Tag Archives: almonds

Good Bye – This is my last blog post

4 Jun

It’s over.  After almost five years and 100 (!) posts it’s time to lift my pen off the paper, time to lift my fingers off the keyboard and bring my “Notes from Galilee” blog to an end.  What started out as something experimental has developed into a passion that offered me a chance to report of my experiences from Israel every two or three weeks.

In onion field with my dog Max

Out on a walk in Galilee

This land is so wonderful, complex, challenging, rewarding, infuriating – a fertile ground to tell of stories that border on the sublime and the ridiculous. There’s never a dull moment here.  This led me to write about diverse topics like harvesting almonds in the fields, pressing virgin olive oil, stories of Jews and Arabs getting along and not getting along at all, of Muslims and Christians, stories of a holy land and the not so holy, Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and everywhere in between, food and more food, beer, Ramadan, soccer, war and more war, politics, religion and economy, stories of nature, wildlife, and lastly, of my children, of my family’s history in Israel and in America.

Your reader comments were a treat.  It was fascinating to learn that my posts were being read and shared in far away places in Senegal, Zambia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Finland, Thailand and dozens of other countries around the world.  Even in the age of internet, people wish to connect, reach out, extend a digital hand and touch someone.

I wish to continue to write, possibly return to what I love doing, writing fiction.  I’m confident my experiences will provide the raw material for the next story.  You’re welcome to explore any one of my three novels (they appear at bottom of this post).

In the meantime, thanks for following me around Galilee for the last few years.

Be well, be good, do good.

שלום

Maurice Labi

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/Maurice-Labi/e/B00A9H4XEI

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandn

 

Almond Fields Forever

5 Sep
Galilee almond tree at full winter bloom

Almond tree at full winter bloom

Okay, the title of this post doesn’t have the same ring as the famous Beatles song, but here, in Galilee, almond fields are eternal.  Originally from China, almond trees made their way to the Mediterranean region.  At first the wild almond trees were poisonous and full of cyanide to ward off the leathery tongues of goats.  In time, man domesticated the tree, and the almonds, a cousin of the peach and cherry, became man’s best friend on the road.  In biblical times, during the great famine, Patriarch Jacob sent his sons to Egypt stocked with almonds.  During Roman times, horsemen and mercenaries lived on almonds as the ultimate Trail Mix.  When attending a wedding, guests showered the newlywed couple with almonds for good luck.

Liora at the controls

Liora at the controls

Recently I too was in luck.  It was mid-August, the height of the almond harvest in Galilee.  Liora, a third-generation woman farmer and friend of ours offered to give me a private tour of “the business.”  So I get in my car and drive thirty minutes to Kibbutz Geva to meet her.

The first thing I see are stretches of flat land extending in very direction.  At one end, there’s a makeshift camp covered with tarp. Under it, all-terrain vehicles are at the ready.  Several semi-trailer trucks appear, sending clouds of red dust into the air.  They’re loaded with un-shelled almonds.  Liora stands like General Patton and gives out orders into her two-way radio. The drivers inside the trucks come to a halt, swerve, and follow her every command.

Almonds drying in the sun

Almonds drying in the sun

She waves to me to come and join her under the tarp.  I obey.

“So this is where we scatter the almonds to dry,” she says and gestures in a sweeping motion.  “Tons and tons and tons of them.”  We step out from under the shade.  I cast a flat hand over my eyes and scan the endless rows of drying almonds in the sun.  I ask her a city-slicker question: “Why don’t you let the almonds dry at the foot of the trees where you shook them off the branches?”

Her face, brown from too much sun, caked with dust, becomes quizzical.  She declares the obvious: “What do you think, we live in your California, huh?  If I leave the almonds on the ground for more than one day, they’ll be gone the next!”  I help her out.  “Thieves,” I say.  Liora chuckles and says, “Definitely not goats.”

And so begins a massive month-long operation where tons of almonds are harvested at the source, loaded on containers that are loaded onto big trucks that drive to Kibbutz Geva.  There, the almonds in their shells are left to dry for days, tossed and re-tossed, collected into bins and delivered to the almond almonds 3mill just one kilometer away.  At the mill the millions of almonds are crushed, the shell extracted. Then they’re sorted by size, grade and quality by Italian-made machinery.  The shells ultimately will become feed for cattle.  The almonds will be packed and sold to a nuts merchant.  Israel’s almond fields are large but they’re dwarfed by California’s (100 times larger!); the world’s number 1 grower and exporter.

