israeli agriculture

Israeli Agriculture



soil desolate innovative
weeds expanse sackcloth and ashes
shrub swamp vineyard
mourn dynamism venture capitalist
engage kibbutz cornerstone
flow defend collective
preserve forbidden mismanage
raid Bedouin all of the sudden
threaten obstacle rehabilitate
breed malaria breeding ground
coast plain (2) inhabitable
local drain irrigation
spray canal interrupt
league bloom commissioner
focus replace breadbasket
arid citrus flourish
double accomplish standard of living
disease resistant shelf-life
grove preserve entrepreneur
benefit responsible diplomatic ties
holy refugee survivor
clue enemy get rid of
pest organic enemy
bug insect predator
crazy sterile devastating
yield (2) harmful pollinate
field (2) release statehood
poison row (2) obviously
raptor ground average
folklore harbinger shoot/shot
hive target (2) superstition
nest regional cooperation
share amazing supposed to





In 1867, Mark Twain toured the land of Israel, known back then as Palestine.

Here’s how he described it:

“A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds. A silent, mournful expanse, there was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere.

Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes, desolate and unlovely.”

Today Mark Twain wouldn’t even recognize this land.

Out of rocky soil … out of swamps … and even out of deserts … Israelis have created gardens, vineyards and farms with some of the most innovative techniques in the world.

Jonathan Medved, Israeli Venture Capitalist: “There was just this country with incredible dynamism and energy and excitement and food and people and a sense of family and ultimately a sense of belonging.”

It’s been said that the modern state of Israel was born on the kibbutz. So it’s only natural that much of Israel’s innovation was born there as well.

Sara Goldsmith, Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu: “The kibbutz is the cornerstone in a lot of ways of a lot of things in Israeli society.”

Jonathan Medved: “People came back and wanted to create a collective in an equal society. And these kibbutzim became a very, very effective way to defend the land, to start getting young people engaged in agriculture.

The Jews were forbidden in most countries of the world to own land or to work the land.

Jews couldn’t be farmers.

So all of the sudden you see a generation of Jews farming the land in a collective environment.

It was incredible.”

Before Israel even became a state, Jews by the thousands came there to live there on communal farms.

But when they arrived in the Promised Land, it wasn’t exactly flowing with milk and honey. The coastal plains were swampy. The Galilee and Judean Hills were rocky.

And the southern half of the country was mostly desert.

Itzhik Moshe, Southern Director, Jewish National Fund: “Since the people of Israel left our homeland two thousand years ago, the area was mismanaged.

So we want to preserve and rehabilitate this Holy Land.”

The early Jewish settlers faced a number of obstacles from bad soil to Bedouin raiders.

But they faced an even bigger enemy that threatened to destroy the Jewish state before it even began.

In the early decades of the 20th century, Israel was a breeding ground for mosquitoes carrying malaria.

They overtook the coastal plains in the Jordan Valley, the only land available for Jews to buy, since the local Arab had decided it was “uninhabitable”.

In 1920, more than a third of all Jewish residents of Palestine had malaria.

So with no other choice — they went to work.

They drained the swamps and sprayed the land and changed the flow of water in irrigation canals to interrupt the mosquitoes’ breeding.

They were so successful, that a commissioner from the League of Nations visited Palestine to learn what they did.

Less than 20 years after Israel’s statehood, the country was officially malaria-free.

Once the threat of malaria was gone, Jewish settlers were free to focus on making the desert bloom.

In the coastal plains, citrus groves replaced the swamps. And the Jordan Valley, once the center of the malaria epidemic, now became the country’s breadbasket.

The Negev Desert blossomed with newly planted forests and vineyards. And the Arava, once the most arid part of Israel, became the site of a flourishing vegetable industry.

All of this was accomplish within the first twenty years of Israel’s statehood. In that time, they more than doubled their standard of living.

And now they’re using their experience to help other countries.

In the 1970s, they created a new breed of cherry tomato that’s disease-resistant and has a longer shelf-life.

They also bred a new kind of potato that can be grown in hot, dry climates, and irrigated by salt water.

These vegetable are now being grown in dry countries like Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.

Israeli scientist have not only found ways to grow more crops, they also found new ways to preserve them.

Grain pro-cocoons provide an inexpensive way for farmers to keep their grain market fresh by keeping out air, water and insects.

The Israeli cocoons are being used in Africa, the Far East — and even Pakistan, a nation with no diplomatic ties to Israel.

Jonathan Medved: “The kibbutz over time began to change; Israeli society began to change. It became more capitalistic, it became more focused on free enterprise and entrepreneurship and the individual, taking responsibility for himself and therefore benefiting the overall society.

There have been many very exciting companies that have been built in kibbutzim.

One of those companies is now doing business around the world.

Sara Goldsmith, Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu: “If you went to the average Israeli ten, twelve years ago and said to them, “organic”, they wouldn’t have a clue what you were talking about.

