The Palestinian “Fresh Box”... Organic farming without pesticides is the beginning of a comprehensive renaissance in a small village
By: Firas Taweel
Chemical-free Palestinian FreshBox project
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons (Afaq magazine):
Once you enter “Ein Sinia" a village to the north of Ramallah, you will notice signs directing you to "Fresh Box," if you follow the signs in the village, it will lead you to a breathtaking view, full of the scenery of life. Green fields with greenhouses. Young men working relentlessly, and visitors with their children who came all the way from the city to pick their vegetables with their own hands.
Salah Al-Husseini welcomes you with a wide smile at the entrance of the Fresh Box project, and takes you on a tour. During the tour Al-Husseini tells you more about the project in which he found himself in without any planning, as the Corona pandemic forced him to close his electro-mechanic car workshop in March, last year with the start of closure imposed by the Palestinian Authority along with the other countries around the world.
A young man drives a tractor, ploughing the field to prepare it for winter cultivation, another is laying an irrigation network, and a third inspects the pipes of the rainwater drainage network designed to collect rain in a huge pond designed to hold more than a thousand cubic meters of water. Another young man follows up on incoming calls and messages to the “Fresh box” page on Facebook, and coordinates the delivery of all orders.
In a small room on the side of a pretty piece of land, a young woman selects and collects vegetables in preparation for delivery. A few minutes later, a young man arrives in his car, he has just finished delivering orders of vegetables to customers in the city, and is about to pick up other orders.
You really feel like you're watching worker bees in a beehive.
Accompanied by Salah, we entered a greenhouse planted with the zucchini. It was warm in there. We met the Issawi family from the town of Birzeit who came to buy their own fresh vegetables. The father, Khalil Issawi, said: “The general atmosphere here is exceptional. It is a great experience to be able to pick your vegetables with your own hands. Here, you are able to see everything and decide what to pick and eventually eat.”
When asked how he knew about the Fresh Box: he said “I heard about this project from the social media platforms, and decided to bring my family here to buy fresh vegetables. It is always great to eat vegetables without any pesticides.”
Another man “Saleh al-Ajuli” came from the city of Ramallah with three of his young grandchildren. He said while we were standing in a cucumber greenhouse: “I heard about the project, and decided to bring my grandchildren to introduce them to agriculture, and also to encourage these young men to work in their land and be productive.”
The kick off was tough
In Spite of the negative aspects that Covid-19 crisis has brought to the health and economy sectors in the whole world and particularly in Palestine. It has, however, helped connecting the Palestinian youth with their land and encouraged them to invest in it since a lot have lost their jobs.
Going back to the young man behind this project, Salah Al Husseini who is originally from the village of Ein Sinia.
The man who had to close his electro-mechanic car workshop in Beitunia “A town near the city of Ramallah.” He decided that he needed to connect with his land and invest in it to financially support his family. The result was the birth of this project “Fresh Box.”
At the beginning Salah faced disapproval and criticism from his family for closing his car workshop, he however decided to go ahead and move forward with his dream and plant the land. He planted three dunams (1 dunam = 1000 m²) near his home. He afterwards began to convince a number of men, who ended up being unemployed due to the Covid-19 crisis, to join him and invest in other pieces of land in Ein Sinia.
“I contacted my relatives to talk them into investing in their abandoned lands and planting them, along with convincing a number of the unemployed men and women to join me in the project. After nine months of the kick off, we now have 16 young men and women who became involved in the project. We were able to plant 19 dunams,” Salah said.
Organic agriculture and Events that aim to revitalize and reserve our heritage
Salah never pictured himself becoming a farmer and leaving the autocar industry in which he excelled, but despite all the frustration caused by the pandemic, the consequences of this pandemic directed him back to invest in the land.
He wanted, through this project, to establish a comprehensive advancement in his small village which is rich in springs and fertile soil, the plan was towards organic farming without pesticides.
Salah adds: "I started investing in a limited number of greenhouses, today we have 19 dunams and aim for more. We want all young farmers working in the land and the landowners to become partners”.
With one third of the production going to the farmers and one third to the landowner, and the last third to the Fresh Box project for development and expansion. “We aspire for everyone to be partners and feel that the land is theirs".
The Fresh Box is considered a unique model of pesticide-free organic farming, due to the increased demand for it, after several reports that revealed high levels of pesticides residues in vegetables in the Palestinian markets.
The consumer of the Fresh Box is in direct contact with the farmer. No middlemen are needed.
“The Fresh Box is considered a pioneer in solving the longstanding problem of farmers which is the difficulty of marketing their products, to the extent that they are forced in some seasons to throw away their own products due to the low prices and the difficulty of marketing them at prices that secure good income for them.” As Salah Explained.
Salah al-Husseini adds explaining to the reporter of Afaq Magazine: “from the beginning of the project, we started promoting it through the social media platforms, and we decided to take the responsibility of selling the products as well as delivering them to customers' homes”.
In addition, we carry out weekly activities on site in the fields of Ein Sinia, in which we host families from all over Palestine. Some activities are intended for children entertainment, and some are family activities such as preparing the Palestinian famous dish “Musakhan”.
When asked about families’ response and feedback, he said that the “Fresh Box” team did not expect this thirst to connect with the land and to practice habits that most people cannot do inside their residential apartments in the city, such as the experience of cultivating the land, traditional outdoor food preparation in the fields and other activities.
All of these were essential factors that contributed to creating various job opportunities and reviving the economy of the village.
For a quick overview of the "Fresh Box" initiative, please click on the following link:
Translated by: Rasha Abu Dayyeh