The coronavirus pandemic has been relentless in its impact on Palestine this fall. The farmers continue to support their communities, teaching, planting, feeding, and offering up baskets of produce—sometimes left anonymously—to the neediest families.
Communal sharing, like exchanging small garden bounty between neighbors, has increased to meet demand. Indeed, Covid-19 continues to create more need despite all the hard work and goodwill. The farmers are also finding their farms at risk due to a limited market for their produce, resulting in an inability to pay even the smallest bills.
Despite the increasing challenges, the harvests prevail. The olive harvest looms large in autumn. This season, farmers saw some of the most deliberate and vicious attacks against their beloved olive trees. Yet despite attacks by emboldened Israeli settlers, Palestinian farmers persevered.
While this year’s olive crop saw a decrease in production over last year, farmers remain hopeful that this is a cycle that will push a better harvest next year.
The olive harvest, long an integral part of communal village life, informs Palestinian culture and tradition. We are reminded that dabkeh—the line dance—emerged at the harvest to celebrate bounty. Olive oil soap can be found in every Palestinian home. Artists and crafters continue to use olive pits to make lovely rosaries and prayer beads. Today, the traditional ritual of touching these beads, which are each tied to a spiritual daily rumination, persists… as if people of Palestine touch something from the earth to keep spiritually grounded.
Fall greets Palestine with cooler winds and harvests. It is also the time to prepare fields for spring planting, even against a backdrop of a hostile political environment and Covid-19 concerns.
This fall, Palestine’s farming community has banded together to steadfastly till the earth, harvest its bounty, and feed communities—against all odds.
In Palestine today, farmers continue to rise at dawn to work in their fields and simultaneously protect the earth. They are our most profound link to the land of Palestine.
Spring in Palestine saw the impact of COVID-19 on the farming community.
Not only did farmers meet the challenges that come with spring planting, but they found themselves in new positions as primary food providers for many communities.
During the pandemic, the farmers of Palestine have stepped up. In the spirit of community, they have opened their farms to people without land who want to farm and take home that which they plant.
As in the intifada, home gardens are trending again. Farmers find themselves providing seed and seedlings for home gardens often at little or no cost for home gardens. The home gardens offer people added food security. One farmer says he is running out of plantings due to the high demand.
To keep up with produce demands during the pandemic, farmers are delivering their goods directly to people. Farmers throughout Palestine are dropping off fruits and vegetables for villages and towns in need.
In Bethlehem, where COVID-19 hit first in Palestine, farmers inside the lockdown proudly produced to feed the city. Throughout Palestine, farmers drove food goods to the city to make sure the people were fed.
The pandemic has shed light on food challenges. There is a re-energized discussion about the importance of sustainability and an understanding that food security is paramount.
It is a time when community has come together. Palestinians are taking pride in their successful ability to organize and provide in a challenging time. They have done well, and the farmers have been on the front lines.
One would think winter is not a busy time for farmers, but it is. They rarely get a break. Winter finds farmers building infrastructure, cleaning and repairing what little equipment they have. Most importantly, farmers work in preparation for spring tillage and planting. For the farmers that raise animals, the colder months bring more challenges like keeping enough feed for the animals and being sure they are fed.
Plants and trees are being cut to fit into seedling trays to grow spring and summer blossoms. Rare, forgotten or dismissed due to a growing moniculture in Palestine, plants and trees, otherwise ignored are growing in seedling trays. The Damascus rose, which otherwise would be facing extinction, takes its place in seedling trays this winter.
Everywhere, the Palestinian agricultural community and those that support and sustain it are working on projects. Heirloom nurseries are being built. Palestine heirloom seed packets are being produced and disseminated around the world. Academics continue to be in the field working, documenting and studying Palestinian heirloom plants and trees.
