In the summer of 1909, a handful of young men and women left the Kinneret Agricultural Training Farm, heading across the mouth of the swampy Jordan River to establish what became one of the most interesting social experiments in farm settlement.
How did the swampland of the Jezreel Valley – plagued by malaria, and the wasteland of the desert, set the background for kibbutz & moshav development ?
A visit to Yotvata, one of Israel’s most successful kibbutzim, and discussion en route, illuminate today’s reality.
An optional route for those wanting to visit several settlements can be arranged on request.
In addition to the above route, the optional route will include a stop in at Moshav Ein Yahav where you will have a tour of the fields, a visit to a moshav member’s operation to see the advanced technology used for cherry tomato sorting and an explanation of Aloe Vera production, if possible.
Drive south from Ein Yahav to the Camel Ranch for a discussion about the viability of solving famine in the 3rd World Nations. Taste ice cream made from camel’s milk and learn about the anti-allergenic and medicinal properties of this product.
Depart the Camel Ranch and continue south about 45 min to Kibbutz Ketura. Drive to the fields for a tour of the experimental crops with over 250 varieties of fruit trees and cacti from various corners of the world.
Israel’s first prime minister – David Ben Gurion believed that conquering the desert (both inner and physical), would lead to the creation of an economically viable nation.
A Desert Dairy Operation
Yotvata has 600 ‘milkers’ (mature cows who have had at least 1 calving and already produce milk) with the intention of increasing their herd to 1000 (dependent on milk quotas granted). In addition, they have about 300 heifers (from birth to 1 1/2 years old – the age at which they are mated).
Most of the feed comes from local fodder crops and does not contain any animal additives, such as fish or bone powders in order to prevent the transfer of diseases from other animals, such as “Mad Cow Disease”.
Each cow has a computerized chip that denotes all information relevant to that particular cow.
Yotvata’s cows give about 10 – 20 litres of milk at each milking – 3 times daily, and some cows even produce 30 litres in one milking.
Yotvata’s dairy and factory account for 50% of its income and they are the symbol of the kibbutz’ success.
Cows are milked directly into the pasteurization machinery, insuring that the milk is fresh and bacteria-free.
Local crops grown on kibbutz, and moshavim in the desert can vary greatly.
Some settlements are geared to outside labour. Yotvata however, raises crops such as onions, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes and fodder crops as they can be harvested by machinery and managed by relatively few people, keeping the work local.
All the irrigation pipes for all the crops are maintained by a single person.
Some people believe that the advantage of communes over private enterprise is their flexibility – enabling them the time and manpower for R & D projects. Some contemporary research projects include:
– production of jam from the Capparacaeae, a local plant requiring very little water (shown in photo);
– the Marula – a South African tree whose fruit containing 20% alcohol has been developed into a new liquor,
– several plants from Tibet, India, and Morocco are being explored for medicinal purposes in Kibbutz Ketura.
Date palms, native to Israel, had disappeared from the country’s landscape and were re-introduced to the desert in the 1950’s from Iraq.
Establishing a new plantation in a sand dune is a process that requires several years. Tamarac trees are grown and used as windbreaks, and fodder crops are raised for several years, in order to enrich the soil.
Majul and Dekel Noor are prized varieties of date palms. Mature plants require 1 cubic meter of water daily during the desert’s summer months, which is also the season when the fruit develop (from pollination in March till harvest from the end of August till the end of October)
The Riding School
Due to the large quantities of water required by date plants, weeds become a problem. At Yotvata, a majestic herd of horses enjoy the tropical shade of dates while keeping weeds under control.
To further utilize the fact that the horses were there, the kibbutz established a riding school which has developed into a project for “riding therapy for handicapped children”. Yotvata prides itself on being able to contribute back into society.
The main emphasis on keeping horses is now – ‘The Riding School’ for the Yotvata youth as part of their physical education curriculum, and for ‘clubs’ and ‘riding tours’ of several days in the area. The Riding School was recently opened for outside riders, including well trained riders from other parts of the country that want to have a riding experience in the desert. Another attraction is the ‘buggy tours’ for those who are afraid to ride horseback.
Technology in nearby settlements
Whether communal life or privatization, technology is a major factor in today’s agricultural world. A multi-million dollar project exploring possibilities of marketing a water plant – algae astaxanthine – is in the works at Kibbutz Ketura and …
moshavnik Yonatan Rotem’s newest endeavour is computerizing the analysis of field crops for international access. (photo cherry-tomato sorting machinery – by size & color – on Rotem’s farm at Moshav Ein Yahav)
The War on Famine
The “International Camel Centre” was founded by Prof. Reuven Yagil, an undying pioneer, dedicated to feeding the world’s starving populations with camel’s milk. Having incurred difficulties with a direct marketing scheme, he has devised a plan which entails marketing camel’s milk (noted for its healing ability in diseases such as diabetes, asthma, ulcers, milk allergies, etc.) as ice cream and cosmetic products which will enable re-direction of the proceeds to the 3rd world countries that can produce it.