This week, the Chanukkah festival brings the tiding of light, spotlighting the Hasmonean family’s zeal to buck the prevailing mainstream and sweep followers towards a challenging new path. In this spirit, we shall deviate from our customary account of the happenings, large and small, in the fields of Chubeza to tell you about a special book published this year (which you can purchase through our Order System) detailing the story and life work of the extraordinary Mario Levi in his journey to organic farming.
Mario Levi, a member of Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in the Beit She’an Valley, was known as the father of Israeli organic farming. Mario was among the first pioneers who sowed the seeds of a thriving Israeli organic culture, with persistence, diligence and faith. He dared to dream despite the ridicule he endured, and meticulously fulfilled his ambition with accuracy, depth, knowledge and modesty. Nearly five years ago in March 2018, Mario died at age 94 on his kibbutz where his lovingly-nurtured organic garden hosted, taught and inspired so many.
Mario immigrated to Israel from Italy in his youth and studied at Mikveh Yisrael. In the beginning of the 1940s he joined Sde Eliyahu where he struggled to work the land in the scorching sun of the Beit Shean Valley, together with his fellow kibbutzniks. It was not easy at first, but with time they learned to produce impressive yields. Unfortunately, in the 60s, just as agriculture was starting to stabilize for them, the kibbutz farmers were plagued by the challenges of diseases, pests and other agricultural calamities. The conventional solutions at the time were merely spraying and spraying some more, substituting one pest control for another, adding fertilizers to induce growth and choosing durable species. Mario was unimpressed. It didn’t make sense to him. He was not satisfied by these feats – they seemed to him unstable, short-termed and non-sustainable.
Contrary to the advice of his farming instructors, he dared to believe in the power of the balance of nature and the potency of vigorous plants to overcome adversity. He abstained from spraying in various plots and discovered that despite the professional wisdom of the time, the beneficial insects were able to take on the pests quite effectively, and unsprayed plants thrived just beautifully.
After a trial period, Mario travelled to Switzerland where he studied organic farming and came back thrilled and enthusiastic. For their part, the Ministry of Agriculture remained unimpressed. Yet Mario decided to start out with his own plot and managed to convince the kibbutz (only the very stubborn could pull that off) to allocate 200 dunams of fields for three years for him to “play around and experiment.” The rest is history. This organic field managed to produce ten different growths in one field, from carrots to animal fodder, and was twice rewarded: the yields thrived and the farmers were happy.
Other farmers joined the effort, but the Ministry of Agriculture remained indifferent, to say the least, and the organic farmers were chiefly met with arrogant disdain instead of the enthusiastic support they longed for.
Realizing that the farmers were on their own, Mario and his colleagues established the Israel Bio-Organic Agriculture Association. In 35 years, they have grown from a handful of “crazy farmers” to hundreds of organic cultivators throughout the country, partnered with processing factories for organic products, marketers, manufacturers, researchers and consultants.
When I first set out on my life adventure – establishing Chubeza – I went to Sde Eliyahu to meet Mario. I received a warm welcome and a patient, listening ear – a 30-year-old woman coming to seek a blessing from the elderly Rabbi (he was eighty years old at the time.) I told him about my vision and plan, and he showered me with advice, professional guidance and encouragement. He was not easily moved towards enthusiastic emotion – his responses were practical and precise, emphasizing the methodical planning required and systematic implementation, specifying the many challenges and issues I must tend to before I could set my vision in motion. He promised it wouldn’t be easy, but assured me it will be very rewarding.
This was Mario, this was his outlook on organic farming and perhaps on life in general – one needs to be fully and genuinely invested, completely and genuinely, forever in sincere and unrelenting self-demand.
And in his words:
Those who deal with organic farming must know they are inseparable from the organic world. Dealing with it can positively influence human health. From the agricultural angle – organic farming proves that this is not utopia but rather sustainable farming.
For that, it is vital that we are engrossed in it; that we expand our knowledge in all that we do, seeing the broad wholeness of nature, never content with partial or temporary facts. This must be combined with simplicity and the ability to be content with little. We must live modestly and thus behave, far from external ostentation.
We can succeed in this if we champion the love of mankind, love for the other, with patience and tolerance.
Mario continued working in the fields until age 90. The fresh retiree then set out to tour the country, wandering among organic farms, large and small, to visit young farmers (“young” being a relative concept for him), getting to know, advise, listen and still learn and see with his own eyes the vast ramifications of his life-mission. Just imagine a man in his nineties, cheery and inquisitive, energetic and knowledgeable. And ever so modest and full of faith.
Simultaneous to these tours, throughout his life and primarily in his last years, Mario was engaged in writing. He sought to depict his own journey to the path of organic agriculture and to present his vast professional experience in a clear, accessible and practical manner. Following Mario’s death, his family and friends took upon themselves to edit and publish the book. The result is a fascinating volume recounting Mario’s life’s work of some 95 years, from his childhood in Trieste, Italy until he joined the founders of Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in 1941, his experience in conventional agriculture, and the difficulties and failures which led him along the path to organic farming. The book offers a fascinating, detailed, exhaustive and practical summary of organic farming methods – including caring for the soil, nutrition, coping with diseases and pests, the challenges of its weeds, diversity, balance and prosperity. Mario aspired for this book to assist those who grow and produce organic agriculture, as well as to inspire and encourage non-organic growers to join the endeavor.
Purchase this book today via our ordering system, under the category “Vegetables and Fruits of Chubeza.”
Wishing you all a wonderful, bright and enlightening week! Happy Holidays from the entire Chubeza team!
WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?
Monday: Celery stalk or celeriac/scallions, beets/turnips, lettuce, carrots, daikon/baby radishes/Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes, red or white cabbage/cauliflower, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli/yellow string beans/Thai lubia, parsley/coriander/dill. Green gift for all: Swiss chard/kale/New Zealand spinach.
Large box, in addition: Arugula/totsoi/winter spinach, fresh onions, kohlrabi/fennel.
FRUIT BOXES: Oranges/pomelit, clementinas, pomegranates, apples/ bananas, avocados.
Wednesday: Celery stalk or celeriac/scallions, turnips/kohlrabi/fennel, lettuce, carrots, sweet potatoes, red or white cabbage/cauliflower, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli/yellow string beans/Thai lubia/Jerusalem artichokes, parsley/coriander/dill, Swiss chard/kale/New Zealand spinach.
Large box, in addition: Arugula/totsoi/winter spinach, daikon/baby radishes, beets/fresh onions.
FRUIT BOXES: Oranges/ apples, pomelit/pomegranates, clementinas, bananas/carambola, avocados.