Reporting from Galilee

Reporting from Galilee

Liora and her husband Allon who’d taken me on an olive tour a couple of years ago make a good living off the land.  Unlike California’s Central Valley that relies on rainwater and sporadic drilling, the almond trees in Israel rely on delivered irrigation as well, making them less vulnerable to nature’s whims.  But there are other problems: pests, excessive heat, and the bees.  “Bees?” I ask Liora.  “I thought they’re the good guys that pollinate the blossoms.”  Liora speaks of the bees and the trees as if they were her wayward children, worthy of an occasional spanking. She says, “Almond trees are just dumb.  They’re stupid!  All fruit trees blossom in April.  Almonds do it in February, at the peak of winter.  Now you show me a bee that wants to freeze its butt off buzzing from one flower to the next?”

Homemade almond milk

Homemade almond milk

I nod, trying to imagine a swarm of bees with frozen butts.

Almonds grown in Israel meet most of the local demand.  The rest is imported from California. Whereas California almonds are smaller, rounder, Galilee almonds are longer, meatier, more crunchy. Israel sells almonds to Jordan through a land-bridge and from there to the rest of the Arab world.  A prince sitting on a bunch of pillows in the Emirates of the Persian Gulf could be sipping dark, strong tea and not know he’s munching on Israeli almonds.

At home, other than to add a splash to my morning coffee, I gave up on milk several years ago. Instead, we drink homemade almond milk.  Its nutrient value is high, it tastes good and it’s easier on the stomach.  If it was good enough for Jacob and the Romans, it’s good enough for me.

Enjoy.

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/Maurice-Labi/e/B00A9H4XEI

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

 

Springtime in Galilee

16 Mar

If I were a tour guide I would tell vacationers to come to Israel during April-May, the height of the spring season. Second choice would be September-October when the heat dies down.

Lower Galilee seen from Nazareth

Lower Galilee seen from Nazareth

Summer is brutal, mentioned in a prior blog. Winter in Galilee is often wet and bone-chilling.

Our house in Galilee is in the middle of Israel’s farmland, the country’s breadbasket.

Homegrown straberries in our garden

Homegrown straberries in our garden

The earth is deep brown, red, fertile.  Given water, anything grows.

Soon to be cut green wheat, barley and turned into hay

Soon to be cut green wheat, barley and turned into hay

Anything.

During spring the sun hangs in the sky longer, itching for summer.

Farmers roll by on tractors to tend to their crops.

The hired help – Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese men – follow behind the Israeli farmers on trucks.

Homegrown Lettuce

Homegrown Lettuce

Vine leaves taking hold

Vine leaves taking hold

There’s a buzz in the air.  You can smell it, feel it, taste it.

Bees had just pollinated hundreds of almond trees near our house.

Butterflies scatter.Spring 12

Winter birds who’d come from as far as Europe fly overhead.Spring 4

Dogs pull at leashes, wanting to stretch little used limbs.

Stray cats come out from their hiding spots and tempt the sleepy dogs.

Women roll up shutters and blinds from mud-splutteredSpring 8 windows.

Men climb on ladders and wipe off the winter streaks from the glass.

Kids brush off the dust from their skateboards.Spring 3

Boys pedal on creaky bikes.

Almonds

Almonds

Old men linger near orange blossoms on their way to and from temple on Sabbath.

There’s talk of Passover in the air.

Everyone’s got something to do, somewhere to go.

When are you coming to visit?

Scroll down to see more of Galilee’s bounty.

 

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

The Men Behind the Olives in Galilee

23 Mar
Olives 1

The “Shaking” Machine at work

“It’s a blustery day,” would be something Winnie the Pooh would have said about one chilly day in Galilee last December.  I step outside my house in a hat and a windbreaker and await my ride to the fields.

Allon, a fifty-something farmer, and a longtime resident of Kfar Tavor, shows up in his truck.  “Get in,” he says.  “We’re running late.”  Ten minutes later, we arrive at a large olive grove.  The ground is heavy and soggy.  I climb onto a large tractor that makes its way to the first row of  olive trees.  It’s a race against time.  The rain will soon return, making the picking of the olives much more difficult.

