Jenny Farhat is empowering farmers whose lands are regulated by Israeli law through her company, Harvest Peace, which transports olive oil from Palestine.
by Portia Ladrido
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back to the early 20th century – two-state solutions brokered, peace negotiations commenced and suspended time and again – and yet, up to this day, a diplomatic resolution seems as bleak as a Middle Eastern sandstorm. As the nations’ leaders mobilise troops whilst seated on their cushioned swivel chairs, people on the Palestinian grounds are clutching onto their promised lands – not knowing what awaits.
The complexity of the conflict can easily leave people disillusioned and paralysed, but Palestinian-American Jenny Farhat found a way to turn her growing concerns for people of the land into a meaningful product. Born in America, Jenny only knew of Palestine through melancholic stories of her family’s past. Her father was born in Ramallah, Palestine but migrated to America in 1967; the same year that Israel uprooted over 800,000 Palestinian olive trees. Fifty years later, Jenny is working with fair trade dealers, bottling olive oil from Palestine, and importing it to the US with the promise to stabilise the socioeconomic needs of the farmers.
Jenny talks to INKLINE about the Harvest Peace journey – from collaborating with brand strategists in the US to visiting her roots for the first time.
INKLINE: Tell us what nudged you to create this product and how it has been so far.
Jenny Farhat: I chose olive oil specifically because I looked at what was already being grown in Palestine and what was the easiest. I wanted to see what was already innate to them and what they were already amazing at and how I could then help them get that to a market. It’s more about the location and the people versus me just trying to dive in and start producing a crop.
I’ve been working on it for about a year and a half. And I have close partnerships with Nasser [Abufarha], the founder of Canaan Fair Trade. They’re in Jenin and they have close relationships with all of the farmers; they have people that go out to their fields, almost weekly to monthly, to visit them. I was just with Nasser maybe a week and a half ago in Jenin and he’s so knowledgable about the land and how to give back and how to really produce, how to feed the soil – it’s like old world farming.
There’s so many regulations with Palestine, specifically with water. It’s like dry irrigation by necessity. They have so, so many regulations from Israel that they really have to be resourceful. When they’re having a drought, they can’t put more water on it – they’re regulated on water.
The resources that Nasser has and his background in permaculture is absolutely fascinating and amazing. He helps the farmers and the farmers help him so it’s becoming a collective knowledge on how to really take care of the soil and the land. And that’s what’s really important about my connection with Nasser.
I: Could you course us through the entire supply chain – from beginning to end of production?
J: There are multiple farmers within the Palestine region and they are weekly or monthly checked on to make sure their soil is organic and that they’re not using any pesticides or anything like that. Once a year, there’s harvest. It’s actually like a holiday in Palestine –the kids are off school, everyone hits the land and they start harvesting their olives.
From there, they go to Canaan which has really good facilities for pressing the olive oil. What’s nice about Canaan is they are obliged to buy olive oil from the farmers that they’ve already had connections with but the farmers are not obliged to sell to Canaan if they can get a higher price somewhere else. But either way, the oil that I’m getting is through Canaan.
Directly after it’s pressed, it’s put into stainless steal containers underneath the ground and stored at 16 degree celsius. And from there, they are being put into a container that then goes to Israel, and through Israel it comes into New Jersey where I receive it, and from there we ship it to Los Angeles and that’s where I do all the bottling and the packaging and goes to distribution.
I: Are you distributing it across the United States?
J: I’m starting small. There’s a few delis and a few little stores here in San Diego that I’m going to be distributing to but I’m trying to work it as an e-commerce brand. I think that is the best way to spread the knowledge as of right now. If I do find ways of distributing across the United States, that would be amazing. But my sole effort right now is through e-commerce.
I: It’s your initial foray into developing an agriculture product. What are the challenges that constantly pop up?
J: It’s a lot of logistics. Importing anything – there’s a ton of logistics. But, the really hard logistics is more about taking the product from Palestine and getting it through Israel and then from Israel and then here. Because there’s another level of process that I had to go through and that’s one thing that I get a lot of help with from Nasser, figuring out the best way of going through Israel then to get my products. That’s been the hardest thing.
And then with food, it’s time sensitive. The oil is best right after harvest and I have to move forward with it and distribute it as quickly as possible so the quality doesn’t suffer. Those are my two pressing issues – how to get the product and keep it regulated throughout the whole process as it’s going through Israel and then the second one is making sure that it gets to people soon enough for the oil to be premium.
I: How does your name, Harvest Peace, embody what you have created?
J: By empowering people and giving them economic stability, it is going to trickle in every aspect of their life and I think that’s going to be a really good way of promoting peace. Through having economic stability, they’re going to have more resources. Their biggest problem is confiscation of their land and when they get their land classified as class A, B, or C and regulated by Israel or because a wall is being built up, they now have the resources to reach out to a lawyer or to other people that can help them keep their land. So, that’s a peaceful and diplomatic way of solving these problems versus feeling helpless and turning to other ways of trying to solve problems which we’ve seen in the past.
I: I read that you visited Palestine for the first time. What was the experience like?
J: I was there for two weeks. It’s a very complex situation. It’s actually very beautiful there and it’s so nice to meet some of the farmers and see the olive oil and how not much has changed in terms of the landscape and the housing over the last hundreds of years. That was really rewarding.
The complexity of the situation weighs really heavy on me and it’s actually a lot to process. Sometimes it seems better than I had imagined and sometimes it seems a lot worse than I imagined. The level of poverty these people deal with is something that was just hard. Honestly, it was beautiful and so awe-inspiring to see all of these amazing people but the situation weighs really heavy on me I believe.
I: Did the experience fuel you to even better Harvest Peace?
J: Before my trip, I felt passionate about it just because I grew up with all these stories and because of my family’s connection and watching how strong they have been with having to migrate to the United States. Now being there and seeing these people struggle and knowing their faces and knowing they’re on the other side of the wall still, it’s definitely a motivating factor and it’s definitely built a stronger fire underneath me.
I: What has been the most satisfying thing with the whole process?
J: I think there’s two sides of it. Being there and talking to the farmers is absolutely satisfying and knowing that you’re creating a market for them. We had a picnic under the olive groves with them and that was by far the moment that made me go: ‘I’m doing all of this for this moment right now.’ And then the other satisfying thing is coming back here and the storytelling of it and bringing it to life to people who don’t actually know what’s going on – sharing that and making that connection with individuals who otherwise wouldn’t know.
I: How do you see the product evolving? Is there something that you’ve already envisioned even if you have just launched Harvest Peace?
J: I actually live with an Israeli citizen here in California and I work with a designer whose father is Israeli and he’s Jewish. We’re thinking of doing a collaboration; maybe an oil that is a blend of both Israeli and Palestinian oil. I’ve also thought about going to other conflict regions and figuring out what resources they have and how I can build a market for their products. So doing the same thing, just somewhere else.
Portia Ladrido is a multimedia journalist specialising in social justice, culture, and the arts. She is a human rights journalism fellow at the Philippine Human Rights Information Center and the Metro Manila hub coordinator of the Solutions Journalism Network. She currently writes speeches for the Philippines’ first female socialist senator. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at CNN Philippines.