Agriculture

Coming to Your Table Soon – Weeds from the Negev Desert

Bedouin living in the Negev once survived on the wealth of wild plants growing in the desert. Purslane, Mediterranean saltbush, desert stork’s bill and sea aster (photo at right) are among those plants that are now being domesticated for today’s market. Agricultural researchers in Israel are creating high quality strains of these wild plants that will be easy to grow, have a long shelf life and appeal to modern consumers.

Why not just stick with the cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes that we’re all used to?

Good nutrition is one reason. Purslane, a wild green that’s already popular in Arab countries, is high in vitamins A and C, iron and calcium. Sea aster is also high in iron and calcium, as well as vitamin C, protein and fiber. Desert stork’s bill was once used as a sweetener. Maybe it will join stevia and agave syrup on supermarket shelves.

Besides nutrition, it’s always exciting to expand your palate. Why not do it with native plants grown in your own (at least my own!) back yard?

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Community Supported Agriculture

In Oregon and Wisconsin, we bought most of our vegetables and fruits from local farms, with a program called community supported agriculture (CSA).

Here’s what CSA is all about:

You sign an agreement with a local farmer to purchase a set share of the farmer’s crops. The farmer provides a list of the crops that he or she plans to harvest and the approximate amount you can expect to get each week during the growing season.

Every week, you pick up your produce at a designated time and location. Sometimes farmers invite their members to visit the farm for special events or just to see what’s going on.

With pre-paid annual subscriptions, the farmer is assured of financial support and customers. In case of agricultural disasters (flooding, drought, disease and insects, for example), the farmer’s risk is shared with the members.

The idea is to supply fresh local (and often organic) produce at reasonable prices. No middle-men, no store overhead, no long-distance shipping. Just fresh-picked vegetables and fruit delivered directly from the farmer to the consumer.

I’ve always valued the supportive relationship between the producer and the consumer – a partnership between the farmer and the community that benefits both.

We really enjoyed belonging to CSA farms. There was only one problem. Farm events were always held on Shabbat. My kids could never pick pumpkins, go on hayrides or see where their vegetables were grown.

An organization called Hazon is changing that. They started the first Jewish network of CSA farms in the U.S., called “Tuv Ha’Aretz”

http://www.hazon.org/go.php?q=/food/CSA/aboutTuvHa

CSA is alive and well in Israel as well. “Or-Gani” http://www.or-gani.org.il/ (English website) is an organic farm serving northern and central Israeli communities.

If you’re looking for a way to eat fresh, seasonal produce and support local agriculture at the same time, CSA may just be for you. Check it out this summer!

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Homegrown in Israel

Unlike the U.S., most vegetables and fruits don’t travel long distances to get to our tables here in Israel. (There are exceptions, of course. I’ve see off-season New Zealand kiwi, Washington State pears, and other produce brought in during a drought or Shmittah year.)

That’s because we’re fortunate to grow most of what we eat right here.

And we have quite a choice as to where we purchase our home-grown produce:

Large supermarkets
Smaller neighborhood markets (makolet)
Neighborhood green-grocers (yarkan)
Outdoor markets (shuk)
Subscription farms, such as community supported agriculture (CSA)

Farmer’s markets “U.S. and European-style” are just starting to catch on here. Israel’s first farmer’s market was recently launched in Tel Aviv. It takes place on Friday mornings during the summer months by the new pier. I’m sure that once the idea takes off, more cities will follow with markets of their own.

Organic produce has moved quickly into the mainstream here. Although there are growing pains – regulatory issues that will no doubt be resolved with time, organic vegetables are available in many supermarkets. This week, our neighborhood supermarket had organic tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, potatoes and onions.

Most of the vegetables and fruits our family eats come from Teva Habsor, an organic “subscription” farm that delivers throughout Israel. http://http//www.teva-habsor.co.il/ (Hebrew only website)

Every Sunday I get their order form via email. I choose what I want (minimum order 100 shekels, delivery 15 shekels) and email my order back to them later that week. On Thursday afternoon, a box or two of seasonal vegetables and fruit is delivered to our front door.

How much easier could it get!

I’m used to planning meals around what’s in season. I’ve also learned to be flexible.

Earlier this summer we had weeks of wonderfully tender Swiss chard. And then, with no warning, it was off the list. Those savory chard tarts, salads and pasta dishes will just have to wait until next year. But not to worry – deliciously sweet butternut squash came into season just when chard went out. After a month of luscious melons, mangoes are now in.

With the end of summer and beginning of fall, we’ll soon be enjoying a new round of crops. Apple pie anyone?
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Farmer’s markets

You’ve heard it over and over again – for optimum health, eat more fruits and vegetables. And it’s true! So now, when fresh summer produce is abundant, it’s a wonderful time to start.

Much of the produce sold in U.S. supermarkets is grown in developing countries, where sanitation is often less than ideal. Unfortunately, the FDA doesn’t have sufficient resources for inspecting most of what is brought in. Numerous wide-spread outbreaks of food-borne illness are a sad reminder of this.

Economic, environmental and nutritional disadvantages also come to mind when fresh food travels thousands of miles to reach our tables.

For me, the biggest drawback to grocery store produce is taste. That’s why I’m a big fan of local, seasonal produce.

And what better place to find deliciously fresh fruits and vegetables than your local farmer’s market?

If you’ve never visited a farmer’s market, now is a wonderful time to go. (I know, many of them take place on Shabbat. But larger cities often have mid-week markets as well.)

There’s a lot to be said about eating food purchased from a farmer’s market.

It’s reassuring to know where your food comes from. You know that you’re eating freshly picked produce that traveled only a short distance. It may even be organically grown. You’re supporting regional agriculture and local farms. You can actually talk with the farmer! You get to taste more unusual produce that may never make it to the supermarket. Or maybe just regular produce – like tomatoes that taste like tomatoes and not wood.

The photos are of a small farmer’s market in California that we visited last May. We bought salad mix, tomatoes, tender green beans and a variety of fresh fruit at the market. On the way back to our children’s house we stopped at Trader Joe’s for (Israeli) feta cheese, walnuts (to add to the salad) and a kosher whole-grain baguette. That’s the kind of easy, nutritious and delicious dinner I could eat all summer!

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Chana Rubin, RD

Food for the Soul

Traditional Jewish Wisdom for Healthy Eating
By Chana Rubin, RD

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