On a Galilee Farm Collective, Keeping Ancient Fig-drying Tradition Alive

Amit and Adi left big city life for Kibbutz Tzivon, where they preserve age-old methods of growing and processing fruits and grains. Dried figs, wild pickled capers, sprouted wheat flour and fruit leather are only some of their specialties.

A dried fig loaf (left) and fig leather from Yalkut Haroim.
Dan Perez

Adi Segal and Amit Pompan live in an ecological community in Kibbutz Tzivon in the Galilee and produce various foods using traditional methods. Dried figs, fig “leather,” capers, flour from local sprouted wheat and rare species of fruit trees are only a few of their specialties.

“This is the end of the drying season,” says Amit, trying in vain to spread a very large white sheet of thin silk fabric on the ground. “Very soon we will stop drying the produce in sunlight under the open sky, and to preserve the fruits, we start cooking them into honey.” As though to reinforce his words, a pleasant autumn wind plays with the edge of the flapping sheet of fabric.

Adi, who is holding Aluma, the couple’s 1-year-old daughter, puts her down and hastens to find large stones to keep the fabric in place. On the transparent sheet the two scatter sprouted wheat – grains of local wheat from the Sakhnin area, which were immersed in water and then left to sprout for 36 hours. “Usually one day is enough to dry the sprouted grains,” says Amit, “but in weather like this we’ll probably need two days.”

After drying and before being ground into flour and coarse grits in the local mill nearby, the grains are stored in a tall communal building on the outskirts of Kibbutz Tzivon. The building, a former factory that belonged to Kibbutz Sasa, is now used by artists and craftsmen who are members of this small community. “Creative people who believe in local production have assembled here,” says Adi. “Some like to build and create things with their own hands – for their own use or to earn a living. They bake bread, make cheeses, dolls, axes or yurts. Every Sunday we meet – the members of 12 kibbutz families – at the home of one of the families, and the shared communal effort is mobilized that day for the benefit of the host family.

Amit Pompan and Adi Segal dry sprouted wheat. He is raking the wheat that is scattered on the ground. She is crouching on the ground, spreading the wheat with her hands.
Dan Perez

“We eat three meals together and work shoulder to shoulder, and we have already built houses that way and helped with the work of very small businesses. They helped us out with starting the nursery, and in previous years the community went out with us to collect sumac in uncultivated fields or figs from deserted orchards. The children grow up together from infancy, and we have a shared goat pen, a communal vegetable garden and an olive orchard planted in the adjacent wadi. It’s somewhat like a summer camp for adults.”

Adi Segal was born in 1985 and grew up in Tel Aviv. Amit Pompan was born in 1984 in Jerusalem. The couple speak quietly and seriously. They met eight years ago and lived for three years on an organic farm in Kfar Yehoshua. Later they moved to the Farma Cultura farm near Moshav Nahalal (“A small community of eight people who lived from the land and taught one another and learned from one another”), and four years ago they moved to Tzivon (“We were looking for agricultural land to cultivate – not a simple matter for someone whose parents weren’t farmers and who doesn’t have much capital – and a communal lifestyle”).

We drive to the couple’s home, modest and pleasant, equipped with a natural air conditioner and a glass greenhouse. On the breakfast-lunch table there are many different kinds of foods, all prepared by the couple themselves: sourdough pancakes made with a sprouted wheat flour (“Easier to digest and rich in the nutrients of the wheat kernel”); fresh olive oil and pickled olives from an orchard in Kadita; wild pickled capers collected from fields near the community; apricot, mango and nectarine leather, which has a summery sweet-and-sour taste; and best of all – round loaves of dried figs with an unforgettable flavor.

A romantic product

These pressed fig cakes, fermented under pressure and prepared according to an ancient technique used in the Jish area (although there they usually make them square) were the trigger that started the tiny business developed by Adi and Amit. “It’s the most romantic and most local product you can imagine,” says Adi. “There aren’t many people who continue to dry figs using the traditional method, although before the establishment of the state in 1948 the custom was widespread. At the time, trucks set out from here bringing the famous dried figs of Jish to Jordan and the Lebanese mountain region. Today there remain only a handful of elderly people who adhere to the old tradition, along with young people for whom the tradition is in their blood, like Mahmoud Abassi, the friend who taught us.”

Amit Pompan, Adi Segal and their daughter Aluma pose for a photo.
Dan Perez

Along with the dried figs, there are other local food products, according to the season and in the small quantities typical of those who do everything by themselves. “All the dried figs, for example, are picked from abandoned orchards,” says Amit. “It’s hard work. You have to walk around outdoors in the summer heat and know the location of untended trees located in uncultivated areas. It’s hard to reach them, hard to pick, and there’s hidden competition among those in the know as to who will get there first. We don’t want to do that in the future with our products. The right way is to plant a special non-irrigated orchard of Biadi figs, the local species particularly suited to drying.”

At first Adi and Amit brought their produce to friends and family, who gave them as gifts; the serious attempt at a real business came a year ago, with the birth of Aluma, and the quantities are still tiny.

They acquired their knowledge from their neighbors in Jish and by visiting other Arab towns in Galilee and on the West Bank. “We rarely encountered anyone who was angry or surprised at a couple of Jews who wanted to know the secrets of the traditional local customs. There’s politics in the background, but the focus is on love of the land and the fruits in the basket,” says Amit. “People talk to each other about their land, although I’ve had opportunity to conduct profound discussions about the situation and about the gloomy consequences for their private lives. And still these people generously give us the knowledge handed down to them by previous generations.”

In addition to the artisanal products of their enterprise, called Yalkut Haroim, there is a nursery of rare species of local fruit trees. “In the Old World there were no nurseries,” says Amit, who gives short workshops and a 12-session year-long course on the subject of traditional orchards. “Nobody would ask for a ‘fig tree,’ because there were dozens of different species of figs – cultural knowledge that has almost become extinct. In the courses I give, I teach people the growing techniques of the local farmers – you plant seeds, make cuttings and grow the trees almost without artificial irrigation.”

There are eight species of fig tree on sale now, and next year there will be 16. In addition, there are rare species of apple trees and grapes, and more.