on your order that you don’t want parsley or eggplants, and they will gladly substitute it for something else.

I pay the extra little fee and ask for specific things I want to get. Sometimes they run out of something. On these occsasions they always ask very politely if I’d like to substitute the onions or the squash for carrots or yams or whatever they have a surplus of at the moment. If there isn’t anthing I like, they refund. The Whatsapp and phone communication is always personal and friendly.

Kaima’s core concept is to connect and support local farmers directly with the consumers, sharing the risks and the benefits of food production. The innovative economical model views close collaboration between growers and consumers as the basis of an alternative food economy.

Bypassing corona

Having the food delivered and avoiding the stores was helpful during the corona lockdown and weighs favorably for that form of shopping. 

Down The Steps

I called to coordinate my visit, explaining I was a customer of the farm and that additionally I was a blogger planning to write about “Israel’s Best” in English. I told them I found their project to be a great choice for my enterprise.

Getting out in nature and visiting a farm was also a bonus activity on a nice corona summer morning away from the computer…

Finding the place was not an easy task. GPS was not exact enough, and I needed to bother Yiftach, one of my contacts, to give me phone instructions in real time.

The farm is located in Moshav Beit Zayit, just a few hundred meters off one of the main streets. A humble sign and a beautifully-shaped tree mark the beginning of the descent, but a more useful marker was “the horse carrier”on the other side of the street…

As I walked down the multiple steps, I saw pretty views of the hills and the valley and a naturally-growing grapevine.

    Kaima Organic Farm. The sign     The tree announcing Kaima Organic Farm . Beit Zayit

            The general view from Kaima mountain            Steps leading to Kaima Organic Farm Naturally-growing grapevine on way to Kaima Organic Farm The way down the stairs to Kaima Organic Farm

Youth enjoying work and life on Kaima Organic FarmWelcome to Kaima Organic Farm kids’ haven. This young guy was my introduction to the jolly youth group currently at work on the farm.

Kaima Organic Farm - Breakfast Time

I arrived at breakfast time, a free-for-all event. The young adults and the kids ate together. I was invited to serve myself. Some folks cooked, some took care of the dishes. 

The food itself was all organic and delicious. I treated myself to the salad, as fresh as the air in the fields.

Memories came back of meals eaten years ago on Kibbutz apple orchards, sitting under trees, dining after several hours of hard work…

     Kids and adults eating together. Kaima Organic Farm       Delicious healhty breakfast at Kaima Organic Farm

         The kitchen. Kaima Beit ZayitKaima Organic Farm. The kitchen

At the kitchen. kaima Organic FarmWorkers having a delicious, nutritious breakfast at the kitchen in Kaima Organic Farm

Kaima Organic Farm - The Daily Assignments

After breakfast, the kids gathered in their respective crews to receive the daily tasks. 

I, on my part, simply enjoyed watching them.

     Listening to daily instructions. Youth at Kaima Organic Farm      Listening to daily instructions. Youth at Kaima Organic Farm

             Hebi hanging from a tree. Kaima          Healthy and happy kids at Kaima Organic Farm 

Kids at Kaima Organic Farm getting their daily assignments

Kaima Organic Farm - In the Fields

Didi took it upon herself to show me the grounds and what the kids were doing. I got a more comprehensive picture of the day-to-day of the place, and everything was entirely delightful.

     Didi leading my way. Kaima Organic Farm Wheelbarrowing the lettuce. Kaima Organic Farm

Time for a rest. Kaima Beit Zayit

     Picking tomatoes. Kaima Organic Farm Working and socializing in the greenhouse. Kaima Organic Farm Kids and adults working side by side in the fields. Kaima Organic Farm

Kaima Organic Farm - The Packing House

Finding the packing house, which is located on the other side of the moshav was even more difficult than finding the farm, but was worth the hassle. This is the pulse of the economic operation, and here a dedicated crew makes sure the vegetables and the other products will make their way to our homes.

Slider below shows the process from field to truck. 

Press on any picture to see full size in lightbox.

