June 11th-13th 2018 – Squish-Squash

This week your boxes include a get-acquainted sampler from the wonderful bakery Ish shel Lechem (A Man of Bread), a Chubeza associate. The “Man” is Iddo, Carol is his assistant, and together they bake excellent sourdough bread, cookies and granola. They’ve prepared a nice variety of their product for you to taste. You’ll love them! Check out their great website!

You can order Iddo’s amazing bread, cookies and granola via our order system. He also offers catering services. Contact Iddo for more details: ishelehem@gmail or search Facebook for “ishelehem”.

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Each year, the month of June brings a bevy of new vegetables, among them a wide array of tempting varieties of Chubeza squash and pumpkins. This ensemble comes in green, yellow, orange or beige, dotted and striped, smooth and coarse, round, elongated, pear-shaped, pine-cone shaped, sharp, flat, small and large, and even some in extra-large sizes. What a field day for the curcurbitas (Latin for “gourds”), all so beautiful and tasty!

This year we grew five different squash varieties, from the huge Tripolitanian pumpkin which can definitely serve as transportation for a shoeless princess, through the middle-sized Napolitano pumpkin, the familiar butternut squash, the oh-so-orange and textured Amoro squash, all the way to the compact, fits-in-the-palm-of-your-hand green acorn squash. This variety is different outside and in, varying from yellow to salmon to dark orange, and in taste – a neutral gentle flavor, or nutty or sweet, and in texture: wet and juicy, dry and starchy or long and thin spaghetti-style.

Over the coming weeks you will be inundated with delightful small pumpkins coming almost every week. We remind you that you needn’t use them right away. We’d rather send them to you now, because here, crowded by the hundreds, they have so little breathing space. But in your homes, on your kitchen counter or in a wicker basket on the living room table, they’ll keep beautifully while enhancing your décor with a flair. If you keep them dry and ventilated, they’re good for another month or even two! If they start growing a thin spider-like web, just wipe it away with a dry cloth to prevent rotting.

The squash-trickle began over the past few weeks, starting with the butternut squash, a sliver of Napolitano pumpkin, a pair of green acorn squash and soon the Amoro will be gracing your boxes in its orange grandeur. After that – big mama – the immense Tripolitanian pumpkin that’ll remain with us all the way to winter.

The bigger and smaller pumpkins (also known as winter squash) as well as summer squash (including zucchini) belong to the same botanical category and even to the same species. The differentiation between squash and pumpkins is artificial, having to do with the stage at which they are picked and how they are used by human beings. All varieties are seeded (in an open field, in their natural season) from the end of winter/beginning of springtime, and they all grow from spring to summer.

We pick the “summer squash” early, before they ripen, when their shell is thin and their seeds are not developed, sometimes as early as 40 days after seeding. Since we pick the fruits off the plant before it had time to produce fertilized seeds, the plant makes additional attempts, yielding more and more seed-bearing fruit in order to fulfill its aim in plant-life (and animal-life): to spread its genes. Thus we are granted a long harvest season from a plant that just keeps on yielding. These squash do not keep for long, which is why in the past they were only eaten during their natural season, summertime, hence their name. Today, squash are also grown in wintertime in hothouses, so they aren’t really seasonal.

Pumpkins (large and small), however, are picked as they ripen and mature, when their shell is thick and hard and their seeds are quite large (and crackable). Since we wait till the ripening is complete, they are harvested three to five months from seeding day. Our Tripolitanian pumpkin is large, and often requires a wait of six months. Its hard shell allows it to keep nicely for several months, enabling it to be eaten in wintertime as well. This presents a particularly significant advantage in the pumpkin’s ancestral home of North America in those areas where it is too cold to grow food during winter. Pumpkins were easily stored in warehouses, offering sweetness and a summery zest to the cold wintery days. Hence their name – winter squash.

Here are some family members that you have already met this season:

The acorn squash originates in Mexico and the U.S. where Native Americans cultivated earlier species. The dark green type which we grow was introduced in 1913 and enthusiastically received, thanks to its excellent taste as well as its small size and thin shell, a source of relief for those battling the huge, hard pumpkins. In the U.S., and especially for those dining alone, it makes a good serving-for-one as well as a great stuffed vegetable.

The acorn squash really does taste delicious. Its skin is less moist than regular squash, and it has a sweet and nutty taste, which gave it the brilliant name “acorn squash.” Due to its sweetness, the acorn squash goes very well with piquant flavors – olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs, as well as sweet flavors – a gentle brush of honey or date honey. The ridges lining the fruit make it somewhat difficult to peel, but the good news is that you really do not have to! It tastes great in its shell. And if you still need to eat this squash shell-less, remove the shell only after baking or cooking when it’s so much easier to slip off.

