An interview with Malaka Canaan, Galiee Fellow.
[Pictured above: left photo: Malaka is on the left demonstrating the hydroponically grown greens; and on right photo: Malaka is in the middle, sharing a laugh with her program cohort peers]
Malaka Canaan is an Arab-Israeli woman from the Galilee town of Tamra. A mother of 4, she has been a teacher for the last 27 and most recently she established an educational farm with her family. She is a Galilee Fellow, a collaboration of the Heschel Center and Towns Association for Environmental Quality in the Beit Netufah basin (TAEQ).
How did you hear about the Galilee Fellows Program?
“Four years ago I established an educational farm in Tamra, which hosted visiting groups from the Green Network. [Editors note: the Green Network is an initiative to infuse environmental education into schools’ curriculum, which is now funded by the Israeli Ministry of Education.] Through this work I got to know the artist Rania Akel, who is a Heschel Fellows alumna and she recommended to participate in one of the Heschel programs.“
Tell us a little bit about the Farm.
“The farm is called Nabat Eco-Farm. It is built on a piece of land just south of route 70 in the fields of Tamra in the Galilee. It is owned by my brothers, who bought it six years ago. My siblings and I spent many years in Jerusalem and in Germany, and one day we all decided we need to get back to the earth. They found out that most of the agricultural land in Tamra was directed towards growing olive trees. The produce that still existed was full of pesticides, including the olive trees. Young people stopped working in agriculture and went to work in the Haifa Industries, and some were simply unemployed. Our eco-farm promotes sustainable techniques to teach local partners how to create a sustainable livelihood for the themselves, their families, and their communities. A vital part of our project is to teach people about the dangers of chemical-based farming methods and to change their mindset towards sustainable eco-farming.”
What has led to this trend, in your opinion?
The price of agricultural water spiked and it became very expensive to be a farmer. This is a trend that happens everywhere in Israel, it is a huge issue. Since I lived in Jerusalem for many years it came as a shock to me because Tamra used to be one of the largest producers of agriculture in Israel. At this point, I was a teacher for 27 years, my brother was a psychologist and a businessman, and my other brother was an architect and a painter. It made sense to run something educational – a place to teach people, and mainly my community, how to handle the earth.
How did you begin?
I took a class in Permaculture with the “Yesh Ma’ain” farm in Nahalal and began working in the land that we bought. We established a “food forest” as a solution for visiting the fields more than once a year during the olive harvest season. We wanted the forest to provide fruits all year long and we are proud that it does not contain any pesticides.
The next thing was to create a special hydroponic greenhouse in order to demonstrate how families can grow fresh greens on their roofs or in their backyard. Once the educational greenhouse was ready I reduced my hours as a teacher and began leading the farm. I signed up on Woofing Israel [an international network of volunteers) and received volunteers from all over the world who helped us plant the food forest.
How did the program contribute to your advancing your farm?
The program was amazing. I come from the field of education and not from environment and sustainability. I studied Permaculture but I did not receive any information about what is going on in the country. I learned about environmental issues, their sources and the connection to politics. One the the lectures that inspired me the most was when we met Dr. Dani Naveh who spoke about his experience living with one of the last Hunters-Gatherers tribes. It inspired me to start an anthroposophic school that integrates holistically the intellectual, practical, and artistic development of students. During the Upscaling Hackathon in Sachnin I joined the initiative that developed the upscaling of the Forest Kindergarten. That gave me some ideas about moving along with my idea of having an educational forest that hosts a school and a kindergarten. This idea is my project for the practical phase of the Galilee Fellows program which is slowly moving along.
How was the experience in the mixed – Jewish and Arab group?
I deeply believe in shared society. There is no other way. It is not the first time I am interacting with Jews – most of the volunteers in my farm are Jews from North America. They came with some stereotypes of what’s it like to work with Arabs. But then they arrived and realized that there is something so humane and collaborative that really changed their whole world view. That was really encouraging because that is how I believe one should live. It really gave me a good feeling, and that is my way of influencing.
The Galilee Fellows program trains Jewish and Arab leaders to create a better vision for the Galilee. It is a partnership between the Heschel Center and the Towns Association for Environmental Quality in Beit Netufah. The program is currently on its 2nd cohort.
The interview was conducted and condensed by Tamara Sharon Ross.