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Jonathan Cook writes about Canaan Palestine for AMEU's The Link

Award-winning British journalist Jonathan Cook wrote an outstanding article on Canaan Palestine's model of self-sufficiency and dignity. Cook writes that Canaan "now assists some 2,000 small-hold farmers in the West Bank. It offers them help to grow organic crops that can withstand water shortages and other privations of a hostile occupation; buys their products at above-market prices to ensure farming families can make a sustainable living; and finds local and foreign markets for the produce, as a way to bypass Israeli control and to raise prices. Staff have nick-named their approach `agro-resistance.'" Cook, a master of long-form journalism, is based in Nazareth, Israel. This article ran on a number of news services but came out first in the newsletter of Americans for Middle East Understanding (AMEU). You can read the full story at The Link

NPR On Freekeh

May 26, 2015

Game For Ancient Grain: Palestinians Find Freekeh Again

  (link to article)

In a village outside of Jenin, in the West Bank, Palestinian farmers harvest wheat early and burn the husks to yield the smoky, nutty grain known as freekeh.

In a village outside of Jenin, in the West Bank, Palestinian farmers harvest wheat early and burn the husks to yield the smoky, nutty grain known as freekeh.

In early May, Nasser Abufarha drove through the rural farmlands around Jenin in the northern West Bank and noticed the timeless features of village life. Young boys harvested cauliflower bigger than their heads, a sun-beaten old man passed on foot with a hoe propped against his shoulder and middle-aged women strolled to their modest homes on a path between waving wheat fields.

But there was one new element, says Abufarha, a Palestinian-American businessman and the founder of the largest fair trade exporter for Palestinian produce.

On plateaus overlooking a patchwork valley of farmland, men wrapped head to toe in flameproof clothing furiously raked piles of wheat into the air and fired propane blowtorches at the grains. They were burning the husks of wheat harvested three weeks early to yield a roasted grain called freekeh. While the chaff turns black, the young green wheat kernels inside take on a smoky, nutty flavor.

Nasser Abufarha, founder of the Palestine Fair Trade Association, said he is planning to roll out a freekeh product to the American market. Abufarha says freekeh is far more profitable for small-scale farmers to produce than ripe wheat.i

Nasser Abufarha, founder of the Palestine Fair Trade Association, said he is planning to roll out a freekeh product to the American market. Abufarha says freekeh is far more profitable for small-scale farmers to produce than ripe wheat.

Freekeh is one of the Middle East's famed "ancient grains" — it's been cultivated in the region for more than four millennia. The word comes from the Arabic word meaning "to rub," which is how farmers stripped away the burnt husk from the green grain in the age before heavy machinery combines.

Traditionally, Palestinians have used it to thicken soups eaten on Ramadan and as stuffing for chickens. But in the last several decades, many Palestinians opted for cheaper, imported rice for main dishes.

Now, Abufarha says this version of wheat is coming back. Palestinian chefs are placing freekeh prominently on their menus. Home cooks are using freekeh to make pillowy pilafs and earthy stuffed zucchini. The result is a buzzing harvest season, with many more wheat burning sites all around Jenin.

The renewed interest among Palestinians coincides with rising enthusiasm for the grain from the U.S., Europe and Australia, where nutritionists point to its high protein and fiber content — compared to brown rice — and lower calorie count — compared to quinoa. Among Palestinians, part of the attraction is nutrition, but it's also about pride in local agriculture.

Abufarha says that in the 1940s, Palestinians began eating rice instead of locally grown crops. Freekeh was pushed aside, as was its cousin bulgur, made from the kernels of wheat harvested when golden. Rice, easier to cook than local grains, reigned supreme.

Interest in the protein and fiber-rich grain has spiked in the U.S. and Europe in recent years. In the West Bank, Palestinians worried about their health and eager to return to heritage cooking have nearly doubled local demand for the wholesome grain as well.

Interest in the protein and fiber-rich grain has spiked in the U.S. and Europe in recent years. In the West Bank, Palestinians worried about their health and eager to return to heritage cooking have nearly doubled local demand for the wholesome grain as well.

"There is saying in Palestinian tradition: 'The glory is to the rice and the bulgur buried itself,' " Abufarha says.

Until ten years ago, Abufarha says he would see only a handful of farmers harvesting their grain early for the freekeh harvest in the springtime. Now, things are changing. This year Palestinian farmers produced 3,500 tons of freekeh, up from about 2,000 tons last year, he says.

Abufarha, whose Palestine Fair Trade Association focuses mostly on exporting olive oil, said he is exploring packaging and exporting freekeh as well.

Khaled Shafi Jalama owns a freekeh-cleaning factory in Deir Gazala village. He invested in heavy machinery three years ago to dry the grains and clean them of any extra dirt or debris. He says orders are up, mostly from Palestinian customers, and he plans to expand his production next year.

