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Growing Community in Jerusalem

  • Subject: [cg] Growing Community in Jerusalem
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Mon, 24 Jan 2005 21:41:56 EST

Growing communities



On a blustery winter afternoon, Nurit Zik is teaching her 2 1/2-year-old son, 
Yotam, how to plant lettuce. 

"It's great to be able to tend an organic vegetable garden in the city. My 
children will grow up familiar with nature," she exclaims as she wipes the mud 
of her son's hands. 

Zik and her husband Aviad are among some 30 families who regularly take care 
of the 'Bustania' community garden, a permaculture project in a formerly 
desolate valley between the Ir Ganim and Kiryat Hayovel neighborhoods. 

Bustania exists because of the determination and perseverance of 
Slovakian-born artist Hanalisa Omer. Moving to Ir Ganim from the rustic artists' village 
Ein Hod in 1999, she was appalled at the state of the wasteland beneath her 

"The valley was a garbage dump. Instead of keeping my anger inside, I wrote 
letters to the municipality and local community center. My vision was to bring 
the neighborhoods together in a communal project," she told In Jerusalem. 

Omer mustered a core group of environmentally aware neighbors. 

"I'd never been involved in such a community activity before," she recalls. 
"We arranged meetings with three community center directors - they saw that we 
are nudniks who don't give up." The activists also approached the elite school 
of Sciences and Arts, located further down the valley, and seven school 
students were among the original volunteers who began to clear the junk during 
Hanukkah 2001. 

Over in Baka'a, Jared Goldfarb and his friend James Murray-White have been 
busy planting vegetables in the plot just behind their house on Rehov Shimshon. 
"I wanted the experience of getting my hands dirty," says Goldfarb, who has 
been renting the community plot for about nine months now. "I grew up in New 
Hampshire surrounded by lots of forests and gardens but since the age of six I 
hadn't really done any gardening. James, who has more experience than I do, 
showed me how to prepare the land and plan out the plot." 

So far the pair have had luck with leafy greens and lettuce, though they are 
hoping that once the cold snap passes they'll branch out. "It's an odd 
experience to eat the things I've planted, but it's really yummy. People are into 
organic vegetables, but it can be an expensive habit. Here, there's nothing 
easier or cheaper, you just drop a few seeds, don't touch it and keep watering." 

The Bustania Garden was once an asbestos-shack ma'abara (transit camp), built 
in the valley in the 1950's as temporary housing for the mass influx of new 
immigrants. Today, only the 'Gates of Heaven' synagogue remains standing. 

Says Omer: "We started by planting lemon, olive, pomegranate and fig trees 
near the synagogue, with the blessing of its rabbi. We have good relations with 
the synagogue community although we are not religious." But the beginning was 
not very auspicious. Soon after the trees were planted, a contractor clearing 
weeds around the synagogue bulldozed all but seven of them. 

The volunteers were not stopped. To popularize the project, Omer voluntarily 
guided walking workshops for two years, teaching local residents about the 
wild plants and herbs. 

Then, the following Tu B'Shvat, the activists organized a second plot. This 
time, about 50 families turned up to plant saplings provided by the 
municipality and JNF. 

The first organic vegetable plot began about two years ago. More trees and 
organic gardens were planted last Tu B'Shvat. The fledgling 'family tree' grove 
is irrigated by the gray water runoff from a large residence on the Ir Ganim 
hillside. The municipality has helped introduce a drip irrigation system for 
the organic garden, and mulch (leaf mold compost) is now produced on-site. 

"The garden is becoming viable as more people get involved. My conclusion is 
that you have to work for at least half a year and create facts on the ground 
in order to get financial backing," says Omer. She figures that it will take 
several more years before the valley will turn into a flourishing food source. 

About 10 families spend a few hours weeding, pruning and planting every 
Wednesday afternoon. But not all of the locals appreciate their efforts. 

Residents in the high-rises on Stern Street in Kiryat Hayovel continue to 
throw their garbage along the slopes overlooking Bustania. Occasionally, vandals 
uproot the plants. 

"Vandalism is a relatively minor problem. If they take a shrub out of the 
ground, we replant it," shrugs Sharabi. 

But theft is a more serious problem, and the municipality has had to fence 
off part of the plot. 

"We didn't want a fence - but it's inevitable. Many of the fruit trees and 
vegetables have been uprooted and stolen," says Omer. 

The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org

To post an e-mail to the list:  community_garden@mallorn.com

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