Friday, November 5, 2010

Canaan Fair Trade Company, Burqin, Jenin

"Insisting on Life" is the motto of the Canaan Fair Trade Company in a little village just a few kilometers from Jenin at the northern end of the West Bank. And the Canaan enterprise is an excellent example of that insistence. It is a modern plant where a variety of wonderful products are made from olives harvested from a large cooperative of Palestinian farmers. Canaan was the vision of Nasser Abufarha, a cultural anthropologist, author of the recently-published The Making of a Human Bomb: An Ethnography of Palestinian Resistance (The Culture and Practice of Violence), and brilliant entrepreneur, who launched the enterprise just five years ago. Canaan now ships its products to the US, England, Europe and Japan. Canaan olive oil is found on Whole Foods shelves and is sold through many parish churches. What sets Canaan apart from others is the quality of its products and its commitment to Fair Trade and organic farming practices. As Nasser has written, "Canaan Fair Trade has reinvigorated olive farming in our homeland of Palestine from a losing practice to a profitable economic activity, creating an opportunity for growers to earn a living, invest in their farms, and provide a future for their children."

Canaan throws a big party at its headquarters in Burqin the first Friday in November to celebrate the olive harvest, an event not to be missed if you're in the Middle East. So I rented a car from a Palestinian company (Middle East) and, after getting careful directions for getting out of Jerusalem, headed north yesterday. To say the least, signage on Palestinian roads is scant and maps are minimally helpful. But it's Route 60 all the way (if, at numerous intersections you can figure out which way Rt. 60 goes). A couple detours into Palestinian villages were "interesting" and only provided confirmation of the kindness of the Palestinian people - and I made it to Jenin by mid afternoon. As I drove north, I realized there were fewer and fewer Israeli yellow license plates (Palestinian plates are green) which is when I realized the thoughtfulness of my friend at Middle East car rental. He knew I was driving to Jenin so he pasted Middle East stickers all over my car which, at the time, i thought was just a marketing strategy. His intent was to let Palestinians in this part of the West Bank know that I was (at least potentially) a friend.

As some of the pictures illustrate, the festival was wonderful. It was packed with Palestinians and internationals and lots of children. After sampling delicious products in the sales room and dipping just-baked breads in olive oil, Nasser took a group of us on a tour of the facility. As I sell Canaan's products in my parish, it's a treat to see the olive oil I will be selling this spring in the process of being made. Food, music and conversations followed the tour as several hundred of us sat on bales of hay on the hillside above Canaan's factory. A wonderful day. We rise early tomorrow to drive to the two farms of the president of the farmer's cooperative to pick olives. We'll worship at St. Mathew's in nearby Zababdeh on Sunday.

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