The acorn contains more vitamin C and calcium than other squash varieties, and less vitamin A. If you treat it kindly, it will keep for a few months, decorating your tabletop, but its flavor will ebb. So let it decorate your countertops for a week or two, and then whisk it straight to the oven and onto your plates!

דלוריתThe butternut squash was most likely developed in the 1940s by an amateur gardener (not a farmer or scientist) named Charles A. Leggett who was experimenting in species cultivation in a small quarter-acre garden near his house in Stow, Massachusetts. Eventually, Leggett took the fruit of his experiment to the nearby Waltham Field Station to show them what he’d developed. They loved it! He named his baby “butternut” because he thought it was smooth as butter and yummy as a nut. It arrived in Israel in the 1980s, and received the cutesy name “dalorit.

The butternut squash is usually fond of hot, humid tropical weather. More than her sisters, the butternut really can’t take cold weather, which is why it is the most popular of Israeli squash varieties. The first species of this type were chubby-looking (with seed-filled bellies) and had long, sometimes curved necks. Over the years, other variations were developed, some with chubby and shorter necks to provide a uniform vegetable demanded by the market. Like zucchini, butternuts can also be picked at an earlier stage, and they’re very tasty when young (some say even more than regular squash). They’re fun to grow in a home garden, where you can pick some to be used as summer squash and allow others to ripen till they become the genuine butternut.

The butternut’s smooth rind makes it easy to peel with just a regular vegetable peeler. It is sweet and its pulp becomes soft after cooking, although there are those who claim that baking makes it better. The butternut is very rich in vitamin A, and under good conditions can be kept for six months (but how could you resist?).

amoroThis next girlfriend, Amoro(whose name must have been coined by a love-struck fella or gal) is an orange, round and flat squash boasting a proud little rump. She belongs to a prominent group we already know: the Kabocha’s, or Japanese pumpkins (which some call Hokkaido).  Their defining characteristics are that they are all thick and lumpy on the outside, very hard to peel, and have relatively dry flesh.

Kabocha” is Japanese for any type of squash. The origin of the name comes from the squash’s journey from Mesoamérica to Japan. After the Spanish and Portuguese arrived in America and discovered the new fruits and vegetables of the land, they began distributing them at the next stops on their sailing itinerary. The squash probably arrived in Japan in the mid-16th century via Portuguese sailors who brought it from Cambodia. It was named Cambodia abóbora, which was eventually shortened to become kabocha. And thus, every squash in Japan is a kabocha, and that is what this little group is called.

Its orange flesh color testifies to its wealth of beta carotene (vitamin A), which supplies a generous quantity of iron, vitamin C and potassium. It is similar in taste to the small green acorn squash, but hard to carve, which is why it should be softened first by steaming or baking slightly (first punch holes in the rind to allow the steam to escape). Then it can be easily cut and seeded for you to proceed and prepare it to your liking.

What’s green on the outside, orange on the inside, cylinder-shaped and very long with pumpkin seeds? Meet the Napolitano squash! We have grown it for some years — it’s sweet and tasty and can be sliced widthwise into thick slices, a little like a loaf of bread…

This is a good old vintage squash which has not ceased to please despite the many years it’s been around. Napolitano is widely grown in Europe and Israel. It’s Italian in origin, as you may have already guessed (and as such can also be used as a gangster weapon when the need arises). It’s been around forever, appearing in the illustrated Vegetable Garden by Vilmorin dating back to 1856, which describes the popular vegetables of the era. Napolitano is well-loved in south Italy where it is cooked together with spicy pepper, eggplant, tomato, pears and plums in a seasonal soup called Giambotta, or fried and served with various dressings. The seeds are noshed on roasted and salted.

Its shape resembles a huge butternut squash – with a wide bottom and narrower bottleneck, but sometimes it can reach one meter in length! Napolitano weighs between 7-15 kg and the texture is similar to the butternut: smooth and more condensed than a regular pumpkin, with a gentle sweetness. Its inside looks like the butternut, with a thicket of fiber and seeds. If your slice landed up coming from the seed section, use them well, but if you received a piece of “neck,” this is seed-free. Both are super nice!

Wishing you a squash of flavor, and bon appetite!

Alon Bat Ami, Yochai, Dror and the Chubeza team

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WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?

Monday: Fakkus, butternut squash/acorn squash, lettuce/Swiss chard, cucumbers, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, New Zealand spinach, zucchini, onions/leeks/garlic, parsley/coriander/dill.

Large box, in addition: Corn, Napolitano squash, cherry tomatoes

FRUIT BOXES: Bananas, plums, plums, nectarines, avocado.

Wednesday: Corn/eggplant, butternut squash/acorn squash, lettuce, cucumbers, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, New Zealand spinach/Swiss chard, zucchini, leeks/garlic, parsley/coriander.

