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Filtering freshly pressed olive oil at Rish Lakish, Zippori

There are countless stories in Israel of small-scale businesses that cobble together several undertakings in order to succeed. The Rish Lakish olive oil press, in the village of Zippori in the Lower Galilee, is one of these. At the head of this family-owned business are Micha and Rachelle Noymeir, but their six children played a formative role in the establishment of their olive oil production. Their headquarters, a lovely straw-bale structure, was built by the Noymeir sons.

At Rish Lakish, all olives are picked by hand.

During harvest time at Rish Lakish, ladders are propped against trees in the olive groves and workers focus on their task (unlike most commercial olive groves, which use mechanical “shakers” to urge the fruits off the trees, at Rish Lakish, all olives are picked by hand). The tiny green-and-purple fruits then go back to the compound, where the olives are quickly shuttled onto a conveyor belt, sorted from leaves and twigs, and dropped into the press, to be pummeled by a set of massive granite stones. Later, the olive mush is centrifugally churned to separate the oil from the dregs. The end product is a beautifully pristine tawny-green oil, rich and flavorful.

The Noymeir family’s headquarters at Rish Lakish, Zippori. Photo copyright © Cookie West

While chiefly a producer of organic olive oil, Rish Lakish also sells foodstuffs and olive-oil-based cosmetics, has a fine little café, gives tours of the facility, and invites schoolchildren to visit the olive groves. During harvest time, they hire Israeli, Palestinian, and Thai workers, and host international volunteers who come to work on the farm. The operation is involved in a consortium called Olive Oil Without Borders, a project with a goal to bolster grassroots, cross-border economic cooperation and to promote peace and reconciliation between Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, and Palestinians.

Olive Oil Without Borders > 

Rish Lakish Olive Oil > 

Rish Lakish Olive Oil: A Family-Scale Enterprise

New shoots in a Western Negev greenhouse 

Plants have been utilized for their medicinal powers since ancient times. Today such plants are shedding their “alternative healing” label, as researchers are analyzing and quantifying their properties, and as more and more allopathic medical doctors are incorporating them into their healing practices.

Antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, parasite-fighting, and immune-boosting substances are found in native Israeli plants.

Roni and Peretz Gan run the SupHerbs farm in Zippori, not far from Nazareth. Established in 1986, the company has been cultivating medicinal plants for Israel and for export since 1990. Some of the plants grown here have been used for millennia: hyssop, for example, is mentioned in the Bible and is still employed today, both in cooking (you see it as zaatar in Israeli recipes) and as a folk medicine. Feverfew was employed as a healing plant in Roman times and is still used as an anti-inflammatory. Antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, parasite-fighting, and immune-boosting substances are found in native Israeli plants such as Palestine oak, terebinth, Mediterranean stink bush, chamomile, carob, sage, nettle, and marigold.

Peretz and Roni know a great deal about the properties of the plants they are tending. Among them is the extraordinary moringa—sometimes called the “miracle tree”: a fast-growing, drought-resistant plant, native to the Himalayas, so hardy and so packed with nutrients that many are hopeful that it will serve as an important tool to combat malnutrition.

Most of these plants can be procured in one form or another through SupHerbs, which complements its own line of cultivated products with imported plants, including traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic herbs.

SupHerbs > 


SupHerbs Medicinal Plants: Ancient Medicines, Modern Uses

The Palestine oak is a source of powerful antibacterial substances. Photo by Rafael Medina, courtesy Creative Commons

BioXplore was a three-year collaborative study of Israel’s medicinal plants, led by Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem. The project, which was finalized in 2014, brought together Israeli, Palestinian, Spanish, and Greek researchers. The results of their work? They found that plants from different regions—from Jerusalem to Mount Hermon, the Hula Valley, and the Dead Sea as well as Nablus in the Palestinian Authority—have the potential to aid in the treatment of diabetes, infections, and viruses. The project was a resounding success on several levels. Hadassah’s president, Bertold Fridlender, who headed the study, observes:

Plants from different regions—from Jerusalem to Mount Hermon, the Hula Valley, and the Dead Sea as well as Nablus in the Palestinian Authority—have been found to have potential to aid in the treatment of diabetes, infections, and viruses.

The study of plants for medicinal purposes was the prime goal, but the cooperation with the researchers from the Palestinian Authority and from the rest of the nations was no less important. The mutual understanding, joint endeavor, and the yearning to deliver results, which was important to both nations, helped bring the final result.

Professor Fridlender, who holds a Ph.D. in medical microbiology from UCLA and worked in botanical research at Rutgers, says the potential of this field is immense. Although particular plants have been known through the ages to be valuable for specific uses, his team’s aim is to measure its effects, to give “a scientific base to that information. . . . If a certain plant is a good anti-inflammatory, we will try to show why and at what dose.”

Perhaps just as importantly, Fridlender has also remarked upon “how much the project connected the participants from all corners of academic research.” With a single vision, such connections can be made.

