In recent years, Israeli farmers have been opening their fields to travelers looking for something different to spice up their day. When you’re ready for a break from Israel’s historical and archaeological treasures and for a rewarding, hands-on outdoor activity, you’ll find a number of self-pick farms to choose from.
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For example, in the heart of the Lower Galilee, northwest of Nazareth, the fields of the Spicy Way Herb and Spice Farm stretch westward toward Mount Carmel. For a fee of NIS 30 per small basket, you can head out to the furrows and pick sweet peppers in their season and an ever-changing variety of spices, which fill the air with their rich aromas.
The visitor center offers a huge variety of herbs and spices for sale and you can plan to spread out a picnic lunch on the tables outside, with a beautiful view of the fields.
The farm holds public tours every Saturday at noon; tours are in Hebrew, but you can watch a short film in English beforehand so you’ll be in the know and enjoy rubbing elbows with Israeli families, who will probably vie for the opportunity to translate for you. Groups can arrange ahead of time for an English-language tour at other times.
Of course, heritage is never far away. The spice farm is located down a short, well-marked dirt road just outside of the village of Bethlehem in Galilee, first mentioned in the Bible, where the German Templers built one of their towns in the early 20th century. Many of their original stout, old stone buildings still stand, some now housing galleries and restaurants.
Stomp your own grapes and bake your own bread
In the central Golan Heights is the farm and winery belonging to Tami Kabalo, a teacher, and her husband Babi, a farmer and an artist, at the cooperative agricultural community of Moshav Kidmat Tzvi, which they helped found about 30 years ago. After their children left home, about a decade ago, Tami and Babi decided to reinvigorate their empty nest by devoting themselves to their love of ecology, heritage and ready-made art.
At their farm, which they named Bellofri after their daughter (their home-pressed olive oil and homemade cheese are named after their grandchildren), you’ll be able to pick your own grapes and turn them into juice the way they did in Bible days – there’s nothing like a little barefoot grape-stomping to work off the pent-up energy of a car trip.
The Kabalos give a tour which they call “from the traditional to the new” showing how food production progressed over the millennia. In the fall, you can produce your own oil from olives you’ve harvested yourself and in the spring, bake your own bread with the grain you’ve gleaned. A variety of the activities, like the bread baking, are available any time of year on a pre-arranged guided tour.
Their En Nashut Winery (named after the nearby ancient synagogue), a restaurant made entirely out of recycled materials, their sculpture park, where each piece of art is based on a page of Talmud, and an animal corner where they help rehabilitate sick and injured farm animals, round out a unique picture.
Pick and give
For more of the above, but with a good deed too, you can also spend a two-hour stint volunteering with Project Leket, which partners with farmers to pick fresh fruits and vegetables that they then distribute to feed Israel’s needy. You can join a Leket team Sundays through Thursdays between 8 A.M. and 4 P.M. at fields just outside Rehovot (Kvutzat Shiller) and at Moshav Nahalal, not far from Haifa.
If you’re in Israel on Friday October 18, you can take part in marking World Food Day with a countrywide picking event. Volunteers are invited to four locations throughout Israel on Friday, October 18th to pick fruits and vegetables for distribution to the needy.