Large box, in addition: Fakkus, Napolitano squash, cherry tomatoes

FRUIT BOXES: Bananas, melon, grapes, apples.

June 4th-6th 2018 – Zucchini time!

Reminder: Due to logistic challenges in the Izza Pziza dairy, beginning this week, orders for their goat milk products will close earlier than regular Chubeza orders (for Wednesday deliveries.) Henceforth, orders for goat milk products may be placed until Sunday, 10:00 pm. After this time, no changes or cancellation to your Izza Pziza order can be made.

If you wish to order milk products on a permanent basis, we suggest adding them to your fixed order. As such, you will not be limited by the change in closing time.

Check out the price list for additional products (milk products included).

Thanks for your cooperation!

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One of the very first vegetables to accompany the undependable Spring weather is the very dependable squash. You have already noticed him in your boxes, and you’re sure to see a lot more in the near future: the light Galilean squash and dark green zucchini as well as the yellow and striped zucchini. As the leader of the band, we happily dedicate our exuberant late-Spring Newsletter to this remarkable vegetable.

Squash belong to  quite a prominent family – the Cucurbitaceae’s, a very diverse, widespread clan whose members are grown primarily for food, but also for other interesting uses. Within the subdivision of cultivated plants, the family tree splits off into five main branches: the cucumber, fakus and melon; watermelon; various types of pumpkins and squashes; the decorative, inedible pumpkin that is used for decorations and to make serving utensils and musical instruments; and the Lupa pumpkins, whose skin is used to prepare natural sponges.

As mentioned, pumpkins and squash are close cousins, except that the pumpkins are harvested at maturity after a long growth period of 3-5 months, when their shell is hard and the seeds within are stiff and plump. Conversely, squash are harvested young, after only one or two months of growth. Their rind is still soft, and chafes easily. Their seeds are thin and barely discernable, which is why there’s no need to remove them before eating.

Squash and pumpkins are natives of Central America. Columbus introduced them to the Europeans, who first grew them only in botanical gardens, enjoying their beautiful blossoms. The Israelites, pleading “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost–also the squash, melons, leeks, onions and garlic…” apparently were not craving what we call squash, but probably the fakus, their African/Mid-Eastern cousin.

Even within its very own family, squash vary from one sibling to another. The Mid-Eastern squash is chubby and light green. His longer and thinner brothers the zucchinis received their name from the Italian zucca for pumpkin, thus “a small pumpkin.” Chubeza grows dark green, yellow and striped zucchini. And there are also round squash varieties used to stuff, and even beautiful flower-shaped squash.

Squash season starts here at the end of winter. We sow our squash seeds in the beginning of February when it’s still mighty cold.  In order to protect them, we cover the earth with a plastic surface, and cover the seeds with another plastic cover to insulate them from the cold. The result is a sort of tunnel that heats up from the sunrays and acts as a shield from the biting frost and any end-of-winter storms. Usually in the first rounds, we use transplants as well as seeds. In the annals of Chubeza, there were years when our first squash crops suffered a mysterious disappearance due to the young sprouts being eaten, probably by crickets or other earthy inhabitants. This was another reason to choose transplants during this season, attempting to outwit the pests.

And why do they need protection from insects? These aren’t your average vegetarian insects who need to feast on some squash greens, but rather flies, mosquitos and other fly-by insects who merely wish to land a hand or leg on the squash. The problem is that they aren’t great about handwashing, and therefore transmit viruses and diseases that damage the little squash plants. The viruses and leaf diseases are the worse problems this gourd family encounters, and the squash, fakus, melons and various little pumpkins are most sensitive of all. Which is why we cover them with cloth as they start their lives in the world, just like we would put up a screen at home to prevent flying insects from entering our living space. Once the squash begins to bloom, we remove the cover, because it’s a whole new concert now, and for this segment we do need the humming of flying insects…

So how does squash move from being a green, impressive plant to actually ripening and bearing fruit? Along the way, there are the big and beautiful yellow flowers, lovely to look at and particularly attractive to yellow-loving pests. The squash plant bears flowers of two types: male and female (everything written about squash holds true for pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, watermelons, fakus and the rest of the Cucurbita or gourd family). The flowers resemble each other from afar, but when you look closely, the differences are evident.

