The entrepreneurial idea of getting back to basics | Nancy Strichman

We can all be especially thankful these days for the many social entrepreneurs who keep shaking up the world and championing good ideas. These so-called ‘troublemakers’ who take on the status quo should be given a microphone at every opportunity. They have much to teach us. Just recently, my students were able to learn from Yoni Yefet Reich, a pioneering social entrepreneur who has developed alternative education frameworks. He shared a story of positive disruption in his tiny corner of the universe – Kaima Farm located just outside of Jerusalem, on Moshav Beit Zayit.

Yoni Yefet Reich, founder of the Kaima alternative educational network, welcoming a group of visitors to the farm. All Kaima farms offer eco-friendly lectures and hands-on agricultural experiences to the public at large. Credit: Kaima Farms

Yoni is an original. And he is cultivating originality among his fellow laborers, alongside the many organic vegetables cultivated on the farm. Kaima is sustained through the Community-Supported Agriculture model, increasingly popular around the world. Kaima’s fields are farmed by adults and young people, many of whom are having difficulties fitting into the structured framework offered by the educational system.

Kaima Beit Zayit young farmers take a much deserved break- their work takes place in all weather conditions, rain or shine. Credit: Kaima Farms

And as an aside, I will note that Yoni is as ready to host as he is generous with his knowledge. So consider this your official invite. The lush, pastoral setting of Kaima Farm will easily get you into a contemplative mood. You will find yourself not only deep in conversation with Yoni and the team about what it means to help youth tap into their own entrepreneurial spirit, but you can also enjoy a homemade breakfast surrounded by a sense of abundance and vibrant shades of green.

Kaima (“sustainability” in Aramaic) offers another path for youth who have dropped out of school and may just need a different, less standardized track to find their way in the world. Far from a traditional classroom setting, Kaima can be a good fit for those nonconformists out there, with its only nod to convention being the neat rows of kale, fennel, and broccoli with leaves spilling out on all sides.

Along with the work in the fields, all Kaima farms offer intergenerational programming with youth leading agricultural tours and sharing their newfound knowledge with the general community. Credit: Kaima Farms

The educational approach is much more about interactive experiential learning, skill acquisition, and meaningful engagement with adults. Each day the teens work side by side with a team of educators and national service volunteers, earning a salary, taking on the shared responsibility of managing a farm and delivering weekly shipments of vegetables to hundreds of regular customers.

‘Subscribers’ to Kaima farms’ pay a set price for a share of the anticipated harvest and receive a weekly portion of fruit and vegetables based on availability. Credit: Hagit Walden.

The many lessons learned at Kaima Farm spring from good ideas – sustainability, hands-on learning, hard work, environmental consciousness, health, and nutrition. Nature is a fertile training ground. Nothing gets sugarcoated there, and this is not only because the farm’s produce is pesticide free and organic. In the midst of new responsibilities and challenges, the teens see firsthand how their own well-being can be nurtured by caring for the well-being of the earth. And Kaima’s economic model allows it to reach more individuals.

Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, Kaima is making its way to other parts of the country, including my own area in the North, and it has even reached beyond Israel as far as Tanzania.

There is often a particular moment when social entrepreneurs can reflect on their own trajectory, a point in time when they began to question the default mode, the things that appear fixed to so many others. For Yoni, who grew up on Moshav Beit Zayit, his seeds of curiosity were planted when he struggled to fit into a high school educational framework that did not serve his needs. His refuge became the same rolling hills where he had wandered as a child, near his grandparents who had helped to found the Moshav decades earlier.

One of the teen farmers focusing on various maintenance needs of the farm. At Kaima Beit Zayit’s onsite workshop, new skills are taught to augment those learned in the fields. Credit: Kaima Farms

By his early 30s, after a decade working with teens at a critical juncture in their lives in one of the first alternative schools affiliated with Israel’s formal education system, Yoni was at his own crossroads. It was then that he decided to return to the soil that grew him. He realized that his own calling was to champion a set of new ideas, ones that, as he points out, are actually not novel at all in the grand sweep of history.

Centuries ago, when agriculture was a central part of so many societies, the transition to adulthood was very different. What about returning to the notion of shared responsibility and a common sense of purpose, where youth and adults are part of a team, side by side, productively working the land?

And, as we move to another plot point in the story, we should remember the context. There is a reason why, in describing social entrepreneurs, you often hear about traits such as persistence, grit and courage. Doors don’t easily swing open to non-conforming ideas. Barriers are thrown up in every direction. That happened to Yoni too, but eventually, after literally going door to door, Yoni got a few to open. He was first able to find enough neighbors willing to donate unused land of the Moshav to create a farm. It then took years of round-the-clock work with a team of committed friends and volunteers to make the land productive for agriculture.

Kaima Beit Zayit farming team – youth, national service volunteers, and adults – gather under a tree for shade. Nearly all Kaima graduates move on to perform military/national service. Credit: Kaima Farms

As we know, systems may not initially welcome disrupters. But over time, through persistence and demonstrated results, Yoni and the Kaima team have built allies with municipalities, social welfare departments and educational systems all over the country, thereby ensuring ongoing referrals of youth.

New partnerships have taken root. The original Kaima Farm at Moshav Beit Zeit and its sister locations at Moshav Nahalal and Kibbutz Hukuk are now part of an umbrella organization, with supporters and cheerleaders far and wide. After working at any of these farms, graduates have access to a scholarship fund to enable them to further their education in any field of their choosing.

Kaima’ approach, which recognizes work as a value and educational tool, is based on experiential learning. Often the most meaningful conversations take place during quiet moments in the farm’s fields. Credit: Kaima Farms

So whether they are budding social entrepreneurs ready for adventure, or teens simply learning to be more at home with themselves, graduates of Kaima can become more surefooted on their path moving forward. And Yoni and the team will continue innovating and serving up disruption as needed, always alongside a heaping portion of bountiful vegetables gathered from the verdant fields nearby.

Dr. Nancy Strichman teaches graduate courses in evaluation and strategic thinking at the Hebrew University’s Glocal program, a masters degree in International Development. Her research has focused on civil society, specifically on shared society NGOs and gender equality in Israel. She lives with her family in Kiryat Tivon.

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