Kaima Organic Farm - Win for the Customers

Distribution

Kaima Beit Zayit provides fresh, quality, organic vegetables, as well a other organic and health products grown or produced elsewhere for 500 households in Jerusalem and the greater Judea area.

Additionally,  it is also possible to order “outside products” they market and deliver from other producers or companies. These include environmentally-friendly detergents, teas, syrups, spreads, sourdough bread, eggs, oragnic pasta, granola and cookies, milk substitutes, healhty snacks and more. 

The prices, admittedly, are a bit higher than in the stores but, as I said, I decided to be less finicky. The rewards are great. The fruit and veggies are, indeed, fresh and beautiful, and sometimes you can buy a batch of second-class potatoes or yams for less money. 

Deliveries take place three days a week on three “lines”. Different crews work at picking, packing and delivery.

Perks

On Sukkot there is an “Open Day” where everybody can come and visit the farm. There are also self-picking opportunities.

Kaima Organic Farm - Win for the Kids

The mission

In Israel there are more than 30,000 boys and girls who have dropped out of school. Kaima’s official  mission statement is “to help these young kids turn their lives around through a multi-layered educational process combining hands-on organic farming, leadership development, business learning, and community development.

The non-profit organization offers “a unique approach built around an entirely different concept which connects skill acquisition, hands-on learning, hard work, self-determination, and, notably, financial remuneration to bring home the message that anything is possible.”

The name “Kaima” means “sustainability”.  

The staff

Highly professional young charismatic youth with background in both education and agriculture run the program. 

They form personal relationships with the kids, giving them a sense of safety and caring.

The underlying belief system

  • Every person has an innate desire and capacity for self-improvement. Kids who drop out of school are no different. They can start afresh. 

  • Real meaningful learning is achieved hands-on, rather than in classrooms.

  • Nature is the biggest healer.

With my background of teaching so-called “difficult kids”, I can vouch for that. The demand to sit for hours on end in a confined classroom and do academic work of little interest and relevance to kids’ lives is breeding ground for frustration and agitation.

That is true to various extents for kids generally, even those with high academic interests. I always believed in getting children out into nature, making them work in the fields and teaching them professions. For some reason, professional schools teach academics, but academic schools don’t teach professions. It should be a matter of emphasis, but in my opinion kids should get a taste of both. It is empowering to be able to get out into the world after school and start making money. There has to be a better balance between theoretical studies and practical applications, between the walls and chairs of the classroom and the wider, open world.

The dignity and joy of paid work

The beautiful kids I met on the grounds were boys and girls who preferred to work for their living rather than go to school. They might have been referred to the project by social workers, sometimes by probation officers or school visitation officers. However, Didi was happy to inform me that oftentimes they are referred to by teachers or parents, who have heard of the project and chose it as the best option for the kids.

The youth work side by side with the adults on the farm, earning minimum wage.

Some kids work three days a week and study three days a week, much like in the old Kibbutzim.

Extra benefits

Wary of authorities from their previous life experience, the kids learn to meet deadlines (my basket has to arrive on time…!), connect actions and consequences, practice self-control, respect others’ boundaries, accept authority. As a consequence, they become more employable, especially if they go to the army or civil service and attain further discipline and skills.

On a personal level, the kids learn to“trust others and themselves, gain self-confidence, experience what it is like to be an integral part of something which yields results and has a future, and acquire the desire and ability to articulate their dreams and aspirations – something which, for most, was previously unimaginable.”

It helps a kids’ self confidence to know they participate in the larger human enterprise, that their contributions are meaningful. 

My first job

Personally, I remember the joy of working on a Kibbutz, knowing that my work was valuable (the roses I picked were sent to Europe), and bringing in my first salary. 

In my youth, we still had agricultural classes in school. Later, we were also “volunteered” to help in picking season on Kibbutzim. This was done through various frameworks like school, scouts, even the army, but at one time I also got a real job on a Kibbutz with small pay.  These experiences, which were always conducted in good spirits, taught me plenty. 

Unfortunately, such programs are now reduced. Israel became more digital and less connected to the Land. The Kaima project is a step in the right direction. 