This is what the male flower looks like: squash-male-far

and here it is close up: male-squash-blossom

And this is what his female counterpart looks like: squash-female-far

Close up: female-squash-blossom

The insects are thrilled by the bright yellow, and they enter the male flower, have their fun, and gather some nectar and pollen that look like this:

pollen-on-male-squash

Then they continue on to frolic in the next nearby playground, the female flower, spreading the male pollen all over. The now-fertilized female flower closes and shrinks, and at the end of the process looks like this:

pollinated-zucchini

If you look closely, you will see that at the edge of this flower, a fresh, new little squash is growing. It’ll only take him a few days before he is ready for careful and delicate picking, so as not to scratch or damage the shiny, delicate peel. Squash grow so quickly that we harvest them daily. A squash forgotten on the bush will be discovered a few days later in monster-like dimensions…

Squash is low in calories and high in dietary fibers. It contains magnesium, potassium and folic acid, Vitamins A and C and other antioxidants. Zucchini has a fresh, neutral flavor (some will call it bland), but no need for a PR campaign: its neutral taste is probably the ingredient that made zucchini a favorite child in almost every country. In France they are used in ratatouille and quiches; in Italy they are prize components of caponata, frittata, antipasti and pasta primavera. The Italians also harbor a special affection for stir-fried zucchini flowers. Romania and Bulgaria cook it in a givetch, in Turkey it stars in patties, in the Middle East one can stuff it with rice and chopped meat, and Iraqis use squash generously in kubeh soup or sauce. In the Far East, zucchini and squash are stir-fried together in a wok, while in the United States they make their way into to yummy bread and zucchini jam……

But hey, zucchini can also be eaten with no cooking whatsoever, nor frying or baking – Just squeeze them to make squash juice, a great detox for the body. At Chubeza, when a cucumber shortage struck, we used to happily chop zucchini to fill our family lunch salad, and then scrape the bowl clean.

Wishing you all a calm and wonderful week,
All of us at Chubeza

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WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?

Monday: Fakkus, butternut squash, lettuce, cucumbers, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, New Zealand spinach, zucchini, corn, parsley.

Large box, in addition: Swiss chard/kale, melon/onions, eggplant/leeks/garlic.

FRUIT BOXES: Peaches, plums, nectarines. Small boxes: bananas Large boxes: apples

Wednesday: Fakkus, acorn squash, lettuce/Swiss chard, cucumbers, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, New Zealand spinach, zucchini, leeks/garlic, parsley.

Large box, in addition: Corn, eggplant/green beans/onions, butternut squash/Napoli pumpkin.

FRUIT BOXES: Peaches, nectarines, bananas. Small boxes: apples. Large boxes: cherries.

 

Spring Changes

Due to logistic challenges in the Izza Pziza dairy, beginning next week, orders for their goat milk products will close earlier than regular orders (for Wednesday deliveries.) Henceforth, orders for goat milk products may be placed until Sunday, 10:00 pm. After this time, no changes or cancellation to your Izza Pziza order can be made.

 If you wish to order milk products on a permanent basis, we suggest adding them to your fixed order. As such, you will not be limited by the change in closing time.

Check out the price list for additional products (milk products included).

Thanks for your cooperation!

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Lines Written in Early Spring

Every spring is a season of weather craziness, but thus this year the extremes seem more dramatic than ever, with heavy showers and scorching heatwaves sometimes within a only few hours of each other. Amidst the turmoil, our field attempts to maintain balance and our vegetables work hard to survive, grow and bloom. Several days before Shavuot, with a heavy heatwave on the way, Alon and I wondered what to do with the young plants scheduled to arrive the very next day. Should we plant them and expect them to make a first acclimation to the soil just before the extremely hot and very dry days, or rather let them sit in the nursery trays they came in, a familiar setting, and plant them only after the holiday as temperatures drop?

We went with the former, thinking that in the planting trays, with only a tiny square of soil, the plants are more inclined to dry up than in the field where the automatic irrigation wets a large area and a shaded tunnel offers protection from the dry winds. So we saddled ourselves with hope, and added a second shade net over the growth tunnel for extra safety as we planted the tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, melons and spinach. Then we embarked upon our holiday celebration.

Friday’s winds were dry and mighty, and the sun beat down on the field Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And yet, we returned on Monday to find strong little plants, well acclimated and braving a fresh green smile, lined up in their beds. However, unexpectedly (though in retrospect it makes sense), those who suffered and became singed over the holiday were the mature plants in the field: the veteran tomatoes, climbing in the growth tunnels, and the first corn beds which were already blooming, on their way to pollination. The tallest of the gang were the ones to get hit first from the powerful heat and dry winds. The corn plants actually boasted a scorched leaf right on top, beside the blossom, and growth crowns on the tip of the erect tomato bushes dried up and were charred.

A scorched mature corn vs. youthful smiley tomatoes and spinach:

                      

The reason this happened is connected to the fact that the bigger and more mature plants need more energy and water for their daily existence – similar to mature heavyset humans versus babies or younger children – which is why their stress was greater. Their height was also a factor. With a larger surface area exposed to the abuse of sun and wind, these plants took the greatest hits as opposed to the younger, shorter plants. On the encouraging side, the mature plants have abundant resources: one scorched leaf does not wipe out an entire corn plant, and the tomato bushes are strong. We expect them to compensate for the withered growth crown with a renewed growth spurt. This crisis will cause a slight hindrance, but they will overcome.

