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Outstanding in their field.

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Chaim and Silvi Oren are hard-working farmers but this Shavuot they’ll be doing some serious celebrating. “Shavuot is the end of the harvest,” they explain. “It’s a farmers’ holiday. It is when, in ancient times, farmers would bring their first fruits to the Temple. On our moshav (farming settlement), we bring our first fruits to the community. Everyone shares what they have harvested, everyone’s happy.”

The happiness and harvest come about only after a lot of sweat and a lot of trial and error. Chaim and Silvi helped establish Moshav Netiv HaGdud in the 1980s when they were a young couple fresh out of the army. “We were from Tel Aviv but wanted to be pioneers. We chose the Jordan Valley because it was virgin soil. Still, it was a shock when we arrived. We received 12 acres of stones and sand. Pure desert. And the heat. Our skin was so hot that the mosquitos would die when they bit us.”

The first years were tough. “No one knew if anything could grow here. We had to figure it out for ourselves. We started with flowers but the water and labor costs meant we weren’t competitive. Then vegetables. Every type you can think of, we tried. We were building a new family, building a new farm, not knowing how to be parents, not knowing how to be farmers.”

Chaim and Silvi never considered giving up. “Many left their farms but that’s not for us. We’re optimistic. To be a farmer in Israel is to be a gambler. It took many years but now our desert moshav is green trees and orchards.”

Alongside optimism, local farmers rely on expertise and experimentation. “Every drop of water is vital so the country has invented all kinds of technology to help farmers know when and how and how much to irrigate,” Chaim explains. “And I’m always experimenting. When I reach my goal, I move on to something more difficult. I have biology on my mind. My grandfather was a gardener and I inherited his love. I’m always learning about a tree or crop, talking to it, looking for signs that it needs water, fertilizer, that it has a problem.”

The farm now includes Argan trees and a press to produce the tree oil which is used for food, cosmetics, and health. Their love affair with Argan began with a strange call from a Mexican farmer asking Chaim if he had heard about this tree. Chaim hadn’t so he started researching. “I talked with a professor from Be’er Sheva University and he said that the Argan could be ideal for the Jordan Valley. It doesn’t need much water, it thrives in the heat, it’s insect proof. And the oil is magical. I asked him why no-one around here tried before. He just smiled and said, ‘It’s good that we met.’”

But to survive in Israeli agriculture means diversifying. The Orens also grow Medjool dates, seedless grapes, and figs. Silvi established their visitors center where people come to see Israeli farming in action, to meet the couple, and hear their stories. Chaim teaches other farmers in the area. “We also share our findings with Palestinian and Jordanian farmers. People will not boycott agricultural knowledge, no matter what the politics. Food and agriculture are something that is shared. An insect doesn’t care where your crop finishes and that of your ‘enemy’ begins.”

They’re never short of work to do and problems to solve. “Our work is where we live. We wake at 5am and can be busy until midnight. We guide our workers, who are mainly Palestinians from nearby villages. We figure out where to sell our produce, guard the farm against theft which is a constant problem. All our four children help out in different ways. They left for the city to work and study but are beginning to come back.”

Come Shavuot and the moshav party, all the work is worth it. “All the new babies born since last Shavuot are introduced to the community. We open the pool, kids eat ice cream, the harvest is in. For a few hours, before the work starts again, it’s like a dream.”

We wish you all a good harvest this Shavuot.

The Oren Farm | Cover photography: Nourit Sadon

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