June 17, 2008
The Natural Choice
By GAIL LICHTMAN
For Jerusalemites concerned about the environment and health, switching to organic produce is getting easier and easier. A growing number of services are now offering home delivery of organic fruits and vegetables at prices which, while still higher than non-organic produce, are lower than ever.
The term "organic" in this context means food that is grown without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides, with the depleted soil enriched using mulch or compost.
Only about 0.7 percent of Israelis eat organic foods only, while another 1% eat organic intermittently. Nevertheless, the organic market is growing by about 30% annually and is now estimated at about NIS 150 million a year.
The retail price of organic produce can be 40% to 60% higher than the price for non-organic. But the delivery services, many of which deliver their own produce, claim that by eliminating the middlemen, they are able to charge much lower prices.
Organic produce should be certified by Agrior (Israel's largest organic supervision firm, licensed by the Agriculture Ministry). But even this may not guarantee that fruits or vegetables are, in fact, organic; therefore, many consumers prefer to use home delivery services, where they can buy directly from farmers and can even visit the farms to see for themselves how the food is grown.
Contrary to popular belief, as yet there has been no conclusive scientific evidence to assert that organic produce is more nutritious than non-organic, registered dietician Edite Tsevi told In Jerusalem. Yes, it is pesticide- and herbicide-free, but no study has found any substantial difference in the amount of vitamins and minerals contained in the food.
"Nevertheless, deliveries of fresh, seasonal organic vegetables provide better-tasting and more nutritious produce by virtue of their freshness," explains Tsevi, who has her own vegetables delivered by an organic service. "Also, for those concerned about the environment, the fact that organic [farming] does less harm to the soil, water and wildlife by not using pesticides is also important. And there is no comparison when it comes to the taste of fresh produce picked in the morning and delivered in the afternoon," she says.
Many of the organic delivery services/growers are "community supported agriculture" (CSA) - that is, a direct, cooperative relationship between farm producers and community members. The idea is that customers make a commitment to a given farm to buy its produce.
With most services, this means subscribing to a weekly, fixed box of local seasonal organic vegetables (some suppliers also offer fruit and other organic products such as eggs, bread, granola and baked goods). The variety of vegetables varies with the seasons. Most offer tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers throughout the year. The boxes range in cost from NIS 80 to NIS 100 and contain 10 to 15 items.
The produce is delivered to the customer's home for a delivery charge, about NIS 15. Some services have neighborhood drop-off points where produce can be picked up for a lower fee, generally NIS 5. Some offer a four-week trial period and the option of placing orders every other week. All the growers In Jerusalem spoke with had heter mechira from the Chief Rabbinate for the shmita year.
In addition to environmental issues, social justice (fair treatment of agricultural workers) is also on the minds of the delivery services/growers and their customers.
Yaniv Gelnik, whose farm Or-Gani (www.or-gani.org.il) began deliveries in the Jerusalem area in May, bills his endeavor as a "socially conscious organic CSA farm." Or- Gani supports a food program for hungry schoolchildren and a theater group for deaf actors, as well as collecting donations for Darfur refugees.
Begun in October 2007 by Gelnik, his wife and two friends (Hephtzibah and Ofir Kehat), Or-Gani originally concentrated on fixed-box deliveries in the Tel Aviv area. It now has 250 member families, including 10 in the Jerusalem area, with vegetables grown on two farms in Emek Hefer.
"The impetus for Or-Gani grew out of a rash that Hephtzibah's baby developed," explains Gelnik. "Her doctor suggested that Hephtzibah, who was breast-feeding, switch to organic food. When she did, the rash went away. We couldn't believe it and started doing research into organic farming. This led to starting our own farm."
Chubeza (www.chubeza.com) is another CSA. Started in October 2003 by Bat-Ami Sorek, who worked in organic farming in California, and Yisrael Dancziger, Chubeza has a farm near Latrun, growing organic vegetables and herbs. The farm delivers its weekly fixed box to about 100 families in Jerusalem and another 30 in the city's environs. It also delivers to Gush Dan.
Chubeza's Web site stresses the importance of knowing where, how and by whom your food is grown. "The choice of your family's farmer is as important as choosing your rabbi, doctor or lawyer. We take responsibility for growing your family's produce very seriously... Your money goes directly to the farm and the people who grow your food... A similar purchase in the supermarket may return to the farmer as little as 20%. By participating in our CSA, you are supporting the farm's year-round employees with steady, fair wages... [In return], you get organic produce at a fair price."
Ro'i Feuchtwanger, the owner of Gan Hasade (www.gan- hasade.com), who started his farm in November 2003 in the Modi'in area, delivers fixed boxes to some 300 customers - 30 in Jerusalem, 125 in Modi'in and the rest in the Tel Aviv area. His farm is based on the principles of permaculture or sustainable agriculture.
"We have the largest organic farm in terms of the variety - 60 kinds of fruits and vegetables," he states. "We offer unusual organic items for Israel, such as blackberries and passion fruit, and combine organic farming with the broader vision of permaculture, which involves reusing and not wasting resources. For example, the plastic sheeting from our hothouses is removed at the end of the season but not thrown away. It is reused for other purposes. We recycle our water and use only recycled paper in our office. In addition, we operate on diversity, which we see as preserving the health of the land and our produce."
The only delivery service In Jerusalem found that wasn't based on a fixed box was that of Hachava Haorganit (www.hachavah- haorganit.com). Meir Todress, who runs the service, does not own his own farm. He buys produce from small organic farms in the Rishon Lezion/Yavne area and delivers to some 50 families in Jerusalem and its surrounding communities.
Todress's customers order what they want, in the quantities they want, from a price list of available seasonal produce. The minimum order is NIS 100.
"I personally choose the best fruits and vegetables, which are picked the same day they are delivered," Todress explains. "The emphasis is on quality, freshness and keeping prices affordable."
And the customers? Ayala Barak of Moetza, a customer of Or- Gani, decided to go organic because she is pregnant. "I didn't buy organic in the past because the prices in the stores are just too expensive. But direct delivery from the farm is at a cost I can afford, and I feel that organic is much better for me and my baby."
Jerusalemite Bonna Devora Haberman, a customer of Gan Hasade, had been buying her produce from a non-grower. "The idea of permaculture and having a direct relationship with the grower appealed to us. Our decision to buy organic is based on principle. Going organic is more than just eating healthy. We are also taking responsibility for the entire production process. Chemicals endanger not only land and water but also agricultural workers. Yes, organic is more expensive, but we have to take into account the quality-of- life issues behind the price."
Zel Lederman of the city's German Colony, a customer of Hachavah Haorganit, was put off by organic produce in the past because, as he says, "I always saw not-such-nice- looking vegetables at high costs." His family began to use the service because "We can choose exactly what we want, in the amounts we want and have it delivered to our home. The produce is picked fresh that day. When I can actually taste the difference in what I am eating, it makes the extra cost worthwhile."
Originally published by GAIL LICHTMAN.
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