Assaf Shavit is one of only a few thousand farmers left in Israel. Assaf continues to express his love of his homeland, one of Neta Winery’s most important values, at the Kidron Moshav, where Igi grew up and where we have made our home.
Before we became neighbors and started talking about agriculture, Assaf Shavit was an officer in the IDF who had to end his service as a regiment commander due to a serious injury suffered during a military operation. Now, he and a few thousand others across the nation keep the agricultural sector afloat; the same sector that, until two decades ago, provided livelihoods to tens of thousands of Israelis. These remaining farmers, lovers of the land and of the country, ensure that our tiny nation remains the land of milk and honey.
Neta Winery’s extended family has been growing grapevines and avocado orchards in Israel’s Shefela region for decades. Assaf also engages in this kind of agriculture, although it isn’t his primary source of income. He also grows pitaya, citrus and pomegranates with great passion. For these crops, he enjoys the supportive framework of the Farmers Association of Kidron, responsible for 540 hectares of farmland, all of which are cultivated exclusively by local residents.
What local farmers share is their worldview: “We insist on cultivating our own lands,” explains Assaf. “Even though a considerable portion of growers does not rely on agriculture as a primary source of income, we have a special bond with the land and we love it. We inherited this land from our forefathers, so giving it away for somebody else to cultivate is not an option for us.”
Ronen, Assaf’s brother, grows over 30 hectares of vineyards, and Igy’s father Yoram grows avocado orchards on the adjacent plot. Together, they share knowledge and information on irrigation, crops, and advanced agriculture.
For Assaf, a former high-tech professional, farming is an opportunity to apply advanced technologies to a low-tech environment. Many of the ongoing operations on the ground, such as combining fertilizers, measuring soil humidity using tensiometers and tracking the progress of plants using sensors, are all done using advanced technology which affects the quality of the crops in the moshav.
“Irrigation in orchards and vineyards is done like an IV,” is how Assaf describes the smart system integrated in the ground. “This system learns the process the plant goes through, and ensures that it puts its energy into making better fruit. In every biological system, a period of distress is followed by reproduction, and therefore, much like with the grapevine, we put our plants in distress in order to force them into producing fruit, which translates into continuity for the species.”
In order to continue cultivating the soil and to optimize its use, association members are constantly learning and acquiring new skills. “The new farmer must have a creative mind,” Assaf emphasizes. “We are mission-oriented and use our know-how to complete our mission. If you want to continue making a living in agriculture in Israel, you must look ahead and never lag behind.”
For Future Generations
Neta Winery is what allows us to keep telling the stories of Assaf and of the farming families that have raised us. We love the land and the plots generations of farmers have cared for, and are excited to continue this esteemed tradition. “When you work in agriculture it’s hard not to be a happy person,” Assaf declares, and we agree with a smile.
Assaf and other farmers in the moshav are expecting future generations to continue their work, noting that “a farmer is a free person. True, a farmer must navigate through the market and maintain a commercial operation, but after all, plants don’t complain much. And if they do, you’ll notice it on the bottom line. That’s why you keep nurturing them with joy.”
The Dragon Fruit of Kidron
Pitaya is a cactus-like plant originating in South America. The fruit has no thorns and is very common in Thailand and in other Far Eastern countries. It has made its way to Israel with the help of Professor Yossi Mizrahi, who used it to develop sweet, edible clones at the Ben Gurion University. This tropical plant now grows in our moshav. It spreads out, climbs and weaves among trellises, just like grapevines, and it is equally suitable for the local climate.