In a country replete with active kibbutzim and where every major city—and sometimes in multiple neighborhoods within one city—are markets largely devoted to produce and food. It might seem unnecessary to deliver the farm right into people’s hands. Yet the nascent CSA (community-supported agriculture) movement is taking off in Israel, with a growing number of farms joining into the relatively new model of agriculture. A CSA works by subscription—families or individuals sign up for a season, or parts of a season, in advance, so the farmer knows exactly how much money he or she has coming in and therefore how much to grow.
I checked in with Bat-Ami Sorek at the Chubeza CSA (http://chubeza.com/) to discuss how one decides to start a CSA in Israel. Sorek admits that her path to the profession was unusual—she has no university training in agriculture. In fact, it was the exposure that came from a volunteering stint in California—the perennial home of all things “back-to-nature”—on various organic farms that compelled her to consider starting one at home in Israel. She knew she was facing a more difficult path, but was not deterred. “I’m not a man. I’m not from Thailand. I don’t even have an agricultural degree. I just decided I had to try it… by myself” she says.
Drawing inspiration, and often advice, from eco-oriented Kibbutz Lotan in the Southern Arava Vally she aims to make her farm a feature of the local community. Located on the main road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Chubeza is accessible to anyone living nearby. Sorek does not invest in any major advertising; all new prospects come via word of mouth or, as Sorek noted, word of email, which has helped spread business tremendously.
“When we started,” she explains, “we had 50 people. Well, actually, we started with 15 people, many of whom we knew, and then after a few weeks, we had 50 people. Today, we’re up to approximately 450 people—and that’s even with more CSAs in Israel than when we started!” Part of Chubeza’s appeal is that Sorek charges per week, not per season. Israel’s organic growers’ association had told her that the full-season business model might not work in here, and her own research into lower income households in relation to food access made her worry that a season-long payment process would prevent people with limited budgets from accessing fresh, all-natural produce.
Mostly, though, it’s the relationships—and the quality of her produce—that keep people coming back for more. “People want to be able to speak with the people who grow their food, and they also want that food to be fresh and healthy,” Sorek says. Chubeza fit both of these criteria.
Those interested in learning more about CSAs in Israel—or signing up for one—should be in touch with the CSAs directly. You can find out more about Havivian at www.havivian77.com and about Or-Gani www.or-gani.org.il. Please note that many CSAs don’t accept new members mid-season, so make sure to ask about a waiting list if there’s no room right now. The farm will never have felt so close!