Canaan Farm Olive Oil for St. Mark’s Advent Sale by Kitty Donnelly

The olive oil and tapenade we sell during Advent each year are from the Canaan Farm Co-operative of Burqin village in the northern West Bank.  Just before the olive harvest began during early October, the St. Mark’s pilgrimage group visited this fascinating and efficient co-operative, near Jenin, Palestine. The co-op began in 2005 with 14 farmers, but now has 1700 farmers and contracts with other oil presses in the region so they can accommodate this vast increase in participation.  The rapid growth is because the co-op guarantees a minimum price for good quality olives even when the market price was significantly depressed during the recession.  The co-op price fluctuates with the market and is always at least a few shekels above market price.  The co-op members are assured of  a fair price for good olives.

The current 2013 holiday issue of Saveur magazine has an article that tells about this co-opand the wonderful products they now export to a number of countries. Further information about the founding of the co-op was in Bloomberg news at this link

Canaan Showroom

An olive contains about 28% oil, 22% water, and 50% solids. After oil is extracted, the solid pellets which remain are used in the fields as fertilizer. The farmers practice age-old sustainable methods of terracing olive groves to capture rain water and prevent erosion and loss of top soil. Preserving rain water is important. Israeli authorities will not give Palestinian farmers permits to dig wells or to build reservoirs to hold rain water. Anything built without a permit can be shut down or destroyed by Israeli authorities.

Olive trees can live a thousand years and become stronger and more productive with good care, so that they are prized and passed down from one generation of a family to the next.

The olive trade represents 40% of all Palestinian agricultural trade. We were told that the West Bank has approximately 7.6 million olive trees, but 2.1 million of those trees are not accessible because of the Israeli construction of the Separation Wall, that is almost 28% of the olive trees in the West Bank.

Canaan cold pressing machine

We began in the press room where cold pressed olive oil is extracted by a high tech process that never exceeds 28 degree Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit). The room was immaculate.

The walls were covered with handsome patterned tiles surrounding Arabic sayings on tile   reminding workers to work safely and cleanly.

Words to encourage Cleanliness and Care

To ensure highest quality, farmers only bring very fresh picked, intact olives that have no cuts and have not been stepped on.  A single farm’s olives are fed into a large washing tank. After washing, the olives are directed into tanks to be cut and sliced in a nitrogen atmosphere that excludes oxygen which would lower quality.  Canaan large storage vats that hold the oil

Then the mass is pressed at a controlled temperature to extract cold pressed oil.  After this extraction process,  modern scientific lab tests the olive oil to verify low levels of acidity and oxygenation and good flavor to determine its grade. Extra virgin olive oil has acidity of less than 0.8 g per 100 g. Extra virgin oil is stored in large underground vats, again topped with nitrogen gas to protect it from oxygen.  Canaan draws and bottles extra virgin oil in response to orders, so the oil is always supplied as freshly bottled.  They also bottle olive oil infused with garlic, with pepper, with chili and with thyme.

The Canaan Co-op contributes to the farm community beyond paying a fair price for agricultural products.  Each year they distribute the “virgin premium” which is funding invested in the community. They support Trees for Life and over a period of 7 years have planted 80,000 olive trees.  Ten scholarships are provided to local universities for members of farmer families who lack education.  They have a micro-loan program for women. They also support a program to encourage the recycling used oil for fuel.   The co-op is organized as a Palestine Fair Trade group and all their products are certified Fair Trade.


Most products are also organic.  A contract has been developed with Whole Foods grocery chain in the US to sell products including their tapenade.  The bulk of their production is sold in Europe and the US to individuals and groups eager for Fair Trade products and willing to pay the price differential to obtain them. They also supply lower grade virgin olive oil to the manufacturer of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap.

The co-op also supports women’s co-ops which prepare olive oil soap, herbal mixtures such as za’atar, Palestinian couscous and spreads such as tapenade. The co-op has also begun marketing local almonds.  They deep freeze nuts and couscous to -27 degrees Centigrade, as a non-chemical organic means of fumigation. They now supply fair trade almonds to Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Watch for almonds in Ben and Jerry’s ice cream when you next indulge and look for Canaan tapenade on the shelves of Whole Foods.