The heatwave and rain combination caused leaf diseases and fungus in the melon and fakkus beds. This Cucurbit family is highly sensitive to heat and humidity, and very prone to diseases. During the first heatwave, our melons suffered and then overcame; the second – a little less, and with the third wave some of the beds simply gave up. Their bushes dried up before the melons had a chance to ripen, and the fruit was tasteless, as the sweetness did not develop within. With sorrow, we turned over the soil which held beautiful-albeit-unsweet fruit.

The other side of the heat is the accelerated speed of ripening, which is also dramatic in the Cucurbit family: the acorn and butternut squash ripened much faster than usual, and we had to harvest those jolly good fellas two weeks ago. The next melon round also ripened early, which is why despite the sorrow over the lost melons, you received cute melons last week and some of you will be receiving them in your boxes this week as well.

This week, planting resumes: the melons, tomatoes and spinach planted before Shavuot will be joined by lettuce, cucumbers and peppers. We’ve already seeded more corn, squash, Thai yard-long beans and edamame. So our field and your boxes host nearly summer produce only.  Over the past few weeks we bid our cabbage farewell, as well as the parsley root and celery. The carrots and beets are our last winter representatives, with a few sparse beds remaining. Your boxes will be painted in summer colors: melons, zucchini, acorn and butternut squash, fakkus, green beans, and  –  make room for the watermelon, coming soon!

With light showers this week, the crazy seesaw of spring is slowing down, and gradually its extreme movement is waning. Maybe we’ll even find ourselves missing spring when the penetrating heat, endless blue skies and merciless sun of summer arrive to stay. But for now, here’s to calm serenity – within the field, and most importantly, outside of it.

Ramadan Karim and Shavua Tov,

Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Yochai and the Chubeza team

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 WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S SUMMER BOXES?

Monday: Acorn/butternut squash, lettuce, cucumbers, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, Swiss chard/New Zealand spinach/kale, zucchini, garlic/onions, parsley, melon/carrots.

Large box, in addition: String beans, fakkus, cilantro/dill.

Fruit box: Banana, plum, nectarine, melon. Large box also cherry.

Wednesday: Butternut squash, lettuce, cucumbers, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, Swiss chard/New Zealand spinach/kale, zucchini, garlic/onions, parsley, fakkus.

Large box, in addition: Melon/carrots, cilantro/dill, eggplant/pepper.

Fruit box: Apricot, nectarine, melon. Small box: banana, Large box: cherry.

May 21st-23rd 2018 – Land of wheat

Fresh, new stock!

Tamir’s delectable honey is back after a short break, and Tomer and Hamutal’s amazing apple cider has been replenished!

Add these products to your box via our order system.

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Well, here we are at the other end of Shavuot, continuing with the intriguing story of wheat.

In the previous episode, we discussed the “mother of ancient wheat” discovered by Aharon Aharonson, and wheat domestication by farmers via selection and the process of trial and error. This change was crucial for humankind to grow wheat, but s/he created what is known in science as a “bottleneck,” for only the species which carried the characteristics suitable for agriculture were chosen, decreasing the biological variety. Thus, In the process of wheat domestication, some important properties were lost, like its durability in the face of disease and dryness, as well as a higher nutritional value of the wheat grains.

When Aharonson discovered the wild wheat, he predicted research would be important not only for the historical value to understand human cultural and agricultural development, or that of botanic and wild plants, but also because he understood the notion of bottleneck, and foresaw a future when we would need the features lost in the process of wheat domestication that exist in wild wheat. And thus he wrote: “In the process of separation and crossbreeding, we will be able to extract (from this new wild grain, the mother of wheat) species which will survive in dry land, as well as in places that are high and cold […] This research will not only serve history and botany, but will carry an economic advantage, perhaps even a social one. The aim is to enable the production of more bread at lower cost in places which bread production remains expensive and difficult, allowing the manufacture of bread in places which to date have been impossible.” (Aharon Aharonson, agricultural and botanical research in Palestine, 1910.) From his agricultural research center in Atlit, Aharonson was probably the first scientist in the world attempting to crossbreed cultured plants with their wild forefathers to improve them.

Despite the bottleneck it encountered, wheat turned out to be a very flexible and adaptive crop, and in the thousands of years since it was domesticated, it has spread to almost every part of the world, managing to adapt itself to various territories and climates. Traditional farmers across the globe grew wheat in different places, sometimes with wheat species unique to the different villages along with culture, tradition, ceremonies and holidays connected to it. And of course, it brought along a magnificent food culture.