Palestinian chefs have taken notice of the higher public interest in freekeh. Chef Johnny Goric of East Jerusalem's Legacy Hotel says in the last two years he has added vegetables stuffed with freekeh to his menu, and he is planning to feature a freekeh risotto with arugula and Parmesan cheese next month. The young wheat imparts a deeper flavor to the dishes, he says.

Traditionally, Palestinians have used freekeh to thicken soups eaten on Ramadan and as a stuffing for chickens.

Traditionally, Palestinians have used freekeh to thicken soups eaten on Ramadan and as a stuffing for chickens.

"We used to cook mostly European food," says Goric, who is also a judge on the Palestinian Masterchef TV reality cooking show. "Now we are running back to our heritage."

Palestinian anthropologist Ali Qleibo says that even among those Palestinians with limited land, freekeh has become a choice crop. He says families plant enough to provide for a year's worth of freekeh soups.

"This is the new health craze," Qleibo says. "I have many friends with land and they plant their own freekeh, so it's clean and their own."

PFTA Elects A New Board!

May 23, 2015

Congratulations PFTA on their elections

The Palestine Fair Trade Association held their biennial General Assembly at the Jenin Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, May 21, 2015 and elected 9 Board members in democratic and fair elections.  Video here.

Highlights of some PFTA achievements and successes the past year include

  • increasing revenues more than 50%
  • granting interest-free loans to 30 women through the Microloan project
  • planting 17000 olive and almond trees through the Trees for Life project
  • adding 400 new farmers and new regions in Tulkarm and Qalqilia

Canaan Fair Trade celebrates the institutional growth of the PFTA, it's success in running as a farmers union, and the level of interest and engagement the farmers communities have in it.  Canaan pledges to continue support for the PFTA beyond marketing their products: to link them with community networks around the world, and to suppport their efforts to serve their farmers and communities to build a future for Palestine.

Canaan Freekeh Harvest Video

May 12, 2015

We are happy to report that our farmers are celebrating an abundant freekeh harvest in Palestine.  Here is video we produced to share with you the Palestinian harvest !!

Agritourism In Palestine

March 1, 2015

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March/April 2015, pp. 20-21

Special Report (link to article)

Experiencing Fair Trade in Palestine

By Randa Kayyali

kayyali

articipants in Canaan Fair Trade’s Olive Harvest Tour pick olives with Palestinian fParticipants in Canaan Fair Trade’s Olive Harvest Tour pick olives with Palestinian farmers. (PHOTO COURTESY R. KAYYALI)rmers. (PHOTO COURTESY R. KAYYALI)

Every year in early November, Canaan Fair Trade organizes a little-publicized Olive Harvest Tour for visitors to Palestine to learn about farmers and their Fair Trade products. For eight days, six of us—all Americans—spent our days and evenings with host farmer families, exploring the northern part of the West Bank and enjoying delicious home-cooked Palestinian foods while experiencing the daily life and perils of Israeli military occupation for Palestinian farmers.

The tour began at the Palestinian Farmers Union (PFU) in Ramallah, where we were briefed about the political economic context for farmers and agriculture. We learned that the “peace plans” put forward by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will transform Area C on the border with Jordan into a haven for labor exploitation, bringing in day laborers who will not be allowed to unionize and will be paid wages far lower than their Israeli counterparts.

The PFU is concerned with Israel’s three-dimensional occupation that includes the water below the surface, the air above the earth, as well as the destruction and seizure of land owned by Palestinians. The hope for Palestinian farmers lies in finding creative and sustainable solutions for their produce by organizing their work through cooperatives and finding markets for their products.

Following this hard-hitting dose of reality, our group proceeded to lighter activities—namely, visiting the Taybeh Brewing Company and a beer tasting. This was to be the first stop of many, tasting and sampling Palestinian foods and delicious beverages made by Palestinian producers. We drove through beautiful landscapes of olive terraces to Deir Ballout, a fair trade women’s cooperative, where we learned how to coucous-roll and enjoyed a coucous—called maftoul in Palestine—dinner with the women, with whom we stayed overnight. Canaan Fair Trade provides the women in Deir Ballout and other West Bank farms small business loans, or microloans. These are used to support smaller scale agricultural and husbandry activities such as growing zaatar (dried thyme), raising chickens, rabbits and doves, as well as commercial enterprises such as hand-making maftoul for sale.