An active, energized community, the farming community reminds us that they are devoted to that which is most important to them… farming. Farmers recognize that Palestinian agriculture and the associated traditions are an integral part of Palestinian cultural heritage. The farmer protecting Palestinian agricultural traditions offers a gift to us all. Put eloquently by Vivien Sansour when reflecting on the Palestinian farmer,
” I’m not inspired by great world leaders. I’m really inspired by farmers who keep planting, cultivating, and feeding the world. There are so many forces working against them, yet they continue to be so generous in spirit. I think that that generosity of spirit inspires me to want to do better as an individual who has a role in society. “
The farmers are relentless in their pursuit. They are fearless and they are devoted. This cold winter, everywhere in Palestine, the farmers work their land for everyone.
All around Palestine, farmers work diligently to prepare the soil for new planting. They nurture fall crops and welcome fall’s olive harvest.
The endearing fig season came and went. Nature’s succulent sweet fig wears many hats. There is the Sumri or the blackish one. There is the Himri…the reddish one. There is the Asali…the honey one and Gharoobi…the carob looking one. There is Ghoodri the green one and Bayyathi…the whiter one. And more.
Neighbors gift each other bowls of figs tossing around names of fig varieties with natural familiarity.
Fall marks the last of the carob tree fruit. Carob fruit plays an active role in the streets of Palestinian culture…most prominently in the dark, refreshing drink served from an oversized brass urn strapped to the back of a traditional garb attired gentlemen. A bow forward and he’ll serve you from the urn’s spout… a cupful of sweet carob juice.
Interestingly, Carob is responsible for the gold measure of a “carat”. In late Roman times, a pure gold coin’s weight was equivalent to 24 carob seeds. The carat became a measure of gold purity. Thus, 24-carat gold is 100% pure gold.
The drought enduring carob tree evolved to suit Palestinian climate perfectly. It needs little water and little maintenance. It’s popularity also stems from its organic qualities. Antioxidant full, vitamin rich, metabolism boosting qualities coupled with a flavor reminiscent of chocolate makes carob a healthy choice. A resilient root system able to sustain itself in dry and poor soil conditions makes it a practical choice for farmers.
Farmers are moving back to traditional modes of farming. In particular, farmers are focused on saving ba’el seeds. Evolved through centuries, ba’el seeds are complex ones with DNA that allows growth with hardly any water. They thrive in perfect unison with a dry climate. Each seed contains within it, a formula so special, it is perfectly configured for Palestine’s arid climate. Ba’el seeds are a treasured gift from our cultural heritage. Globally, dwindling water resources suggest that ba’el seeds will have a significant place in a world that can no longer irrigate.
The farmers are busy safeguarding ba’el seeds as part of a commitment to protect and promote the traditional and heirloom seeds that gave us fig varieties, carob, olives and more.
It is fall. Everywhere, everyone is talking about the olive harvest. Talk of olive harvest glides naturally into daily conversation. People running to harvest as they did in 1947; baskets in tow, food, festivities, music and celebration, may be of an era past, but the spirit, sheer joy and pride in harvesting one’s own olive trees prevails.
It is fall. In Palestine everywhere, everyone anticipates a good olive harvest.
Spring Forward 2019
Palestinian farmers are busy planting summer vegetables including yakteen (pumpkin), tomatoes, okra, fakoos (a Middle Eastern variety of thin, crispy cucumber), cucumber and zucchini among other things. Notably, yakteen is coveted for planting as it tends to improve the health of all the plants around it.
This spring, climate change made its mark on the Palestinian farmer. Heavy rains negatively impacted yield and farmers took a loss due to the weather though they were able to save some crop.
In the upcoming months, the focus will be on tree varieties with large seed fruit including apricots, almonds and apples. All were once native to the land and available in abundance but now appear in dwindling numbers. Native and heirloom apples, in particular, are difficult to find and most apples in market are imported.
Exciting news on the horizon! It seems an old variety of heirloom rose central to many associations with Palestinian culture has been found. Stay tuned for more on that.