 
      

But we will let go of “the agricultural revolution” and the cultivation of wheat, which took place some 10,000 years ago, and jump to the 20th century and “the green revolution.” These are the years following two world wars, when the world was piecing itself together and trying to recover. Traumatic years of hunger and deprivation, as well as gloomy prophecies of population growth and world hunger were of great concern and the future seemed bleak. Ammunition factories still had lots of ammonia, the raw material used to create ammo, and also… synthetic agricultural fertilizer which can speed up the yield. It seemed like the perfect solution, and thus, the ammunition factories underwent a “career change” and moved to produce synthetic fertilizers for advanced agriculture.

In the wheat fields, this synthetic fertilizing caused the growth of heavy-grained stalks. The traditional species were tall and the stalks were unable to carry the weight, leading to a phenomenon of stalks lying on the ground. This, in turn, created diseases and rotting, and harvesting became more difficult. Science was enlisted to solve the problems and – by crossbreeding miniature wheat species found in Japan with disease-resistant species – they succeeded in developing a partially miniature species which could stand erect and carry the weight of the stalk in addition to producing a large amount of seeds (less energy in the plant was wasted on the stalk and leaves, enabling it to produce more seeds). The scientist most identified with this revolution is an American agronomist named Norman Borlaug who worked in Mexico, India, Pakistan and other developing countries, winning the Nobel Prize for Peace for his contribution to the prevention of world hunger. Yet again, it seemed like a win-win solution and the Western world basked in years of barley nutrition security.

Right? hmmm…. Not quite. Remember that first bottleneck? Well, now a second one was created, narrower than its predecessor. Traditional wheat growing was replaced by industrial methods, and within half a century almost all the wheat in the world was virtually identical, with a very narrow genetic diversity, resulting in the wheat being far more vulnerable to pests, diseases or extreme climate change. If one thing destroys the popular species, it will quickly spread and destroy everything without the ability to protect them with other species carrying different characteristics. The Great Famine in Ireland  – a terrible agricultural trauma when the entire country’s potato yield crashed due to the blight – is a reminder of the dangers of such genetic uniformity.

Unfortunately, a similar thing happened in our very own country. At the beginning of the last century there was almost only traditional agriculture. Most of the wheat growing here was Durum Wheat (T. Durum), for pitta baking – the local bread at the time. Hundreds of different wheat species grew in the Arab villages, each village or area sporting its own local flour grinder, baking culture, and agricultural traditions unique to their microclimate and distinctive soil. Regretfully, the Jewish settlers, who had studied agriculture and science, treated the traditional Arab farming with contempt, believing they knew better and strived for progressive modernity. Thus, improved species of bread wheat were imported to the country, producing softer wheat and a taller yield. In the seventies, the half-miniature species were brought over, and the local heritage species were abandoned. The imported species were given Hebrew names and within a few decades only we seemed to lose the very precious and early agricultural tradition.

And yet, over the years, there were singular exceptions who realized the importance of collecting and saving the traditional species. They did it on their own accord, without any support or institution to back them up, under unsuitable conditions. These were Professor Moshe (Musik) Feldman of the Weizmann Institute, Professor Mordechai Kislev of Bar Ilan University, and Dr. Yakov Matityah from the Volcani Institute. Over the 70’s and 80’s, these individuals carefully collected dozens of heritage wheat samplings. They were driven by ideology, but without any organizational body. The species were not professionally preserved and not sprouted every few years to maintain their vitality. Over the last year, a unique redeeming project was established, Eretz HaChita (Land of Wheat), led by Bizi Goldberg, who independently researches the wheat, along with researchers Avi Levi of the Weizmann Institute, Dr. Roy Ben David of the Volcani Institute and Dr. Einav Meizlish Getti, director of the National Gene Bank at the Volcani Institute. The project has succeeded in assembling, categorizing and identifying the species collected in the country, as well as other wheat species from Israel which somehow made their way to various seed banks worldwide. The specie remnants grow in research hothouses in the Volcani Institute and the Weizmann Institute, aimed at producing fresh vital seeds. At the same time, research is conducted to examine the genetic and morphologic features of the traditional species.

Remember Aharonson? Now, the aim is not only to preserve tradition, but also to produce a fundamental and vital assembly of some hundred heritage species which will serve as an anchor for future research and the cultivation of species.

Here is a fascinating article about this topic written by Ronit Vered for Ha’aretz about a year ago. (Hebrew)

One example of such research is the wheat genetic charting taking place in agricultural and botanic research over the past years. The wild wheat grains carry a higher level of nutrition than the cultured wheat. This is a result of a natural process taking place at the end of growth season, when the plant dies and the nutrients accumulated in the leaves and stalks transport themselves to the grains in order to promise continuity for a coming generation. This process, which takes place efficiently and quickly in the wild wheat, allows for a higher quantity of protein and mineral in its grains.

Nearly a decade ago, a crew of Israeli and Californian scientists discovered the gene that is responsible for the efficiency and speed of this process, and scientists hope that deciphering the genetic continuum will allow additional enhancements of the wheat by genetic engineering and making it compatible to other realms of growth.