The old city of Nablus was our next stop, where we walked through the souk, stopping at various shops—the famous 200-year-old Nabulsi kanafe bakery (Palestinian cheese pastry soaked in sweet syrup), where we tasted manoushe bi-zaatar and bread with baked-in eggs. At the spice shop we smelled the essence of many dishes, and at the nut roaster we tasted pumpkin seeds, cashews, pistachios, almonds and hazelnuts that were roasted on-site. For a couple of hours we prepared stuffed grapeleaves and zucchini with the women of Bait Al-Karama of the Slow Foods Nablus movement. Our day ended with singing and the classical Arabic musical traditions of the ‘oud, darabekeh, duff, and tableh on a rooftop in Nablus.

The next day we drove in the rain to the countryside and sipped strong, sweet tea and Turkish coffee beside the goats in a barn, picking olives when it stopped raining. Men and women alike climbed the ladders up into the olive trees, carefully dropping the olives onto the tarp below, where they were gathered and sorted by the older women of the family. While picking olives, we watched as our dinner of a three-tiered rack of layers of chicken, vegetables and rice baked for two and half hours in a deep hole in the ground. A well-deserved and delicious dinner after laboring in the terraces!

Further north, in Sebastia, we walked through the largest Roman ruins in Palestine, trying to avoid the attention of local students on an unescorted school field trip. We continued north to Jenin, the city where there has been much unrest and clashes with the IDF. There we enjoyed beef and chicken shawarma and falafel from a street-side café and visited the Freedom Theater to see its new play and watch the documentary “The People and the Olive” in its theater. This documentary (available from AET’s Middle East Books and More) is about a group of American ultra-marathon runners who crossed the West Bank planting olive tree saplings with farmers, and learning of their struggles.

In Jenin, we met with the Palestine Fair Trade Association (PFTA) to learn about organic programs, certifications, future activities and the history of olive oil in Palestine. Although olive oil has been produced on this land since the times of Herod, farmers in Palestine today have few opportunities to access the global market, and face many challenges due to the destruction of trees, seizure of lands for settlements and living under occupation in general.

Because Palestinian olive oil was not well known or appreciated on the international market, and individual farmers were unable to achieve the scale of production and quality specifications necessary to be globally competitive, the local market for olive oil was flooded and prices were low. Without a sufficient return on labor and investment, Palestinian olive farmers began to abandon farming as a means to support their families, which in turn posed a direct threat to food security.

In 2004-5, the PFTA began educating farmers about the financial benefits of having their oil certified as organic and labeled as Fair Trade. Twenty farmers signed on. In 2004, the price of a kilogram of olive oil was around 8 shekels; through Fair Trade Certification, in just one year that price doubled to about 16 or 17 shekels per kilogram, providing the farmers with a living wage and income from their land. Eventually all the PFTA cooperatives received Fair Trade Certification in olive oil, and the first organic certification in Palestine.

The path has not been smooth—there is competition from mass-produced olive oil from Italy and Spain. Palestinian olive oil was sometimes sold internationally as “from the Holy Land” and sold as Israeli. However, through the PFTA, Canaan Fair Trade was able to sell Palestinian olive oil as “Palestinian” abroad, while providing a fair price to the farmers. It is this combination of internal, grassroots connections with the farmers and an expertise in navigating export markets that makes Canaan Fair Trade so special and of such value to Palestinian farmers.

We learned how the building of Israel’s apartheid wall and the seizure of Palestinian agricultural and grazing land impacted farmers and small landowners. Under constant threats from nearby settlers and restricted from access to their land by the IDF, these farmers are only able to pick their olives at certain times—and even those are not certain—and prohibited from bringing food or water or implements to prune their trees. While picking olives was still a beautiful and communal activity, the images of land divided by the wall, destroyed trees and distraught farmers permeated our thoughts.

Every year, the PFTA farmers celebrate the end of the olive harvest at Canaan Fair Trade’s headquarters in Burqin in a festival called jaru’a. Last November was extra special because it was the Canaan Fair Trade’s tenth anniversary and Canaan invited 2,000 farmers. Our intrepid band of six joined the festivities, ate maftoul and chicken, debke danced to a band and listened to achievements of the past year. The final day of the tour was capped with a hike and picnic in the nearby hills to learn about the histories, plants and ecologies of the surrounding landscape.

This trip gave me a deeper appreciation of organic agriculture and the transformative impact of fair trade on farmers’ lives and well-being. Canaan’s Jerusalem olive oil is available at Whole Foods stores. Its popular Nabali Tree and Rumi Tree Olive Oils are available from AET’s Middle East Books and More. Palestinian olive oil also is available for resale by interfaith groups and non-profit organizations, or through its website, <www.canaanfairtrade.com>.

I would encourage anyone wanting to show solidarity with Palestinian farmers to consider joining the 2015 Olive Harvest Tour and to support Canaan’s sales in the U.S. in any way you can. The rewards are many—and some of them are very tasty, indeed! 


Randa Kayyali is the author of The Arab Americans and a postdoctoral research fellow at George Mason University. She recently received her Ph.D. in Cultural Studies.