Over the last year, I have been privileged to be involved in capacity-building engagements for regenerative and impact-driven businesses across a range of industries and international markets. I greatly value the fact that I reside in my traditional homeland of Israel, and I’ve also been fortunate to support international impact investing and community development projects throughout the world. With Israel as my home base, I’ve peered through the lens of Environment, Social and Governance best practices and taken a journey through a digital universe of impact data and metrics, impact measurement and management, alongside “boots on the ground” community investment from South Africa to Serbia and the United States.
Since January 2020, while learning about ESG trends and strategies shaping the global public and private capital markets, I was compelled to create a way to apply my learnings and help make a positive impact right here at home. Together with my friends Raphael Bitterman and Miriam Davidovic, I conceptualized and Co-Founded SHEFA: Mindful Abundance to create business solutions to some of the most pressing challenges that emerged out of the year 2020. In February 2020, we incorporated Public Benefit Corporations in the United States and Canada, worked on our USA-Israel business strategy with the brilliant Attorney Marc J. Lane, author of “The Mission Driven Venture”, and began developing our international business model. Since then, the SHEFA team has worked closely with Roshem Ventures to develop its impact strategy while also preparing to become a Certified B Corporation.
Over the last several months, we at SHEFA have been mapping and scoping out the purpose-driven business ecosystem here in Israel with the aim of mapping out the landscape. Ultimately, we seek to introduce local farmers, manufacturers and processors to a suite of tools, services and digital platforms aligned with the specific needs of the nascent Israeli regenerative and impact-focused market.
Despite there being a very well-developed and mature network of NGO’s and NPO’s underwritten by foundational funding in Israel, these have been traditionally directed to “Social” goals and only to some extent “Environmental” goals over the last few years. Notwithstanding this, Israel definitely lags behind other comparable developed economies in terms of both the implementation of ESG protocols and practices, and perhaps more importantly, the integration of impact-driven business paradigms into its corporate and business culture. It is precisely this gap that we are looking to play a leading role in narrowing and further catalysing Israel’s journey from being the ‘Start-Up Nation’ to becoming the ‘Impact Nation’.
Our initial step towards this goal is the imminent launch of the global SHEFA Community from right here in Israel. We’re creating a curated ecosystem of individual stakeholders who are committed to raising awareness about, and increasing the development of, purpose-driven business initiatives that realize positive benefits for people, purpose and the planet. One of the exciting drivers behind the SHEFA Community is the SHEFA Shop. Our retail platform showcases and markets products that are aligned with our ESG standards and protocols as measured and benchmarked by our proprietary impact measurement and management tools.
The SHEFA platform is driven by our due diligence process and our approach to prospective suppliers and their products. When we visit our farmers and partners, we don’t tick boxes on a generic questionnaire template – we work through a combination of metric and data capturing and personable client relations management, including policy development and a significant focus on the “G” in ESG: Governance. To be able to share some new developments in our journey with all of you, we headed down South earlier this week for a new round of site visits to two prospective suppliers – spoiler: I came back an inspired man!
Ezuz Organic Olive Oil
There is a serenity that shines through the people who choose to live in the desert, Doron Akiva is such a character – a real ‘salt of the earth’ kind of guy. Born in the heart of thriving Tel Aviv, as a young adult Doron fled the city for the tranquility of the desert. Prior to the signing of the peace treaty with Egypt in 1979 and the withdrawal of Israel from the entire Sinai Peninsula, Doron was a National Parks ranger in the Sinai Peninsula. As a result of the withdrawal, Doron was one of the founding members of the Ezuz communal settlement located three kilometers from the Egyptian border. Ezuz is located just north of the Ezuz stream and two natural water wells affectionately known as the Well of Moses and the Well of Aaron alluding to the strong biblical significance of the area. It was the presence of these natural sources of water that led Doron to establish an olive grove as the water has a relatively high salinity which precluded him from growing other produce and olives are a salt-tolerant species. I invite you to join us on one of our future trips and farm visits to see for yourself why we call Doron a ‘salt of the earth’ kind of guy.