Perhaps it is no surprise that the wheat tale engulfs tradition and progress, heritage and modernity, running ahead and taking a step back. It bears the circular movement so prevalent in our lives, where we encounter the familiar at every turn we make, except that the angle is different. It encompasses diverse and inclusive community, intense land-working and the aspiration to live a modest though reasonable life. And it is a reminder that the key is diversity and natural increase, and that denying the past or “the other,” ignoring the achievements of those who preceded us or abandoning the wisdom of others leads to reduction, a thin, restricting and dangerous bottleneck.

This movement is evident, too, in the biblical ceremony of the first fruits (bikkurim), when the farmer bringshis first fruit of the year, and at that moment is required to remember his forefather Abraham, the exodus to Egypt, the exile and arrival in the Promised Land. And at this point in the past, the blessing rounds it up to the present: “And now, behold, I have brought the first fruits of the land, which thou, O Lord, hast given me.” And upon delivering the gift of the first fruits to God, he joins in a community celebrating in which everyone participates: “And thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thine house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is among you.”

May we enjoy a post-first-fruit week, and a season of abundance and generosity.

Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Yochai and the Chubeza team

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WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?

Monday: Carrots, acorn squash, lettuce, cucumbers/fakkus, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, Swiss chard/kale, zucchini, garlic, cilantro/parsley.   

Large box, in addition: Onions, melon/cabbage, bell peppers/string beans.

Wednesday: Carrots, butternut or acorn squash, lettuce, cucumbers, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, garlic, cilantro/parsley, string beans.

Large box, in addition: Onions, Swiss chard/kale, melon/bell peppers/fakkus. 

May 14th-16th 2018

Next week, post-Shavuot, Monday and Wednesday deliveries are as scheduled. However, in order for us to prepare for Monday deliveries before we embark upon the holiday, the order system will close for changes this Thursday, May 17th at 8:00 PM (only for the Monday 21.5.18 deliveries). Please keep this deadline in mind.

Thanks for your cooperation!

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Gal of Kfar Bin Nun has joined our staff, and after Packing Day last week she sent us this cute little comic strip. Enjoy!

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A stalk in the field bows in the breeze
The grains heavy in its fold
In the hilly distance, the day is ablaze
The sun a stain of gold.
Come round and liven up, children of the valley,
Grains have ripened to no tally
Wave the scythe, reap away
Harvest has commenced

The field of barley wears a wreath of joy
A wealth of blessed yield.
As it greets the gleaners timid and coy
Awaiting the sheaf is the field.
Come and dance along the lea
The grain rejoices its decree
As harvest has commenced… 

(Shiboleth Ba’Sadeh, by Mattityahu Shalem in honor of the harvest festival at his kibbutz, Ramat Yochanan. Loosely translated by Aliza Raz-Melzer)

wheat field

In honor of Shavuot, we were requested to bring a festive fruit basket to my daughter’s nursery. Devoted mother that I am, I started preparing it immediately. I remembered we had golden stalks of grain growing wild at the edge of our backyard, and I’d eyed them all winter with the thought of using them for Shavuot. I went out to the yard and found golden, though blighted, stalks, and when I tried to pick them I discovered why: every little movement of the ripe stalk made it fall apart and disintegrate. Try as I may, I was left time and again with a golden stem and empty stalk. Although the devoted mother in me was greatly disappointed remembering the strong, beautiful stalks that decorated the kibbutz dining hall of my childhood, I had to admire the wisdom of the wild wheat in my backyard, as well as the patience and devotion of the first farmers who domesticated it over 10,000 years ago.

Farming is a relatively new phenomenon in the history of human culture, commencing some 10,000 years ago, when man switched from hunting and gathering his food in the wild to becoming a deliberate grower of plants and animals he chose from nature. This era is considered to be an important turning point in the progress of humankind, leading to permanent settlement, the development of writing, and to a political structure. Without exaggeration, it is probably the cradle of our culture.

Wheat is one of the first things man learned to grow. He selected the wheat from the wild and turned it into an agricultural growth, to a domesticated plant. Wild wheat, the “mother wheat,” is the origin of all domesticated wheat grown today, and is still common in wide areas of the Land of Israel and its environs. We know many of the domesticated plants grown by man that still exist in their wild form. Just as there is a wild plum and domesticated plum, or wild and domesticated carrots, or wild and domesticated fennel, there is also wild and domesticated wheat. The wheat grows wild in the upper and lower Galilee, in the Carmel, the Gilboa, Judea and Samaria. It is dispersed from the north of Israel and Lebanon all the way to western Iran and Iraq.

