Yara Dowani is the co-founder and spokesperson for Om Sleiman farm, an agroecological community and the first community supported agriculture (CSA) project in Palestine. She also manages hostel in Ramallah where volunteers can go, learn good agriculture practices in agriculture and support their resistance.
What is fair food? Fair food means eating clean, local, healthy food, having food that’s equally available and affordable for everyone, farmers getting what they deserve for their work: recognition, respect, fair payment. It means consumers knowing where their food comes from and having freedom of choice regarding what they eat and consume. Anything different is unfair.
During my first course in permaculture I learned that where we get our food from and where the crops are grown is not always the same picture that was in my head of a small farm with a happy farmer and husband and a few chickens running around. I learned that most of the crops on the market are full of chemicals, pesticides, grown on monoculture farms, and not even local!
After this realization my next steps were to question everything I had taken for granted; I had to unlearn. Questioning what I buy, where it comes from, and trying to always pick local. I started reading more about agriculture, soil and farming, and volunteered on a permaculture project in Spain.
The Om Sleiman farm offers a fair model for the farmers as well as for the members; it offers solutions to the challenges that all farmers face globally, and specifically in Palestine. It protects the farmers through a community support system that buys their produce, and facilitates direct communication between farmers and consumers. It’s better for the consumers too, knowing where their food comes from, getting a fresh basket of organic vegetables every week, having a project to support and volunteer with as well. The farm and its members have protected this land that has always been under threat of annexation by the Israeli colonization; by existing on this land on a daily basis and producing on this land we’ve made it possible to regenerate the soil and increase the number of trees too, reviving the area.
The next steps for Om Sleiman are to regenerate more land in order to scale up our production and meet the increasing demand for our produce. For that we need financial and human resources, since the land hasn’t been taken care of for many years. So far we’ve regenerated 0.3 hectares out of a potential 1.5, producing food for 35 members at our best. We also want to add other products to our baskets like eggs, cheese, milk, bread, honey, fruits. Perhaps, one day, our members won’t have to buy anything from the grocery shop!
One food that is special for me is Akkoub (Tournefort’s gundelia). It’s a wild, thorny, perennial plant that grows in Palestine at the end of the spring. Finding it, harvesting it, cleaning it, and cooking it is a long process, and it all happens in a short season. In 2017 I was doing field visits to explore wild Palestinian foods and I met a woman from Deir Ballut with a deep knowledge of plants. We walked in the valley together; she picked things for me to taste and taught me their names. One of the plants was Akkoub, this thorny plant that you’d never guess is edible. Back at her house she showed me how she remove the thorns and cook it with onion and oil. She told me how during the Akkoub season she would cross into occupied, historic Palestine, where she is not allowed to go without a permit from the Israeli authorities that is almost impossible to get. There she would pick Akkoub and come back with a few other women, a journey of two hours south from their home. A risky one too: the Israeli authorities ban Palestinians from picking this plant, and give fines to anyone they catch doing it. Akkoub has historic, cultural, and traditional importance for us as Palestinians who are being uprooted from our land. The story of this plant is the story of a people who try, despite everything, to grow food in the face harsh circumstances.