Down the road

Didi told me that eventually most of the kids return to school and complete their matriculation. Furthermore, 90% end up going to the army or to civil service! In Israel, these achievements open doors for their future.

The perks

The program is much more than just a workplace.

Here are some perks:

  • Two major trips a year.
  • Movie evenings
  • Going as a group to local springs after work
  • Closing the workday in the packing house with a cup of coffee, ice cream or a bowl of soup (in winter).
  • Another HUGE perk are professional courses, paid by and large by the farm, but with a symbolic contribution from the kids. The kids are helped to choose from a variety of extra classes, so they come out proficient, not just in agriculture but also in another field of their choice. These can be: horse riding, natural pharmaceutics, rappelling (snappling) instruction, tractor driving, cyber, cooking, baking, music.
  • And, of course, each other’s company!

Kaima Organic Farm - "Old-Fashioned Idealism" for the 21st Century

Philantropy and vision

I asked Didi where the land came from. She told me that people from Moshav Beit Zayit donated lands to the non-profit organization. The total area is about 20 dunams (5 acres).

Yoni Yefet Reich, Amutat Kaima Founder — Righteous CrowdYoni Yefet-Reich, founder and CEO of Kaima Organic Farm

This is Yoni Yefet – Reich, the Beit Zayit resident who initiated the project about eight years ago and serves as its CEO. He grew up in Moshav Beit Zayit and has a masters degree in Non-Profit Management from the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

And I thought:

If everybody used their academic degrees to create idealistic projects such as this, Israel, and the world at large, would be in a much better place.

The land

This land has not been cultivated before. It was a rocky, rough terrain. In the early days, it was imperative to clear the plots to ready them for planting. By now, this rocky, “good-for-nothing” track of land is covered with gardens. Still, certain crops like carrots are hard to grow because of the hardness of the soil and the stones, which distort the shapes of underground bulbs and root vegetables.

I told Didi about my experience week at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. Findhorn is a world-renown community, famous for growing beautiful organic crops in a difficult terrain. It would be nice if all these different, yet similar, communities worldwide learned from each other’s experienes. 

A 21st century renewal of Israel’s early idealism

I see this program as the perfect model for renewing Israel’s early idealism. Who knows, maybe groups of kids graduating from Kaima might end up building new agricultural settlements, or renewing ageing old ones, with an organic life philosophy and knowhow.

The old Kibbutzim were established by specific elite populations, mostly from Eastern Europe. The new idealism will extend to all sectors of the Israeli population, and bring about renovation in agricultural methods and food consumption for the wider population.

Support

Kaima sees itself as an “educational employer”. To fulfil this vision, it must be aided by outside sources to supplement the money gained from the sales. Here is a list of donors and of government and local authorities which help to keep this project afloat. Agriculture is subsidized almost everywhere in the world. That is true for Kibbutzim, and it is true for Kaima.

Kaima Organic Farm - Win for the Planet

The crops

At the time of my arrival (July heat), the farm was growing black-eyed peas (lubia), leeks, corn, other bean varieties, lettuce, melons, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, coriander, spinach, parsley, chives and more. In the winter, there are also cabbages and pumpkins. 

One youth, who spent her pre-army “Service Year” on the farm, created a pretty herbal garden as her final project. 

     Melon plants under net. Kaima Organic Farm   Young corn growing along the drip lines. Kaima Organic Farm      

     Corn and black-eye peas grown at Kaima Organic Farm   Trelissed cherry tomatoe plants. Kaima Organic Farm

     Cherry tomatoes. Kaima Organic Farm   Squash. Kaima Farm  

     Solar weed extermination .Kaima Organic Farm, Beit Zayit   Celery grown in Kaima Organic Farm, Beit Zayit      

     Onions on drip. Kaima Organic Farm   Mangold, green onion and celery. Kaima Organic Farm.

Various crops grown in Kaima Organic Farm

The methods

Weeds

One of the kids volunteered to explain to me, just as I was walking into the farm, that the plastic sheet I saw lying over the field (see pic above) was “solar sterilization”. Under the plastic, the ground heats and weeds are eliminated. 

The plots are then fertilized and tilled. Compost, imported guano and bat excretions from Australia are utilized. Ground cover around the nascent plants serves to eliminate the weeds.

