And an Apple New Year

Posted on September 13, 2009


The Upper Galilee Slow Food Convivium is the largest in Israel, and certainly the most active, thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of its heads, Avigdor and Einat Rothem. Yesterday they hosted an event centered around apples, and specifically to apple-growing in the Druze sector.

orchard and grapesAbout 30 slow-foodies met at 4:00 in the afternoon in the apple orchard of Majed Safadi, a Druze farmer from the village of Majed el Shams, next to the Syrian border. After a long, bumpy ride, we reached the heart of the orchard , with trees laden with Golden Delicious and Jonathan apples. We all sat around a long table set up under a lushly gorgeous grape arbor, dripping heavy clusters of purple grapes. One of the members, a winemaker from Shear Yeshuv, brought an enormous glass jug of a Cabernet Sauvignon wine he’d just prepared for bottling, and we toasted the New Year in the most tasteful and auspicious manner.

Avigdor makes a toast

Avigdor makes a toast

Majed Safedi, our host, welcomed us to his orchard, explaining that it was an inheritance from his grandfather, and that for the Druze, connection to the land is a supreme value. He mentioned how, with the help of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Druze farmers in the Golan Heights received water allocations that helped them magnify their agricultural output. Before that, he explained, they grew the apples “baladi” – or without watering. I asked him what the difference was between the baladi and current apples. “They were much smaller, of course, and there were less of them”, he said, “but when came to the orchard, you could smell it way before you even got here. Now there’s no smell.”

Yigal Chen, who used to be a senior official at the Ministry of Agriculture, followed with a talk on the marketing channel he helped arrange for selling Druze-grown apples from the Golan Heights to Syria. While there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries, he related how they overcame massive bureaucratic obstacles, getting the army to open a border crossing and recruiting the Red Cross to drive the apples – packed in plain white cartons – 300 meters across the border to the awaiting Syrian trucks. This arrangement has been going on for several years now, to the satisfaction of all involved – the Druze farmers, who receive payment in giant burlap sacks filled with millions of cash dollars, and the Jewish farmers, who can charge higher prices for their apples on the domestic market. And this, Yigal concluded, is just one way that creativity and food can overcome the most stubborn obstacles and borders.