No matter where you roam, by choice or for political reasons, food brings us all back home. It’s like a time machine that transports us backwards to memories of our mothers and fathers. Or forwards when we share food traditions: A new project in a troubled neighbourhood of Tel Aviv, Neve Sha’anan, is attempting to connect people to their food traditions using hydroponics, a novel and sustainable way for community gardening.
The neighborhood is problematic as is it’s low-income and has attracted dozens of thousands of refugees and migrants from East Africa. It’s causing political tension in the city by Israelis who believe the refugees are bringing crime into the city. Some “refugees” are seeking political asylum. Others are legal migrant workers and others in the hood are native Israelis born into a hard scrabble life.
The idea of the new project Rooftop Gardens, is to connect all the parts of this troubled community to one common denominator: real food from home.
Leading the project is Lavi Kushelevich (pictured above). He’s an urban farming consultant leading more than a handful of projects to rejuvenate Tel Aviv – including Green in the City – and to turn it into a food-producing engine.
There are many benefits to this, Lavi will explain.
It is possible to grow food close to where we live, even when home is a concrete jungle or apartment building.
Since urban soil is contaminated with lead and other heavy metals, the best solution for growing food sustainably in cities is using a soil-less system, also known as hydroponics. Hydroponics requires treated water and a basic circulation system to work well. It’s actually a fast way to grow tasty, fresh food if you know how to handle some parameters like water chemistry and other environmental factors.
We spoke with Lavi about the project.
The first hydroponic garden has been built in the most difficult neighbourhood of Tel Aviv, on the most difficult street. The building is mixed with many cultures: Eritreans, Nigerians, Sudanese, Chinese, people from Darfur, Israelis – many languages and cultures. The objective is to make the apartment a food garden with tastes from home to connect residents to each other as a community, Lavi explains.
“It’s like the Tower of Babylon. They speak so many languages in that building and now they have a reason to communicate,” says Lavi.
The group currently meets formally on Saturdays, and showing up is also volunteers from the City of Tel Aviv to those from NGOs, and anyone interested in learning about this way of community gardening.
“Now these people who are outsiders are given a chance to talk and the Israelis can see that they aren’t monsters,” says Lavi. “That’s so beautiful. And it’s fun being on the roof.
“We have now given the residents tools to grow their own food. And taught them about hydroponics, while we bring them seedlings with tastes of flavours from all over the world where these people once called home.”