As we begin the Advent sale at St. Mark’s Church, look carefully at the  true extra virgin olive oil from the Canaan Farm Co-operative.  The Pilgrimage group will remember the farm families who raised these olives and benefit in so many ways from the Co-op sales stays and the outward ripples of good deeds from this co-operative. Many of these farm families hosted members of our pilgrimage in their homes. So when you buy Co-op products as gifts for others or to enjoy yourself, your act will  strengthen the bonds of goodwill between St. Mark’s and these farm families.


Reflections from the Holy Lands

Please mark your calendars for Tuesday, November 19:

The St. Mark’s pilgrimage group will be sharing their stories and reflections from their trip to the Holy Lands. The evening begins with delicious Middle Eastern food. Please stay to hear about the signs of hope that our group saw for the Middle East.

Place and Time: St. Mark’s Nave, 6:30-9pm.

Jogging in Jerusalem

If one can cope with the city’s steep hills, jogging in inner Jerusalem can be easily accommodated.  Early morning, before the shops open,is probably the best time.  Although the sun has yet to rise, the streets are well lit and the sidewalks virtually empty.

I’ve found jogging to be an effective means for understanding not only the geography of a city’s center, but points of its history and culture as well.  This has been the case with Jerusalem.  Jogging outside the walls of the Old City, one of many of Jerusalem highpoints provided a striking vista of the Mount of Olives to the east  The route along the southern side of the Old City provides a view of a large archeological site with diggings that expose layers of Jerusalem’s history from Herod’s reign through that of the Romans, Byzantines and Umayyads.

A jog through West Jerusalem provided evidence of British rule (1918 -1947, known as the Mandate Period).  Along Hebron Road, I passed a now decommissioned hospital built by the British in the late 1920’s.  Reaching the King David Hotel, I noticed an exterior plaque commemorating a bombing of the southern portion of the hotel (the site of British administration) by the Irgun (Jewish underground) in late 1946.

West Jerusalem is also the site of Independence Park.  I was surprised to pass gravesites along the southern side of the park. Consulting one of our guides, I learned the gravesites are the remnants of a former Muslim cemetery, desecrated during the conflict that erupted (after the British departure).  The Jewish cemetery in east Jerusalem was also desecrated, evidence of the intense ethnic hostilities that have lingered for more than half a century.  In short, jogging can help highlight a city’s cultural splendors while occasionally revealing the ugly underside of its history.


The Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations – Sunday ends with hope

Garden of Gethesemane The garden offers a small but lovely hint of the olive groves that covered the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives in the time of Jesus.  Some of the trees there today have been scientifically dated as being approximately 2,000 years old.  Some are 15 feet or more in circumference: enormous and gnarled, yet still bearing fruit.  Around them on the ground are beautiful wildflowers.   The entire grove is contained within an iron fence, but one can still sense the serenity of the grove and easily imagine Jesus and his disciples retreating to it on many occasions, including the night of his arrest.

 A church was built adjacent to this grove as early as the 4th century CE.  The present Church of All Nations was built in 1924.  Its floor is paved in a mosaic pattern that copies the floor of a much earlier church.  In places thick glass reveals the original mosaic paving below.  The focal point of the church is an exposed craggy rock, said to be the place where Jesus prayed in his agony and committed himself to God’s will while his disciples slept under the surrounding olive trees.  Many visitors kneel around the rocky outcrop in order to touch or kiss the stone.  On the wall above it is an immense mosaic depicting Jesus praying on a similar outcrop.  While we were there, groups of pilgrims from Japan, Europe, and Latin America gathered around the garden and in the church, truly illustrating the reach of the Christ’s teaching and the promise of his resurrection.  Given the examples of human fear and folly we had witnessed and learned about earlier, this peaceful setting with its diverse, respectful visitors, provided a fitting and hopeful end to the day.




