Galilee Diary: CSA
Asher's bread shall be rich, and he shall yield royal dainties. -Genesis 49:20
The innovation gap (or some would say the fad gap) between Israel and North America has been shrinking over the years - from twenty years to a fraction of a year - and indeed, sometimes is even reversed. So it is that the institution of Community Supported Agriculture that has become a trend in North America has become a part of the cultural/commercial scene here in Israel, and a couple of years after it hit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, it has made it out to us in the periphery, in the tribal allotment of Asher. It seems a bit odd that living in an area where you can't drive for 15 minutes without finding yourself amidst active agricultural fields and pastures, it should be necessary for a Jerusalem transplant to organize a framework that enables us to buy local produce. But there it is. An enterprising and idealistic young woman who arrived in Karmiel a few years ago has organized "Local Menu," a service whereby she will deliver a weekly crate of produce to your front door, all of it grown by local farmers, in season. Because of the fairly large spread of climates in little Israel, the seasonality of produce has been muted in recent years. The same hothouses growing winter tomatoes in the desert, for export to Europe, also supply Israeli supermarkets, so tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, etc, are available 12 months a year. One gets accustomed to the convenience, and forgets what a fresh local seasonal tomato tastes like. So we signed up. As it happens, we signed up in the middle of winter, so we spent several months discovering how many different ways there are to cook Swiss chard and its various leafy cousins. It we wanted tomatoes we had to cheat and go to the supermarket. But in fact, the adventure and the challenge were fun, as was getting bunches of carrots and radishes and potatoes still muddy from the field. And now that summer is a-coming in, it was worth the wait for the quality cukes and tomatoes - and summer tree fruit like peaches and nectarines - all of which arrive from picking to kitchen in a day, without passing through the various stages of consolidation and storage and marketing and distribution that supermarket produce experiences.
Interestingly, as we just learned from the infamous infected sprouts episode in Germany, once produce leaves the local marketing channel and merges into a large scale distribution network, there is almost no way to keep track of its origins or its identity. Hence, though we live in an agricultural region, the produce in the supermarket comes from the wholesale market in Haifa, which is a hub for the transshipment of crates of fruits and vegetables from the whole length of the country. So, Galilean lettuce may be consumed in Tel Aviv, while we buy lettuce from the coastal plain or the Negev. Granted, the order of magnitude is not like getting grapes from Chile in New York, or Spanish cucumbers in Denmark, but the issues are the same.
Our Local Menu lady is also a booster of local food processors, tossing in free samples of locally produced preserves, candies, beer, pickles, bread, etc., which one can then order through her or purchase directly. This local consumption endeavor has, in addition, an unintended consequence of building a commercial bridge between the Arab and Jewish populations, since much of the agriculture in our part of the Galilee is carried out by farmers in Arab villages. For them, the opportunity to market direct, and not through the wholesale marketing chains, both links them to their Jewish neighbors and can provide an economic advantage (if there is a critical mass of subscribers to the service).
It all seems so obvious; why did it take us so long to figure this out?