Lawrence meets activists at the 4th Annual Conference for Community Gardens
Earlier this week I visited Israel’s 4th National Community Garden Conference in Haifa. I was overwhelmed by the energy of the attendees, most of them activists in one of the 300 or so Community Gardens that currently exist in Israel. In Israel there are very few private gardens in homes, but lots of spare open spaces between apartment buildings in densely built up areas. It is these spaces where Community Gardens are built. SPNI coordinates dozens of Community Garden projects which bring greenery and nature into neighborhoods but also improve quality of life into neighborhoods and create a platform for social cohesion.
Before the conference officially kicked off gardeners were showing off their wares, sharing gardening techniques and growth strategies in a tightly packed corridor. Local schools who had their own gardens were also there showing off their own impressive and colorful harvests (schools have their own educational gardens too, so they know that vegetables are grown from the ground and not from the supermarket).
Before the Israeli tradition of countless opening speeches, attendees were shown a short video on the Community Garden process was shown. The video illustrated how a wasteland in a neighborhood Migdal Ha’Emek was transformed into a functioning Community Garden. At the beginning of the film the area was a typical Israeli inner city wasteground; yellow dirt, random tufts of yellow grass and lots of discarded plastic bottles and sweet wrappers and some abandoned sofas. By the end of the film the area was green, furnished and populated by local children and families – in short completely unrecognizable. The residents’ involvement was laid out in the film from the initial meeting when the idea for a Community Garden was presented, to residents planning the layout of the garden, preparing the land and designing the patterns of the mosaics that now decorate the seats (made out of recycled materials) in the Community Garden.
I echo the opinion of Yoel Rasvozov MK (Yesh Atid) who spoke at the event that Community Gardens are a modern expression of the idea that the land of Israel is something that binds the Jewish people. Community Garden’s help connect Israelis to the land in a real way beyond the concrete, glass and brick that our urban environment consists of. Globally the Community Garden movement is gaining traction as a way of growing food and natural therapy. That could be the future for Israeli Community Gardens too, but for now, in my opinion, they are a natural successor to the Kibbutz movement – land that people farm for pleasure while breaking down social boundaries and connecting to their homeland. They also fulfill an important role in the by creating common ground (pun intended) between Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Israeli Arabs and immigrants from Russian, Ethiopia and the rest of the world who come together as equals to improve their neighborhoods from the bottom up.
I’m now just waiting for my city of Modi’in to set aside some land for our own Community Garden.
Category: Our Global Community
Congratulations to our Grand Prize Winner - Barbara Nicca
Our Summer Photo Contest has been a huge success. We received nearly one thousand pictures from amatuer photographers all over the world. We were also able to expand our online community, with our Facebook page now up to over 8,700 likes.
We would like to thank all of our participants, for their wonderful submissions. It has been amazing to see Israel through your eyes and your camera lenses.
We are especially happy to extend a warm Congratulations to Barbara Nicca, from Switzerland, for her beautiful photography. Barbara's photo of the first Almond Blossom on a bare winter tree won in our Flower category. The photo of a Spur-Winged Lapwing, venturing from its watery habitat onto a train platform, perfectly captured how Israel's wildlife must also share our cities with us. It was selected as the winning photograph in our Urban Nature category.
Thank you Barbara for framing SPNI's mission to preserve Israel's open spaces and wildlife!
Category: Our Global Community
Tagged under: Photo Contest
Nature through Art
Although nature is beautiful to see in person, different style of artists are able to help bring a new appreciation of our natural world to the public. The Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, is currently hosting two different nature photography exhibits. The first exhibit is the International Nature Photography Exhibition which contains gorgeous photos from all over the world. These photos are broken down into several different categories based on the subject of the picture or the age of the photographer. The other exhibit was the Local Nature Photography Exhibition which consisted of photos that were taken throughout Israel. These photos showed not only the beauty of Israel but also Israel’s vast biodiversity. The Local Nature Photography Exhibition was judged by a series of environmental experts that included many members of SPNI.
Another form of art that is using nature as a model is sculpting. The Jerusalem Bird Observatory was hosting the Nature of Material exhibit. This exhibit was created by the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Department of Ceramics and Glass. The sculptures were of various aspects and interpretations of nature.