BioXplore > 

Learn more about "Israeli herbs for the medicine chest" at >

BioXplore and Medicinal Plants: Bringing International Researchers Together

Netafim in the field. Photo courtesy Netafim


Nearly 70 percent of our planet’s fresh water goes toward farming and the cultivation of crops. Drip irrigation—the careful meting out of water to feed plants—is a way of using water more efficiently: directly nurturing crops without wasting a drop. Although the notion of drip irrigation is regularly associated with Israel, its roots run wide. And it is not a new concept: centuries ago, buried clay pots were filled with water, which would gradually seep into the surrounding earth and irrigate plant life. Modern drip irrigation was initiated in Afghanistan in the nineteenth century, when researchers experimented with using clay pipes to create underground systems that combined irrigation and drainage. Further developments were made in the early twentieth century in the United States and Germany, and after World War II Australian inventor Hannis Thill came up with the idea of using plastic piping to hold and distribute water.           

Drip irrigation is a way of using water more efficiently: directly nurturing crops without wasting a drop.

The idea was moved forward in Israel by Simcha Blass, inventor of an efficient plastic emitter, or “dripper”—now, instead of being released through holes that can easily be blocked by tiny particles, water is transmitted through larger and longer passageways and can be carefully regulated. In 1965, at Kibbutz Hatzerim near Be’er Sheva, a group of young idealists founded Netafim. They worked with Blass to develop and patent the first surface drip-irrigation emitter, which is now used around the world.

Learn more from Naty Barak, Netafim’s Chief of Sustainability, about Israel’s role in launching an irrigation technology that has revolutionized agriculture around the world.

Netafim >

Netafim in the field. Photo courtesy Netafim


Drip Irrigation and Netafim: Watering Plants Drop by Drop

Naty Barak, Chief of Sustainability, Netafim. Photo courtesy Netafim

Naty Barak, Chief of Sustainability at the pioneering company Netafim describes Israel’s role in launching an irrigation technology that has revolutionized agriculture around the world. 

A Startup in a Kibbutz

In Hebrew, we say that we’re talking to farmers ‘at eye level’: farmer to farmer.
— Naty Barak, Chief of Sustainability, Netafim

When I was young, I was very idealistic. I moved from my home in Haifa to Kibbutz Hatzerim in 1964, along with a group of other young people. We were all farmers, but we weren’t having much success because of water shortage and the high salinity of the soil. The idea for Netafim came in 1965. We had been looking for an industry as a focal point, and we’d set up some guidelines for what we wanted. For one thing, we wanted it to be connected to agriculture. We needed something that would not require too much labor: the idea was to find work for fourteen kibbutz members.(Today we have nearly three thousand employees, all over the world.

Simcha Blass Has an Idea

It was Simcha Blass who moved the idea of drip irrigation forward. Once, Simcha saw a long row of trees that had obviously all been planted at the same time—and yet one of them was far bigger than the others. He was curious and went to see what the reason was. He discovered a water pipe that had a crack in it, and it was leaking near the tree, slowly, drop by drop. On the surface of the ground, there was just a limited circle that was a little bit wet, and the rest of the soil was dry. When he started digging, he saw that underground the wet area became wider, and that there were a lot of roots.

This gave him the idea. That was in the late 1930s. But he kept the idea in his head for years, until affordable plastic piping was introduced, and in the 1960s he started to do experiments in his backyard with the drip system. A few years later, a brilliant engineer developed the next generation of drippers for us. Today, the tiny plastic dripper has many functions built into it. It’s pressure-compensated, which means that it will always deliver exactly the same amount of water, regardless of distance from the water source; it’s self-cleaning; and it has all kinds of clog-prevention and non-leakage mechanisms.

  To give you an idea of what it all means: I’ve worked a lot in the Arava Desert. The rainfall there can sometimes be as little as twenty millimeters per year. But today it’s a rich agricultural area, largely because of drip irrigation.

Helping to Irrigate the World

Today, Netafim has thirteen manufacturing plants all over the world: in California, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, two plants in India (and we are thinking about a third one), three plants in Israel, one in Turkey—and so on. Wherever you have agriculture, you have drip irrigation. It helps in growing tea in Tanzania, sugarcane in the Philippines, potatoes in China, etcetera.

We’re involved—along with several other irrigation companies—in the Andhra Pradesh Micro Irrigation Project in India, helping farmers to enhance their crop yield and save water. We also donated drip-irrigation systems to a foundation in Oklahoma, and they in turn gave them to a military base in Afghanistan; now they are bringing Afghan farmers into the base to teach them how to use drip irrigation. 

On a smaller scale, we have developed what we call the “Family Drip System” for small farmers in developing countries. It’s gravity-based, so you don’t need electricity. All you need is to put a tank on an elevated stage, fill it with water, mix it with the right nutrients, open the valve and shut the valve—and it will irrigate five hundred square meters, which is a small farm for a family. Training is very important, of course. But if the farmers do it right, the increased yield is amazing, and the return on investment is in less than one year. We’ve distributed these in Kenya and elsewhere.

In reaching out to farmers in other places, we try to work collaboratively. We don’t say: “We came from Mount Sinai. We invented drip irrigation; do what we tell you and you’ll be successful.” That’s the wrong attitude. We say: “Listen, you have been growing tomatoes in this region for generations—you and your father and your grandfather—so you must know a lot about growing tomatoes. We know something about drip irrigation; we are working in the Arava with tomato growers . . . so let’s bring our skills together.” And whether we are talking to a Chinese farmer who has one tiny parcel of land, or a cotton-farm manager in Arizona who wears $2,000 lizard-skin boots, we talk to both of them the same way. We give them the same respect. In Hebrew, we say that we’re talking to farmers “at eye level”: farmer to farmer. 

Netafim >

Naty Barak of Netafim: “We Know Something About Drip Irrigation”