Family Farms in Israel - A Traditional Form of Settlement
Family farms in Israel have been a traditional form of settlement since the establishment of the State of Israel. There are approximately 150 such farms in Israel – some of which are old and some are relatively new. Family farms are located predominately in the periphery, and most of the new farms in Israel were established through the Wine Route Project in the Negev.
Farms in Israel and the Wine Route Project
The Wine Route Project calls for the establishment of 30 family farms, and 23 have already been established along the Wine Route. The project was initiated in 1997 by Ariel Sharon who was then Minister of Infrastructure, the late Rafael Eitan who was Minister of Agriculture, and Shmuel Rifman, head of the Ramat Negev Regional Council. The idea was the result of a decision and need of the Israeli government to bolster the settlement of the Negev according to the vision of David Ben-Gurion. Settling the Negev was also based upon historical and archeological evidence of settlements that existed in the Negev during the Nabbatean and Byzantine Periods, when intensive agriculture, grape cultivation, and winemaking flourished in the Negev Highlands.
Farms in Israel – The National Parks
The National Parks Authority joined the family farms project in the Negev, and designated 30 sites where farms could be established without harming the environment or natural surroundings. The Antiquities Authority conducted archeological surveys and took care to preserve the archeological remains that were present at the sites. The project was also assisted by other institutions and organizations such as the JNF helped construct the first infrastructures, as well as the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Security, the Ministry of Housing, the Jewish Agency, the Israel Land Authority, and the Ramat Negev Regional Council.
Advertisements in the media encouraged families who were interested in homesteading to apply for the single-family farms project, and those who were selected received the government's permission to begin building their farms at their sites.
Israel Farms Combine Agriculture with Tourism
family farms in the Negev engage in agriculture and tourism, and the farms owners live on site. The various farm owners have chosen various crops such as grape cultivation and winemaking, raising cows, sheep, or goats for producing milk and cheese, and cultivating olives and producing olive oil. Many of the farms have built B&B cabins, restaurants, and shops for selling their produce. Many of the farms are open to the public, and visitors to the Negev are welcome to tour the farms and enjoy the unique life style they offer.
Israel Farms – An Impetus for Development of the Negev Desert
The family farms project has had an interesting and surprising impact upon the overall development of the Negev. The Negev, which was previously thought of as being nothing more than a stopping place on the way to Eilat or a Garden of Eden for rustic hikers, has now become a popular vacation area for families, tourists, and lovers of the desert. Visitors enjoy the rugged, natural panorama as well as luxury and comfort. The Negev is now an attractive, interesting, and unique place to visit.
Israelis have now discovered that the Negev offers a high standard of living and is an ideal place for raising a family. Many families are moving to the Negev, and it is now difficult to find a house in the new Naveh Boker neighborhood of the Ben Gurion Institute, Kibbutz Tlalim, or the community settlement of Eshalim. Ben Gurion would have been proud that the Negev is now flourishing again.
The Controversy Involving Farms in Israel
The family farms project in the Negev has recently become a controversial issue. Despite the fact that the project has been accompanied for many years by the government and encouraged by several government ministries, the State Attorney has issued eviction orders to some of the farms. The State Attorney claims that "The government has made a mistake in the manner in which it allowed the project to be implemented." Farm owners must now pay the price. The Ramat Negev Regional Council submitted an appeal to the High Court of Justice against the Israel Land Authority and the attorney representing them, demanding that the Authority and the State Attorney fulfill their obligations towards them. MK Yisrael Hasson has also joined the farm owners in efforts to pass an amendment to the legislation that would enable an arrangement for all the single-family farms throughout the country, and for the establishment of additional single-family farms in the Negev.
Israel Farms in the Future
A new project called "Edge of the Desert has recently begun in the area of Mitzpeh Ramon and the Ramon Crater. Vineyards and olive groves have already been planted on some of the farms, and tourist attractions will also be added. The idea behind the project is that the town of Mitzpeh Ramon will serve as the center and base for these farms and benefit from the commerce and tourism the farms will bring to the area.