Farmers Take Their Peppers to Campus

Direct sale is protest against high markups on produce; overrun by customers, farmers run out of food three hours early

Eyal Toueg

Farmers sold about eight tons of produce directly to consumers Monday in what they said was an act of protest against the high markups on produce in grocery stores.

The sale, hosted by the Tel Aviv University student union on campus, was supposed to last from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M., but the food ran out before 1 P.M.

Some of the students waiting in line said they were buying produce for friends or family, and many left with cartons full of food.

The so-called “pepper protest” began with pepper growers in the Arava town of Faran. The farmers showed TheMarker invoices proving that they were being paid an average of only 1.40 shekels for a kilogram of peppers.

Since these farmers grow food mainly for export, these are particularly high-quality peppers. Yet the Plants Production and Marketing Board website states that peppers are sold from distributors to retailers for an average of 10 shekels a kilo.

A Tel Aviv student union representative said she hoped that produce sales would become a regular occurrence on campus, and additional sales are planned for colleges in the Galilee and Negev.

Farmers in the Arava have recently been pulling out their pepper plants, in keeping with Agriculture Ministry regulations designed to minimize pests. Many peppers are being destroyed in the process, since farmers aren’t being offered more than 1 to 2 shekels a kilogram for them, making picking them not worth their while.

Prices at Tel Aviv University on Monday were in may cases half of what they are at the grocery chains. Cherry tomatoes were being sold for 6 shekels a kilo, apricots and nectarines for 5 shekels a kilo, and cherries for 16 shekels. Fresh pomegranate juice was priced at 25 shekels per liter.

Earlier this month, the head of the Israel farmers union, Dubi Amitai, suggested that the ministerial committee examining the high price of foodstuffs should take a close look at the supermarket chains’ profits on fresh produce.