Herbs on a Rooftop

If it were you growing herbs on a rooftop of a building, would you consider your enterprise as agricultural or industrial? And then, why would it matter? (Third question: When are we returning to our cruise on the Costa Diadema? We will be back on board the ship, on its way to Sardinia, very soon. Do not worry!)

One of the places that Shelley Brinn, the proprietor of Tour Adumim, likes to take people to is a rooftop garden in Mishor Adumim, the industrial area close by to where we live. She was organizing a small group of residents and tourists to visit this place one recent afternoon, and why not?

The hitch was that we would have to make our own way there, and as I have mentioned before, that ain’t easy without a car. Fortunately, there was room for us in someone else’s vehicle, and off we went, with none of us knowing exactly where the place was. And, I should add, there are no big signs, or any signs for that matter, showing the way, not even on the building itself. Without a series of cell phone back and forths, we would never have found our way to the very end of nowhere, where Shelley was waiting for us. We went inside to join the others for an explanation about what happens on the rooftop above. Someday, they’ll have a visitors center with a multimedia presentation in several languages. Right now, it was just Shelley speaking – mercifully – in English, and us sitting on plastic chairs in a dingy warehouse.

So what’s the big deal about this kind of farming? Consider for a moment: You’re taking the otherwise unused roof of an industrial building, approximately the size of a football field, and using it to grow herbs. Because you’re already in an urban environment, you don’t have to ship your produce a long way to market. With the methods you are using, you can grow a lot more a lot faster, using much fewer resources: water, pesticides, and fertilizer.

Projects like this are springing up all over the world, as entrepreneurs try to find efficient ways of producing more food. This one, we are told, the brainchild of a couple of Russian olim, is particularly innovative in ways we would shortly experience.

Before we went upstairs, Shelley popped the seemingly innocuous question: If you’re growing herbs or vegetables on the roof of a building in an industrial park, are you engaged in agriculture or industry? What does it matter? Because the government charges companies a different rate for water usage depending on which category you fit into. Which is cheaper? Agriculture. Well then, that’s the answer: you’re doing agriculture! Except you don’t get to decide; some government official does. The government here, in its wisdom, decided that these guys, who probably have less proteksia than the average Israeli, should be charged the higher rate. After all who needs the money more than the government? (Or is that the wrong question to ask?) So our entrepreneurs have been spending a lot of time and energy fighting the Bureaucracy to get their water rate reduced so that they can continue to remain in business and supply herbs to – for now – two of the largest grocery chains in The Land.

We ascend the stairs and this is what we see:

That’s a lot of lettuce!

If our heroes weren’t so busy fighting the bad guys, they might have time to put up a website explaining what they are doing and – the big question – how. All I can tell you that they plant the herbs in holes in white tubes, using industrial residue instead of soil. Don’t ask me how they do it, but they can move the holes farther apart as the herbs grow. Plus everything is on conveyer belts, so that the rows can also move. I think this has something to do with the how much nutrients and fertilizer the plants get as they grow bigger.

from tiny seedlings…….

I mentioned that there were some Ma’ale Adumimers in our group along with some tourists from The States. There are some folks who come here for a visit and they don’t look much different from the rest of us. But there are some tourists that, from across a crowded room, you can spot them. T-O-U-R-I-S-T-S. There’s something about the way they look and dress that makes them stand out in a crowd.

We had two such couples in our group, and as we were finishing our stay, they asked the following two questions: 1) Do you have to check the herbs for bugs, and 2) What blessing do you make on these plants, as they’re not grown in the ground?

Now I don’t want anyone to think that I’m minimizing these matters. (The answers, BTW, are that you would inspect these plants the same way you would any other, and the appropriate bracha is determined by the product itself, not the medium it is grown in; so for an herb, it would be borei pri adama.)

But is that all? Is that what you’re taking back with you to The States, what bracha to make on hydroponically grown plants? Aren’t you missing the forest for the herbs?

Our local entrepreneurs are part of a world-wide effort to feed the planet, and the powers-that-be in these parts, not only are they not helping, they are getting in the way.

I’ve noticed something that’s starting to happen recently; maybe you have too. Countries that for years and years have had no use for us here in The Land are beginning to change their tune. Why is that? They’re coming to understand that they need what we can offer much more than they need Arab oil.

A lot of countries need our knowledge about how to fight Islamic terrorism. (Can we take a moment to savor the irony of this situation: a Jewish state teaching others how to defend themselves.) In addition to all the other technology being pioneered here in The Land, these governments desperately need our knowledge about water conservation: how to desalinate and recycle this precious commodity. And maybe even how to grow food with a lot less effort and with fewer resources – that is if a few pointy-headed bureaucrats, who also can’t see the forest for the herbs, would just get out of the way and let the growers grow. Think about that while you’re seasoning your food with some fresh Israeli herbs – which you have carefully washed and made the appropriate blessing: Thank you G-d for letting us return to our Land, where we can grow crops on the tops of roofs.

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