“He says he will show us the way.”, our taxi driver explained.
We had just crossed the border into Jenin Palestine, but 10 minutes prior, we were completely lost. Sign-less, single lane roads bordered with family homes and olive trees. A beautiful sight. This of course hinted that we were in the right area, but we were still having trouble finding our destination, Canaan Fair Trade Headquarters. Suddenly, a wave from an unassuming man off the side of the road. We stopped. He got in the back of the cab with a smile on his face as he warmly greeted us. After giving directions to the driver, we were pleasantly surprised to realize this was Mustafa Jarar, one of the olive farmers we had traveled halfway around the world to meet.
Mustafa is known in his village as “Abu El Balad“which means, “father of the town”. Meeting the Father of the Town and being lost in it at the same time was just the first stroke of luck in what would become an unforgettable day.
After arriving at his home, Mustafa and his wife Shafaq took us on a tour of their olive trees. We meandered through the grove that was filled with thousand-year-old trees. They told us stories of raising their six children on this grove. They told us of the struggles they endured during years of conflict. They spoke of the connection they now feel as they see their olive oil being exported from Palestine to countries around the world. Going from being lost on the side of the road to sharing food, drinks and stories in the Jarar’s grove, we immediately felt the hospitality that was prevalent in Jenin, Palestine.
After leaving the Jarar’s home, we took a short drive to the headquarters of Canaan Fair Trade. This is where olives from all over the region are carefully processed to create the delicious oil that is in Harvest Peace. A tour of the cold press, underground storage tanks, and quality control lab confirmed why we can taste that distinct quality in the oil. We also met with Nasser Abufarha, the founder of Canaan Fair Trade. For a man that manages the only Fair Trade olive oil operation in existence and exports oil to other countries, Nasser has a modest demeanor that immediately puts you at ease.
“I love this valley.”, Nasser said, “It is home to me.”
After meeting us, Nasser cleared his busy schedule to take us on a tour of the valley, leading us to the highest point in Jenin. From above, we could see the hill sides and fields full of cultivated and wild crops. Nasser spoke of his commitment to sustainable growing practices, such as encouraging farmers to grow cover crops alongside olives trees. The valley of Jenin is a naturally highly biodiverse region with wild lettuces and asparagus growing on the hillsides. Periodically, Nasser would pause from talking to pick the edible plants. He would take a bite and then hand the rest to us to eat. “I am 53 years old. These trees are over a 1000 years old. How can I say these are MY trees or that I own them?”, said Nasser as we sat on the hill side eating a picnic of locally baked bread, fresh produce and olives made from the trees below us.
The day in Jenin was truly remarkable. We witnessed first hand, Canaan’s strong commitment to the farmers and community that surround it. In the years since its founding in 2008, farmer’s income has tripled. Additionally, Canaan embraces women empowerment by providing jobs and encouraging women to be involved in the industry that is the economic backbone of the community.