It turns out that with persistence and perseverance, the Negev desert is a perfect place to grow high quality olives for the production of exquisite extra virgin olive oil. The sixty dunam olive grove is ideally located at 325 meters above sea level on the southern side of the Nizana Plain nestled between the rocky desert hills of the Ezuz stream system. The sheer remoteness of the location coupled with the excessively dry climate allows Doron to grow his beloved olives without the use of any pesticides whatsoever. Doron’s staunch commitment to regenerative farming principles and groundwater preservation practices over the years allows for high yielding olive trees without the use of any fertilizers.
Beyond the impressive list of certifications, including USDA and IFOAM Organic accreditations and Mehadrin Kosher certifications, the product and the story behind it speaks for itself – a beautifully rich full-bodied and aromatic extra virgin olive oil of the highest standard.
Tushiya Organic Farm
The word, “Tushiya”, in modern Hebrew, is loosely translated as “resourcefulness’”, however, this is not the reason behind the name of this farm. Meet Gal Tushiya, the trailblazing passion-driven permaculture farmer and owner of the Tushiya Organic Farm. True to his namesake, he’s a truly resourceful guy.
It is thanks to my good buddy, Elchanan Resnick, himself an organic produce guru and Kombucha King, that I was introduced to Gal. Elchanan joined me and Roshem Ventures Managing Partner Rapahel Bitterman on our site visits this week. As we were driving through the surreal “Star Wars-like” Upper Negev desert region Elchanan said, “You know what? Since we are down here you should meet Gal” and as they say, the rest is history.
I think I will save Gal’s personal story for a separate blog, suffice to say that spiritual growth and the redemptive attributes of regenerative farming exude through Gal and everything that takes place on this remarkable organic farm and educational center.
The farm Itself is located just outside Moshav Be’er Milka, a secular farming community (Moshav) in the central Negev desert on the Egyptian border amongst a cluster of small organic farms. It was only eight years ago that Gal commenced sustainable regenerative farming on this virgin desert land implementing permaculture and biodynamic farming practices. He draws the principles of his approach to cultivating plants for food and wine from the Torah and its Rabbinic teachings.
Tushiya Farm has almost a cult-like following amongst the emerging Farm-to-Table community in Israel specifically due to its grapes and grape juices known for their unique balanced fruity sweetness. This year, Gal has scaled out to his first series of wines including a delightful Muscat, a vibrant dry red and a unique port-like offering. The farm also produces premium olives and olive oil and a range of seasonal exotic fruits and pineapples. Being a young farm Gal is continually experimenting and learning about the propensity for land regeneration through the cultivation of different produce and species suited to the unique conditions of the Negev desert.
The Tushiya Farm is also a sustainable desert farming learning center hosting hundreds of bespoke educational seminars and volunteer programs throughout the course of the year.
Due to the current small scale of the farm, Gal has yet to proceed with the attainment of some of the formal organic certifications, however it is clear that everything about the Tushiya Organic Farm emanates from an uncanny steadfastness to organic, sustainable development and regenerative practices at this most inspiring oasis of a farm in the desert.
Driving back from the site visits I could not help but notice the plethora of abandoned farming plots scattered throughout the central Negev, most of which happened to look like larger operations with more so-to-speak ‘sophisticated’ infrastructure than both Ezuz and Tushiya.
Obviously, there are numerous factors that would have contributed to this including macro-economic, regulatory and the sheer underlying risk of desert farming. However, I could not help but to think that it is the organic farms built on regenerative farming practices and purpose-driven cultures that are the ones that are not only surviving but flourishing.
It is one thing working together with a very talented professional team developing impactful strategies from the safety of our offices but it is far more inspiring going out and developing relationships with the real businesses and initiatives on the ground working against all-odds and navigating extreme challenges. I am thrilled to be involved in collaboratively implementing working solutions that will directly impact upon the scalability of our clients’ inspiring businesses and assist in developing the domestic regenerative market as a whole.