Photo credit: Stuart Tucker
Voices of Shemittah Farmers (Part III)
In the spring of 2006, from across the vast lobby of JFK Airport, Anita Tucker heard a woman scream very loudly, “The celery lady!” She was shocked and embarrassed when her husband said, “She’s talking about you.
Anita Tucker is a farmer who became an iconic figure while living in Moshav Netzer Hazani in Gush Katif, where she was known as “the lady of celery” because of the insect-free celery she grew in many large greenhouses. Additionally, she was a leading spokesperson for the fight against disengagement, which ultimately, in 2005, destroyed her two and a half acres of celery-growing greenhouses.
Today, Anita and her husband, Stuart, are part of a collective farm in the new Moshav Netzer Hazani located near Moshav Yesodot, east of Ashdod. They team up with other former Gush Katif farmers in the new moshav and are involved in growing many different vegetables outdoors which are more easily planted and picked and require less intensive care than the large greenhouses that they had in Gush Katif.
In this collective farm, a company is contracted to do the actual physical labor, tending to large fields of onions, cauliflowers and other vegetables. “Now there is not much direct connection, as the planting and picking is done by huge machines. No intensive agriculture like in Gush Katif, where I knew each plant personally,” she says .
“This shemitah year, about 18 families decided to mashmit the land – leave it fallow – and give up those profits that would have helped pay our taxes to the agricultural collective and our fees to the Israel Lands Authority,” Anita said. She explained that most of the land in Israel belongs to this Authority, which leases agricultural land in Israel to farmers, usually for 49 or 99 years, which is usually renewed if it is actively used for agriculture.
In his agricultural collective “there is an annual fee for each dunam. All the farmers in each moshav or kibbutz are united in a legal agricultural partnership (Aguda Haklait Shitufit) which provides services relating to the management of the farms for which a tax is paid to cover these expenses and to manage what relates to this agricultural partnership. . ”
The Tuckers prepared in advance for shemitah. Anita’s 79-year-old husband teaches more hours in high school, which helps them financially. As a former farmer, Anita, now 76, has no real pension or benefits from her former farm in Gush Katif. They were finally enjoying their investments there, she says, “but it was all cut short by the eviction. We did not receive enough compensation from the government to allow the construction of large greenhouses like we had in Gush Katif, and during the years of wandering that followed, we spent most of my savings.
After the expulsion, for seven and a half years, starting in 2005, they wandered from a hostel to a yeshiva dormitory to a temporary caravan in Ein Tzurim. Thereafter, she said, “it was very difficult to make a profit with such a small farm when most crops are grown for the local market, and there is little export of ordinary vegetables. , because of BDS, and because other countries can farm much cheaper.”
“Now we are growing for the extra income that is much needed and as an expression of love for the land of Eretz Yisrael, to see it prosper as promised.”
While their farming income today is significantly lower than it was when they worked in Gush Katif – that brings in about NIS 2,500 a month (about $793) before property and cooperative taxes – Tucker is grateful for that. additional income.
Anita says that the secretary of Netzer Hazani’s Aguda Haklait Shitufit told her that they had received a small payment that the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture gives to shomrei shemittah and that they also received a small payment from Keren HaShemittah, a private fund that supports shemittah-observant farmers, and expected to get a second one soon.
“Despite the financial challenge, we think it’s an incredible zchut for power mashmit our land this year, as is the commandment.
From Brighton Beach to Gush Katif
Born in London, England, and raised in Brighton Beach, New York, Anita and her husband, Stuart, originally from Cleveland, made aliyah in July 1969. In September 1969, she gave birth to their first child at Soroka Hospital, Beersheba, “in a room with nine Bedouins, which contributed to rapid absorption”, she says. “We chose to live in Beersheba for ideological reasons as teachers.”
Seven years later, in July 1976, they founded the first of three agricultural moshavim in Gush Katif. For almost 30 years, she said, “We have grown almost every vegetable and flower you can think of, changing each time according to the demands of the export market. We have grown insect-free Kosher Chasalat, Alei Katif leafy vegetables. I started experimenting with cabbage and parsley, which were successful, and each year we tried to grow more leafy vegetables. During our last years there, we developed an expertise in the cultivation of kosher celery.
During the first shemitah in Gush Katif some 40 years ago, Rabbi Shlomo Goren ruled that the area was not considered within the halachic boundaries of Eretz Yisrael. ” Even more Sharedi Hechsherim certified us that year,” she says. When the second shemitah in Gush Katif, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel decreed that there was a “safek”, doubt about the status of the land. So the Tuckers decided to grow crops in accordance with the shemitah laws.
They grew products loose from the ground and in greenhouses with a roof. They used flower pots that had drainage holes in the side rather than the bottom, and they lined the floors of the greenhouses with thick plastic sheeting to ensure the produce didn’t pull any food from the ground. (This method is known as matzah menutakliterally, “detached platform”.) According to many authorities, vegetables grown in this way are exempt from shemitah limitations.
This current shemitah cycle, says Tucker, is the first time she has deserved to own land where there is no doubt as to her status. “Jews living outside of Israel can’t have this hush. I hope they will come aliyah.”
Regarding the consumption of fruits and vegetables during the shemitah year, says Anita, “We ourselves try to only buy products with kedushat shvi’it(fruits and vegetables that have reached a certain stage of growth during shemitahwho have a particular holiness) or heter mechira. But we try very hard not to buy yivul nochri – crops grown by non-Jews or imported from outside Israel. We only buy from outside Israel in rare cases, if we have more charedi guests who eat nothing else.
Why do they try not to buy from non-Jews?
“Just because I love Eretz Yisrael and feel there is such an incredible zchut eat the yevul (harvests) from this barren land for so many years. Ignore that zchut and Davka look for food yevul nochri is IMHO like ignoring the miraculous zchut this HaKadosh Baruch Hu gave us in our time. It is as if Hashem presented us with an introduction to the mouth (redemption) and saying: ‘Here, take it!’ and we close our eyes and say, “I don’t see anything. Baruk Hashem we stand here with our eyes open and see the gift of the process of mouth before our eyes. »
Anita has a vision that whispers of the times of mouth“I think in the future all farming will be done in buildings, using roots completely in water, with no soil, and with artificial light bulbs providing sunlight. Plants will move in a row and be given biological insecticide treatment, and unnecessary side shoots will be removed, and there will be a report posted on each plant indicating what it needs, which goes to a computer which allows more heating or more cooling, more sunlight, etc.
“So we can always be in shemitah mode, with time to learn Torah and with plenty of vegetables and fruits to eat without having to work a lot.
“But now is the first time I’ve been zoche (privileged) to own land where there is no doubt that this land, according to halakha, must lie fallow (otherwise heter mechira). It feels like we’re getting closer to reality.
“Being a farmer is a way of life,” she adds. “Some years you can earn more and some less, but planting in yourself is a leap of faith. [In the Talmud], Masechet Zera’im is called ‘Masechet Emuna,’ the “Treatise of faith”.
A shorter version of this article appeared in Jewish Actionthe quarterly magazine of the Orthodox Union (Spring 2022).