The “mother wheat” was discovered by Aharon Aaronsohn, of the famous Aaronsohn family from Zikhron Ya’akov, who was an agronomist, botanist and geologist. In 1906, Aharon went on a journey in search of wild wheat. He embarked on this search because of one dried plant that was picked at the slope of Mount Hermon and had been preserved in a university in Germany for over 50 years, with no information as to its origins. After a long search, he found the first stalk of wild wheat on a mountainside in Rosh Pina. Afterwards, he found it growing in other places in Israel as well.

Aaronsohn was surprised to learn that the wild wheat is very similar to domesticated wheat, and thus wrote in his journal, “My doubts arose especially when I saw the fine development of the stalks and grains. I never imagined that the wheat prototype would so closely resemble our domesticated wheat, bearing grains that would satisfy any modern farmer. But actually, if it weren’t so, prehistoric man would never have noticed this wheat, and probably wouldn’t have attributed so much importance to it.”

Here is a picture of both: the wild wheat is on the right, the domesticated to the left. You be the judge:

wheat wild and domestic

But if the wild wheat is so satisfactory, why domesticate it? Why not just gather it wild in the field? The wild wheat is very similar to the domesticated, but there are still critical differences between them. The wild wheat which grows in the field has properties beneficial for the plant, but disadvantageous for man and farmer: after the grains of the wild wheat fill and ripen, the axle of the stalk (the stem in its center) breaks, and it disintegrates into small units. For the wild plant, this is an advantage: the small units are scattered in the area, and some, at least, survive over summer to grow during the next rainy season. But just imagine the frustration of past collectors (or present devoted mothers) who picked sheaths of wheat and took them home–and by the time they reached the door, the stalks had broken and fallen apart, leaving only a dry and grain-less stem to grasp. Another property that differentiates wild wheat from the domesticated version is that its grains are wrapped in a rigid shell-like skin and other wrappings, and are very hard to hull and separate. Thus, the grains are protected from heat and dryness, as well as pests and animals. But the reapers had to work extra hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, or to grind them without separating them and try to eat them this way.

Wo/Man wished to develop wheat that was suitable for his/her needs, therefore s/he selected and sowed only seeds from the stalks whose seeds stayed in place for long. Over thousands of years of sorting and sowing, the farmer achieved a new species that could only be separated from the plant by movement, beating and knocking, or what we call today “threshing.” In the process of threshing, the grains are also hulled from the chaff with ease. Wheat’s scientific name is Triticum from the word Tritum, Latin for “to rub, wear out.” Thus, wo/man turned wild weeds to domesticated wheat.

Domesticated wheat has additional agricultural advantages as well, which have made it a fundamental component of human nutrition. Wild wheat is popular in limited places in the Near East, which fortunately for us include Israel. Domesticated wheat, however, can grow in extended areas throughout all the continents: Europe, Asia, North America, South America and Australia. There is also a great difference between the volume of yield of domesticated and wild wheat: domesticated wheat produces a large yield of produce, because each stalk consists of many large grains.

If the domesticated “bread wheat” grew wild in nature, it would never survive: the stalks would fall on the ground without disintegrating, and the seeds would not scatter and hide among the clods of earth. In such a situation, it is most likely that animals (mice, ants and other wheat-destroyers) would find the stalks easily and consume the grains. The domesticated wheat is able to survive only because wo/man grows it in cultivated fields, waters and fertilizes the earth, eliminates pests, harvests and threshes it.

The process of wheat domestication was the first step. Next week I will write more about the “green revolution” and disclose more tales of the wheat as it evolved from wild wheat to the one we know and love today. In the meantime, we will conclude with hopes for good yields, abundance and tranquility.

In a beautiful and insightful article, Nissim Krispil writes about that the “stalk in the field bow[ing] in the breeze” which for modern humankind symbolizes peace and quiet, was considered in medieval times to harbor fears and evil spirits. The wheat harvest expressed a battle against this evil spirit. The last sheaf harvested was the crux of many rituals in various cultures. In some of the falach villages in Israel, it is customary to weave the stalks of the last sheath with colorful threads of wool, to be called Birkhat El Khasida (the blessing of harvest.) It is also customary to hang this creation in the wheat silo or on the walls of a house as a folk amulet against the evil eye.”

  

Wishing you all a joyous Shavuot harvest festival, and hoping, wishing and praying for tranquility and growth in our part of the world,

Alon, Bat Ami, Dror, Yochai and the Chubeza team

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WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?

Monday: New Zealand spinach, melon, lettuce, cucumbers/fakkus, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, Swiss chard/kale, zucchini, cabbage/onions, cilantro/parsley.   

Large box, in addition: Leeks/garlic, parsley root, acorn squash

Wednesday: New Zealand spinach/kale, lettuce, cucumbers/fakkus, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, Swiss chard, zucchini, cabbage/garlic/parsley root, onions, cilantro/parsley.   

Large box, in addition: Carrot , melon, acorn squash.