Palestine

Eating in Ramallah

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This is Shakara’s intention. The non-profit organisation, founded in 2009, is bridging the gap between the Palestinian community and its farmers, educating the people on the benefits of seasonal crops and making a political statement in the process.

‘Food sovereignty’ is the rallying cry, and a phrase Shakara’s co-founders Aisha Mansour and Carine Abu Hmeid use often. In 2005, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in Palestine surfaced to gain leverage against Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories. More and more, Palestinians headed to urban areas for jobs, further from the land, which seemed to be constantly disappearing. Four years later, as a result, Mansour and Hmeid began to initiate programs based around food, which to this day have been instrumental to the region’s BDS movement and the Slow Food movement alike.

‘Basically Sharaka was started as an effort to ensure that consumers could get locally produced heirloom Palestinian products, and small scale producers could get their products to the consumers,’ explains Mansour. ‘Palestine is currently infiltrated with Israeli products and cheap stuff from around the world.’

Their role in the Palestinian Slow Food movement earned the organisation a spot at the Terre Madre and Slow Food Congress in Turin, Italy last year in October. Terre Madre, a network of like-minded communities throughout the world, is a global initiative celebrating culinary diversity and supporting local, organic and seasonal farming. In the Middle East, Terre Madre chapters, or ‘conviviums’ as they’re called, exist in Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Iran and most recently the UAE. But it’s the Ramallah chapter which has much more at stake than just healthy eating. ‘You have less opportunities to hike and wander on our mountains and hills picking wild food,’ Hmeid says.

Yet, they are working with what they have: planting gardens at local schools; watering trees on Tawil Mountain in Al-Bireh; hosting trips to better understand the techniques used by dairy farms and apple and citrus orchards, an educational project they call ‘Farm to Table’.

And when they’re not taking the people to the farm, they're bringing the farm to the people. Another grassroots agenda by Shakara is the Truck Farm, symbolised and carried out by a Volkswagen pickup truck housing a garden in its truck. The Truck Farm is a sort of mobile nursery for novice or would-be gardeners, delivering green-thumb knowledge as well as the seeds to put it into practice.

The entire operation relies mainly on the organisation’s five volunteers and the profits generated by the Majhoul restaurant. In a recent guest blog post, Mansour wrote about how ‘donor interventions’ to Palestinian farmers were transforming ‘Palestinian agriculture into a cog in the overall global economy.’ This intervention, she wrote, has led Palestinian farmers to grow for a global market with profit in mind, using non-traditional methods such as pesticides and foreign seeds, as opposed to organically and locally grown produce for sustainability. Just as she is wary of outside resources for the farmers, she is also wary of outside contributions to the organisation. The Shakara mindset is stubbornly local, a Slow Movement cornerstone, untainted or compromised by the areas outside the checkpoints. ‘A return to the land is critical for us in Palestine. Food production and our agricultural heritage is the backbone of our society and identity and necessary for us to rebuild our social networks and develop our community.’

Illustration: Joan Baz