This Ain’t Yo Daddy’s Farm

Connecting to the Land of Israel often involves uncovering the past, from the biblical period to the more recent era of the founding of the modern state. What makes the touring experience so exciting for many, though, is incorporating visits to facilities where Israel is currently impacting the world. The “start-up Nation” boasts a plethora of R&D centers based in universities and scattered in the hundreds throughout the country, each developing these unbelievable (and sometimes, fantastically simple in concept) innovations to improve the quality of life everywhere.

With the glories of Biblical and Roman Bet Shean around the corner, and the mythologic saga of the Naharayim power station minutes away, it’s worthwhile to spend a few hours in kibbutz Sde Eliyahu to round out the old with the cutting-edge. Located in Bikat haMaayanot (Valley of the Springs), Sde Eliyahu was founded in 1939 by a group of religious German refugees as part of the Chomah u’Migdal (tower and stockade) campaign.

The full tour of Sde Eliyahu is multi-faceted. First they’ll take you around to see a classic, paradigmatic kibbutz — this particular kibbutz boasts a popular ulpan/work program for new immigrants and imminent converts, but also is a typical agricultural collective settlement. It’s a great opportunity to get a glimpse of an alternative lifestyle that most of us have only ever read about.

What I found so exciting about Sde Eliyahu, though, is its “forward-thinkingness” in utilizing a whole range of strategies to promote exclusively organic farming. They’ll explain to guests why their compost factory is a model that even private urban citizens They have a compost factory, lush date orchards where the pests are kept away by the grazing donkeys (the donkeys eat the fallen dates, thereby staving off disease which usually infests the orchard by way of the rotting fruit), barn owl posts that are extremely effective in keeping away predators.

Its real draw as a tourist site, though, is the Biobee center, an shining star in Israel’s agrotech firmament. You’ll get a brief lecture, movie, and some live visual aids in their presentation. They do a really good job making the concepts accessible to all ages and backgrounds. Specialists or just general enthusiasts can opt for much more in-depth lectures — we were treated to a really fascinating one on the tinshemet (barn owl).

Biobee breeds bumblebees to naturally pollinate fields and greenhouses, hugely increasing yields far more efficiently than manual pollination.

Biobee’s beehives at work

They also develop biological extermination alternatives to traditional chemical pesticides. Instead of showering crops with chemicals to keep away disease and pests, you can sic their natural enemies on ‘em. Throw some Phytoseiulus persimilis (a predatory mite bred by Biobee) on your crops to fight the crippling red spider mite that is the bane of every farmer, and you can avoid coating your produce with pesticides.

As you make your way up north from the merkaz via the bika’a, or if you’re already based in the north and want to shake up your itinerary a bit, consider this detour worthwhile.  

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