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Agroecology in the hills of the Galilee

Your favorite subject at school probably wasn't tomato ripening algorithms

How can we prepare today's teens for tomorrow's challenges? And what should be the connection between vocational education, business, and the environment?

The Agroecology track at Dror Galil High School on Kibbutz Ravid tries to answer all of these questions, and some more.

Matan Alfasi has spent 10 years working on Ravid's orchards, growing some of the best mangos, lychees and olives exported from Israel to Europe. Fascinated by the connection between trees, insects and fungi, he knew that his next project would involve agriculture and education, as well as concern for nature and the environment.

"We try to pave new paths for vocational education in the 21st century. The potential is massive. To connect the dots between the agricultural and environmental needs of society and the educational needs of teens just seemed like the right thing to do. They get to be in the front of Israel's Agri-Tech field, learn from the best and even get a paycheck at the end of the month," says Matan, walking us through rows of hydroponic lettuce, arugula and kohlrabi.

Dror Galil's students get hands on experience with Agri-Tech

And indeed, Dror Galil's collaboration with Ministry of Agriculture R&D departments and private companies in the area can create a valuable educational opportunity for the students. "For example," says Matan, "we started working with a big agricultural cooperative in the area that deals mainly with bananas, whose corms (stumps) create a constant problem for farmers in the form of huge amounts of waste that needs to be buried in specific places, to avoid polluting groundwater.

Together with the students, we discovered that the Black Soldier Fly (Hermetia illucens) can eat the majority of the banana remains, leaving behind only the toughest fibers that can be later used to create inert growing mediums for plants. The students are an essential part of the experiments, learning valuable, cutting-edge tools and thorough theoretical knowledge.”

The greenhouse provides a unique learning environment for at-risk youth.

Some of the students decided to attend Dror Galil after going through a rough time at different, regular schools in the area. Matan describes the effects working in the hydroponic greenhouse has had on some of the students as "sometimes magical. One of our best students right now came here after switching 5 schools. In the beginning he found it hard to adjust, but he really found a home in the Agroecology track. That kid who struggled is now transfixed with a new experiment we're conducting together with a private agri-tech company creating algorithms to track the ripening stages of tomatoes to better dispense fertilizer. Sometimes bright kids just need an opportunity to combine learning with work, in a different setting than the regular classroom."

And a different setting it is. The students come to the greenhouse for a full day, studying in the morning, then working and doing experiments. For lunch they cook a meal together from the produce they grow at the greenhouse and the adjacent vegetable garden. They sell around 300 lettuce heads a month to the school community’s families and friends, and even get paid at the end of the month.

The students operate a small business selling their produce.

The new challenge, already taking up two unique rooms in the greenhouse – is growing mushrooms. Right now this project is strictly for educational purposes, but next year the students plan to sell them as a new product.

We'll let Matan have the last words: "If you are hanging out in the hills of the Galilee and you feel the urge to eat some lettuce – you’ve just got to drop by."

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