Here we’ve been doing organic farming for forty years.”

Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu was founded by German refugees in 1934. And many of their members were survivors of the Holocaust.

“The biggest problem that we had when we started the organic was what do you do if you are not using chemicals?

How do you get rid of the pests?”

Their answer was to fight bugs — with more bugs.

“Every single thing in nature has a natural enemy. What eats or what attacks these pests that are attacking our crops?”

They started breeding different insects in the bomb shelter of the kibbutz. The idea was to breed the predators to destroy the pests that ate their crops.

The result was a new company called Bio Bee.

Sara Goldsmith: “We went to the Israeli farmers and said, ‘Wanna buy some bugs?’ They said, ‘What are you, crazy? We don’t have enough bugs in the field, you want us to buy bugs?’”

Eventually they won over farmers in Israel — and in 32 other countries as well.

In California, 60% of the strawberry fields are treated with products from Bio Bee.

The company also found a way to deal with one of the region’s most devastating insects: the Mediterranean Fruit Fly.

Sara Goldsmith: “We take the males of the species — and we sterilize them. And then we release the sterile males into the environment. There’s no future generation and slowly, slowly we lower the population without using harmful chemicals.

They also solved another agricultural problem: how to pollinate greenhouse plants.

Sara Goldsmith: “The classic example we like to give is tomato plants. Tomato plants in nature, in the fields, are pollinated by the wind.

In Israel, the majority of our tomatoes are not grown in the fields; they are grown in greenhouses. And in a greenhouse, in a climate-controlled environment, you don’t have that wind. You don’t have that natural pollination, we had to find other methods of pollination.

Their solution was to breed bumblebees.

Sara: “They collect pollen for food. They have to go and work even in cold-conditions — they don’t have stores of honey in their hives. They have to go and work.

We’re saving the farmers money because instead of paying people, the bees are doing the work. And the bees, unlike people, don’t miss a single flower.”

So once the farmer started using the bees for pollination, the yield of the tomato crops increased by 25%.”

In Hebrew we say ‘How great and wonderful are your creations, God’. This really shows that every single thing has a reason; there’s a purpose for everything.

These are tiny, little things, and look at how much good they do for us, for the world, the farmers and for the environment.

It’s really, really amazing.”

Farmers at Sde Eliyahu not only targeted insects, they also found a creative way to get rid of rodents as well.

What we used to do, is basically take poison, in a bottle, in a teaspoon. And somebody’s job was to walk up and down the rows and every time they saw a mouse hole to take a teaspoon of poison and throw it down the hole.

Now obviously that is not ecologically friendly.

On top of that, if it rains, or if we irrigate our fields, all that poison’s going in the grounds.

So we said what is the natural solution to rodents?

And the natural solution that we found is the barn owl.

The barn owl is an amazing raptor. Two owls can capture an average of two to five thousand mice a year. Okay, that’s a lot of rodents.”

There was just one problem with the owls . . .

Sara Goldsmith: “They fly away. And one of the places they fly to is Jordan, which is very close by. In Jordan they were shooting them.

In Arab folklore, the barn owl is a harbinger of death. And they’re very superstitious of barn owls. And so when they see a barn owl, they shoot it.

So very simply, we went to Jordan, and we invited the Jordanian farmers to stay in Sde Eliyahu to see what we were doing here.

This was over twenty years ago. And today we have over 2,600 nesting boxes across the country, the numbers keep growing.

But also it’s become a wonderful program of regional cooperation, also with Jordan, also with the Palestinian authority.

This has been an amazing, amazing success story.

We tell people it’s not the dove bringing peace anymore to the Middle East — it’s the barn owl.

We’re a light onto nations to begin with, at least we’re supposed to. If we really want to save the environment, if we really want to help the world, then we can’t keep these things to ourselves.

We have to share these things; we have to share this knowledge.

I think by helping others, we’re helping ourselves as well.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *


1. According to the video, Mark Twain, the 19th century American writer, didn’t have a positive view of Israel. Yes or no? Describe the country a hundred years ago.

2. Have Jews traditionally been farmers? Why haven’t they traditionally been farmers?

3. Name some of the challenges or difficulties that the Jewish settlers faced. What was the biggest problem?

4. What are some examples of Israeli breakthroughs or successes with vegetables and fruits?

5. Does Israel keep its agricultural methods secret or does it share them with others?

6. Organic farms use chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Is this correct or wrong? How do they control bugs (insects)?

7. Do they raise most tomatoes in open fields? How do they pollinate them?

8. How did they control rats in the past? Was this effective? What was the solution?

9. The farm expert makes political and philosophical statements. True or false?
A. Is there a lesson about Israel’s agriculture?

B. I would like to live and work on a kibbutz. Yes or no? Would you like to spend a few weeks or have a summer vacation on one?

C. Can the kibbutz be a solution to unemployment?

D. Do you think this is the way of the future?


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