Tired of nagging your kids to get out of their rooms and away from their computers? Nostalgic for the days when having fun meant getting your hands dirty?
Here's an activity that not only gets them to bond with Mother Earth, but also teaches them a bit about where their food comes from. As an added bonus, they also get to help out the less fortunate.
And it doesn't cost a thing.
On the last Friday of every month, anyone interested in some good dirty fun can drive up to Nahalal, Israel's first workers' moshav, located in the Jezreel Valley (also famous as the home of Moshe Dayan and other luminaries), to help pick vegetables for needy families. The activity is organized by Leket Israel, the country's largest food bank, set up in 2003 with the goal of salvaging crops that would have otherwise gone to waste.
Today, Leket supplies fresh produce to close to 300 non-profit organizations feeding more than 60,000 hungry people around the country.
Volunteers can show up anytime between 7 A.M. and noon, when Leket staff members are around to show you what to do and answer questions. You'll probably need at least an hour there to feel you've experienced what it is to work the land, but if you're not used to exerting yourself in the fields, two hours should probably be your limit, especially on a hot day. A trip to Leket could be a first stop on a longer trip up north rather than a full-day activity.
Depending on what time of year you come, you'll be picking one of five crops deemed essential for most needy families: cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes and onions. Our group happened to land on an onion-picking day. Although we had every good intention of getting there by 7 A.M., as is often the case, we got held up and arrived an hour and a half later than planned. By that time, dozens of other families were already out in the fields picking away.
A Leket staffer handed us pails, showed us how to tear dead leaves off the onions, pointed to the big crates where we could dump our pails once they were full, and instructed us to stay in one row. After that, we were left on our own.
Picking onions, we discovered, doesn't require that much effort. There's no need to dig them out from under the earth or break them off branches. They're just there lying on the ground, so you can sit yourself down, grab one, tear off the leaves and plunk it in the pail. Still, knowing my kids, I held my breath, waiting for the usual whining – "I'm tired," "I'm hot," "How much longer?" – to begin.
But it didn't.
In fact, much to my surprise, they were completely absorbed in what they were doing, filling their pails at a faster and faster pace. Probably the most strenuous part of the whole activity is lugging the full pails to the huge crates where the onions are collected before being moved onto big trucks. But even though the kids seemed to be struggling a bit with their heavy loads, there were no complaints. For once, it was me who ended up being the killjoy.
"You guys ready to go?" I asked after about an hour and a half.
"Can I just fill up one more pail?" our little one responded.
How could I say no?
Although we did see families with some very young children, even infants attached to their parents in baby slings, picking crops is probably best suited for children ages 5 and up.
If you plan to go, make sure to wear closed-toe shoes and bring hats, sunscreen and water. Sandwiches and snacks are also recommended, since there's nowhere within walking distance to purchase food, and you do build up an appetite.
How about a catered brunch? Don't laugh. According to a Leket staffer, affluent American Jews in the market for unusual destination bar and bat mitzvahs have recently discovered the farmlands of Nahalal.
"We've had people fly in their kid's entire class for a bar mitzvah, take them around the country for two weeks and then have the ceremony here with a catered lunch in the fields," the staffer said. "We then give each kid a certificate for participating in this activity."
On our vegetable picking day, there were no certificates. We did come home, though, with very yellow, smelly hands to remind us of our fun day picking onions.
Where: Moshav Nahalal, Jezreel Valley
Getting there: Drive from the Nahalal Junction onto Road 75 toward Afula. Pass Nahalal and turn right at the next junction toward the Ramat David army base. Continue 300 meters and turn right onto a dirt road. Continue 500 meters and arrive at the Leket Israel field.
When: The last Friday of every month (except during the month of September) from 7 A.M. to noon.
Just to make sure activities are being held on the day you want to go, contact Leket at 09-744-1757 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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