Allon at the Controls

Allon at the Controls

Allon is a seasoned farmer in Galilee.  He’d also gone to California’s Central Valley to learn the latest farming methods.  He owns thousands of almond trees.  And a small vineyard.  But today he’s working as an olive-picking contractor.  He’s renting out his Italian-made equipment.

For me, who’d long thought apples, oranges, chicken breast (and olive oil) came from the supermarket, today’s a vivid reminder of how a farmer’s life  and fortune are unpredictable.  Olive oil is big business.  The olives must be picked within days or the entire year’s crop will be ruined.  The olive press facility is booked solid, operates 24/7.  There’s a time slot assigned to this one harvest.  You don’t show up, they’ll press someone else’s olives.

The farmer wheels his tractor inside the grove, unloads a stack of empty crates.  Allon goes to work.  In his hands he holds a joy-stick with levers, controls the “shaker” machine remotely.  Move one lever up and the mechanical arm of the machine snakes its way towards the tree trunk.  Toggle another lever and the clamp, the “mouth” of the machine, wraps itself around the trunk like a noose.

Loosening the olives off the branches with sticks

Loosening the olives off the branches with sticks

This is when the men show up.   Six farmhands, all foreign — Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese — spread a wide tarp on the ground, at the foot of the tree.  It’s cool, the sun has lost its punch, yet the Oriental men cover their faces in scarves, bandannas, sunglasses.  I question Allon.  “They don’t want to burn their skin,” he says.  “To them, black is not good.”  He then signals them with a head nod.  The men produce long, stiff wood sticks.  They swing the sticks and whack the olive branches overhead.  Again.  Again.  And again.  That’s the first step in “loosening” the tree.  If the trees could talk, they would cry.  Whack!  The branches quiver in the wind.Olives 2

Allon smiles, exposes a wide gap in his teeth.  It’s time to bring in the big guns.  “Stay to my right,” he tells me, urging me to keep away from the long metal arm that slithers towards the tree.  He illustrates how the clamp grabs the trunk.  “It’s like sex,” he explains, motioning to how the arm glides under the tree canopy, under its “skirt.”  The sexual references don’t end there.  As the expert in the field, pun intended, he says the ideal tree trunk must have an “erection” – in other words, straight and without a bend.  “This way the clamp can get a good grip.”

He laughs.  I can’t help but laugh too.

One final toggle of the joy-stick and the show begins.  The tree begins to shake violently, as if possessed by demons.  It’s no wonder the Italian machine is called “The Tornado.”  The branches shake; they’re out-of-focus.  The noise is similar to that of a blender at full grind.  Hundreds, if not thousands of olives are released from the tree, glide in the air, and fall as casualties on the tarp below.

One tree done.  Five hundred to go.

“Why do you push the schedule to its limit?” I ask, thinking one false move, someone calls in sick, the machine breaks downs, and it’s all lost.

“It’s a calculated risk,” he says.  “We wait until the last minute because that’s when the fruit (the olives) are at their heaviest.  They’re at maximum ripeness.  And they carry maximum oil.  They WANT to fall off the trees.  We just help mother-nature.”

The men lift the edges of the tarp and push the olives — green, black, purple — to the center, and from there, to the conveyor belt.  A large air blower blows off the leaves before the olives are dumped into the crates.

These Oriental men replaced the Arab men of yesteryear.  The men are “imported” to Israel.  Allon is their caretaker.  The men are under a work contract for a few years.  When done, they’ll return home with the money they’d saved.  In the meantime, Allon provides them with shelter (bungalows in a nearby village), medical care, and wages.  A Thai man calls out to the Chinese man in Hebrew: “Bring the crates over here!”

Hebrew is the one thing that unites them!

Each crate contains 900 pounds of olives (400 KG)

Each crate contains 900 pounds of olives (400 KG)

Within two days Allon and his crew will have picked the olives off the five hundred trees.  They will turn bare.  The fruit will be hauled to the olive press in an Arab village.  After four nights of pressing and squeezing, the fruit will surrender its juices and produce the finest olive oil.

See you at the market.

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teen-age daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com or BN.com.