Pigs, badgers, beetles and vinegar

No chemicals are employed for bug extermination, only natural substances like vinegar, and biological agents like beetles. Sometimes they just let go of part of a vegetable bed if it gets infected or ill.

After wild boars roaming the area ate an entire corn crop, all plots in Kaima are now fenced. Didi told me a badger was also spotted by night cameras. 

By the nature of the topography, there are at least three months of local chill with low clouds in the area. The fogs help to keep the earth about 5C warmer than the surrounding area.

Many beds are protected from the sun by shading cloths. Tomatoes and cucumbers are trellised. 

Water

Irrigation system distributors. Kaima Organic FarmThe irrigation “candelabra”

Crops are drip irrigated, often with the pipes under perforated yellow plastic to prevent weed growth.

Compostable bags

Vedgetables arrive at the customers’ homes in either paper bags or in special organic compostable nylon-like bags, which are actually made of corn starch, made in Israel. Irit told me the bags work better in winter, as in the summer the vegetables might overheat inside. 

Corona, Corona

Running the farms

During the Corona lockdown, the kids were not allowed to come to work. However, the demand for home deliveries grew.

Didi said that the adults had to work very hard during this period to keep up with the orders. I told her she should call me next time. I will be happy to help.

It could be argued that the kids would have been healthier in every way coming to work on the farm rather than staying at home, but those were the instructions nationally.

Kaima Organic Farms - "A Cascading Model"

Running the farms

Kaima farms are fairly economical – sales cover about 70% of the costs (salaries, materials, water, etc.). The rest is donated by philantropies and governmental agencies. The Welfare Ministry gave the farms recognition as “Daily Employment Centers” (Meitar).

The baseline concept is of adults working side by side with the kids. The kids are motivated and don’t fool around much. Deep learning takes place on a variety of planes. 

On top of the salaried staff, there are also volunteers, including the pre-army “Service Year” volunteers. Almost every kid has an adult attached. 

Success breeds success

As expected, this successful project is already spawning offsprings. 

By now there are three sister farms in Israel under the umbrella of the Kaima network. All three are located near Moshavim – Be’erotayim, Hukuk and Nahalal. In addition, a greenhouse is planned by the Jerusalem Botanical gardens. 

And surprise, surprise, there is yet another sister farm in…Tanzania! Yes!

Fabian Bulugu brings the message to Africa

A Tanzanian community developer and environmentalist, Fabian Bulugu, completed a master’s degree program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Global Community Development Studies. His original goal was to learn how Israelis “work their magic in the desert soil“. 

In an interview with ISRAEL21c, he said:

I was very interested in agriculture because Israelis came to Tanzania in the 1960s to help us grow crops at Lake Victoria with Israeli irrigation technologies… I visited those sites and the farmers are still thankful to the Israeli people to this day.”

During his studies, Fabian Bulugu volunteered in Kaima Beit Zayit, and loved what he saw:

It amazed me to see how engaged the youth were.” 

By the end of the year he knew he wanted to initiate a similar project in Tanzania. Although Tanzania does not have mandatory schooling after age 15, and therefore does not have dropouts, many graduates have no skills to prepare them for a profession:

I wanted to bring a gift from Israel to empower these youth.”

“A cascading model”

The youth learn the basics on the farm and are then helped with finance and guidance to start their own farms. In Fabian’s words, “it’s a cascading model.Planting underway at Kaima Tanzania.

Planting underway at Kaima Tanzania. Photo: courtesy

On the Israeli side, there is also great satisfaction:

It’s something we always wished would happen — to see our model duplicated all over the world. We’re so happy about it,” said Yefet-Reich, the project CEO (see above).

Kaima Tanzania’s pilot farm for at-risk youth. Photo: courtesy

As part of his master’s program, Bulugu also interned with the Israeli NGO Fair Planet. “They do wonderful work training farmers and improving agricultural practices in Ethiopia. Israeli people are hard workers,” he said.

In this positive spirit, I am off to prepare my salad 😊 .

Green Salad Emoji (U+1F957)

 

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