Saturday, November 21, 2009

Innovative Farmers

It was great to be offline. I recommend it to everyone, and ought to do more of it myself.

One day we drove up to the Dalton Plateau, near the top of the Upper Galilee. Some 15 years ago a family of local farmers were about to plant an orchard of apricots, when someone caught their wrist and told them to have a look at pomegranates. So they had a look, and went for it. They must have been accompanied by some savvy agronomists, however, and spent a few years developing a new strain of pomegranates, which gave enormous fruit - 1.2 kg each, they claim, the size of a soccer ball. They then noticed that the sugar level of their monsters were already within the range of wine grapes... so why sell fruit if you can sell wine instead? This took another few years of research and development, but about 5 years ago they began marketing red wine based on pomegranates. We were shown 5 different types of wine, but apparently they've got more. All are excellent. Last year they sold 570,000 bottles, 70% of them exported.

They claim they're the first and only producers of pomegranate wine worldwide. They are currently working with Shiba hospital and Tel Aviv University to document the health qualities of their products, which apparently are even better than regular red wine.

Their website is here. Check them out: perhaps their products can be found at a supermarket near you.

Beside being a nice story, worth the telling on its own account, you won't be surprised I'm using it to make a broader point, about life in an entrepreneurial society. These folks, I remind you, are farmers, living on a windswept, rather desolate-looking mountaintop a few miles south of the Lebanese border. The nearest big city, Safed, isn't. Big, I mean. Haifa is an hour and a half away, reasonably far by tiny Israel's standards. They're not high-techies, not engineers, not young adventurers out to disrupt some well established industry. Yet once they dropped the boring idea of planting apricots, they're surrounded by the infrastructures and ethos necessary to be cutting edge innovators. They've got agronomists, medical researchers, engineers to develop the tools to extract all possible components from their fruit and turn it into wine, oil, and lotions. They can find someone to market their previously unheard of product. They've got a good, multi-lingual website. They've got the financiers. And there's the social expectation and encouragement: you've got a cool idea? Run with it. Everyone else does. The worst that can happen is that it won't succeed. But why shouldn't it?

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