Silwan – From the rooftop

Settlers in SilwanAfter lunch on Sunday, Faraj, our Palestinian guide, took us to Silwan – an area where there is always the threat of a clash between Palestinians and settlers.  Faraj asked if we could visit a home which he could see had a rooftop view of the Silwan.  The man there inquired as to why we would want to come.  When Faraj told him it was to better understand the area, he and his children kindly took us to their rooftop patio which afforded a spectacular view up to the walls of the Old City, the Kidron Valley, and up to the Mt. of Olives.   

 Silwan is home to about 32,000 Palestinians.  In the last decade, both the City of David and Silwan have become the scene of controversy because of archeological excavations by the Israeli government and their efforts to demolish the houses of many residents, as well as the movement of Jewish settlers into Silwan.  Adjacent to the couple’s house was a temporary synagogue operating out of a tent erected within a chain link fence.  

In the valley below, Faraj pointed out an area where 88 houses have been under demolition orders since 2005 (the end of the Second Intifada).  The municipality of Jerusalem has put out orders to demolish the houses so as to recreate the “gardens of Solomon” which once covered the valley floor.  During these same years, Palestinians and their Israeli supporters have been protesting these development plans, to the point that there is a permanent “protest tent” erected in the neighborhood.  A number of non-governmental organizations have been assisting with lawsuits seeking to overturn the demolition orders.  Evidently even Prime Minister Netanyahu has pressed the municipal government to put the development project on hold. He and other leaders fear that if it proceeds, it could unleash a major wave of protests and violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

 While Faraj was explaining the situation to us, the couple’s daughter and son (ages 6 and 10) served us fruit juice in little plastic cups, demonstrating the hospitality for which Middle Eastern families are famous.  We were all touched by the contrast between their innocence and the controversies that surround their lives every day.



Understanding the settler movement

Yuval, our Israeli guide, categorizes settlers as falling into two broad categories: ultra-orthodox ideological Zionists and “settlers of convenience.”  The former are determined to resettle all parts of greater Israel, including East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which they see as Judea and Samaria.  Their political clout over the decades has led to strong government support for new settlements (such as those within the expanded municipal boundaries of Jerusalem) and for the take-over of Palestinian homes in long-established neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. 

Settlers”of convenience” on the other hand are primarily attracted to new suburbs or towns constructed on Palestinian land less because of their ideology than because of financial and family needs.  The Israeli government subsidizes their housing, transportation, and education costs, making settlements in the West Bank very attractive to Israelis of modest means as well as to large contingents of poor immigrants from Russia and other countries.   Yuval ended the tour with a plea that we not “hate” the settlers but instead understand and help dismantle the system of policies that makes it easy for them to ignore the impact that their choice of residence has on the Palestinian population.



Visiting Sheik Jarrah – the asymmetry of laws

After Sunday’s service, Yuval, our Israeli guide, took us on a bus ride to Sheik Jarrah (named for a 13thc religious leader during the time of Saladin).  We passed his tomb and the mosque from which we hear the call of the muezzin from the minaret several times a day. 

Near the mosque is the small tomb of a revered Jewish sage, Shimon the Righteous.  After the 1948 war, this part of Jerusalem fell under the control of Jordan and most Jewish residents left.  In 2009, a right-wing settler organization found the original deeds to houses owned by three of these families.  It forcibly evicted the Palestinian residents and moved young settlers into the houses, adjacent to the tomb of the sage.  The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that since the deeds were valid the organization could claim contemporary ownership.  According to Yuval, Palestinian activists elsewhere in Israel initially welcomed this decision, assuming it would give refugees from the wars in 1948 and 1967 the right to return to properties for which they still held the deeds (and in many cases, the keys).  Unfortunately, as Yuval put it, there is no symmetry in the law as applied to Israelis and Palestinians.

For the most part, the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood remains predominantly Muslim.  For several years after 2009, pro-peace Israelis and Palestinians demonstrated near the settler houses, but Israeli police were always quick to turn them back or arrest the more  persistent among them.  Eventually this “Sheik Jarrah Solidarity” movement dwindled, but it set a precedent for collaborative protests in later settler disputes.  Today the police keep a watchful eye on the sage’s tomb and the three settler houses from across the Nablus Road.  But further settler incursions in this area appear to have abated.