Category: Nature Trips
Welcome to SPNI's Field Schools
While I was in Northern Israel, I got to experience life at SPNI's field schools. Our group stayed over night at the Achziv field school. It was located along the Mediterranean Sea just south of Rosh Hanikra. We were guided by Dudu and accompanied by his dog Shadow. We walked out to Achziv Beach where Dudu explained that the sea was currently purging itself of trash and depositing it onto the beach. This is a two month long process that happens naturally every year. In order to keep the beach clean both humans and animals work together (sand crabs have been known to take away some of the smaller pieces of garbage and waste). We also discussed the plight of sea turtles. Currently there are only around twenty female sea turtles between Rosh Hanikra and Acre. The newly hatched eggs have a very low survival rate (between 0-1%) until they are around ten years old. In order to help increase sea turtle numbers, a small turtle farm has been created to protect the turtle eggs. As we walked around, Dudu pointed out a number of fascinating plants. The Judean Viper's Bugloss is a pink flower that turns purple once pollinated. This allows bees to know which flowers they have already visited. There was a flower that has seeds that look like small pieces of coal. These seeds are able to survive in saltwater for five years without damaging the seed. We saw a caper plant and learned how to make capers and we also saw a cannabis plant that contained a highly toxic defense mechanism.
The next school we visited was on Mt. Meron. The Mt Meron field school is located in the middle of the highest nature reserve in Israel. Dudu explained to us that the field school has been in a battle of brains against a group of wild boars. The boars would knock over trash cans to eat whatever was inside. To prevent this the field school team decided to come up with a new type of trash can, but the boars proved determined to find a way to break into the trash. After three different designs had been defeated by the boars, a new design was successful. This new trash container was elevated off the ground by being attached to the side of a building. It contained bars to prevent the wild boars from reaching the trash bag and a chain to keep the top securely closed. Currently the Mt Meron field school is undergoing some renovations and I am excited to see what it looks like in the near future.
When Nature and Industry Meet
My journey to understand the environmental projects and issues in the northern part of Israel began with Haifa. This city has some beautiful environmental features. Haifa sits along the coast 93 km (57.8 miles) north of Tel Aviv. The Keshan River runs through the city and Haifa extends into nearby forests.
The gorgeous and varied environment that is within and around Haifa, finds itself in danger by the city. Haifa is the largest industrial city in Israel. This has led to extremely high air and water pollution. The Keshan River is considered to be one of the most polluted rivers in the Middle East. Haifa is about to have a new and larger port built, which could further damage the species that live within its bay.
Despite the high amount of pollution, the city and neighboring hills contains some great hiking trails. Every summer there are 22 creeks that dry out. These creeks become nature paths that can lead to Haifa’s bay, the port, or the sea. These trails serve both and ecological purpose as well as a social purpose. The trails are completely free for people to hike and are easy to reach by bus, car, or foot. Community volunteers work to keep these trails clean throughout the year. Once a month SPNI hosts free tours of the trails and throughout the school year students come to learn about the environment through the trails.
The Blossoming of HaEshel
When we arrived in Acre we met with the Director of the Western Galilee Eco-Community, Mordi Edri. As we walked through a small neighborhood, he explained how Acre has a littering problem. The plan to address this problem is to build community gardens in different areas to make residents more interested in the beauty of the area they in which they live. After seeing the community garden in HaEshel, I understand why this is their plan.
HaEshel is a neighborhood in Acre that contains people from a variety of backgrounds. Both Arabs and Jews are working together to build a beautiful garden. Although this was one of the smaller gardens I have seen, it contained the greatest variety of edible plants. They grow various spices, fruits, and vegetables which are used for community meals. Frequently the local residents celebrate birthdays, holidays, and other celebrations in this garden.
Shiran, the Community Garden Director, explained how important this garden was to the community. She told us how the garden brought members of the community together in ways that were unexpected. This one garden has led to other residents being inspired to create their own personal gardens and neighbors helping each other build these gardens. Shiran explained that one of their most active gardeners almost never left his house before the garden was created. Now he is outside socializing and gardening every week. Since the community garden was established three years ago, both Mordi and Shiran agree that there has been an incredible improvement in the HaEshel community.
Category: Nature Trips