The year 1887 – a handful of pioneers who had come from Europe in 1884 struggled to produce crops from the marshy lands of the Hula Valley on which they had chosen to dwell. Life was a daily battle for survival and one crop after another failed to come to proper fruition. Baron Edmund de Rothschild came to visit; it was his wish to fulfill biblical prophecies and make the lands that were reinhabited not only fertile and productive but also profitable. And so he sent envoys there to assist – men with the knowledge of agricultural methods, one of whom gave his life attempting to bring successful crop production to Yesud HaMaala. The road to fruition was not an easy one but now, four generations down the line, Seffi Ben Dor, a descendant of that early settler, takes pride in the fruits which have been developed over the years on their lands. His unstinting efforts brought success as world markets opened and Israeli products such as his were recognized for their quality.
So remembering the labors, environmental difficulties and suffering of those early settlers let us now go into some of the leading British food chains – Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury, ASDA and Morrisons – and there on the shelves are displayed inviting produce such as yellow, lemon shaped plums named "Lamoon', glowing orange apricots with red blush cheeks named "Aromacot", peaches, nectarines which are of a flatter shape and with a smaller stone than usual and are the sweetest to be found on the market named "Pita" and pears distinctive for the blush of their skin andnamed "Red Druz" after the original fruit which was discovered on the trees of Druze villages on the Napthali Hills and were then developed and improved in the Ben Dor nurseries. This pear is especially suited to overseas marketing as its qualities even improve with refrigeration.
The development of suitable water supplies and land drainage plus identification of soil qualities has assisted in the production of top quality deciduous – mainly stone – fruits. Market demands have encouraged specialization in early and late season varieties. The new varieties are developed with a special emphasis on flavor, aroma and appearance and their agronomist, Ilana Shabtai, took pride in describing the tastes, the shapes and the colors of the fruits which they cultivate and are all so well portrayed by their names. Their produce maintains international quality standards and Ben Dor Fruits have the status of Approved Plant Breeder. They are also recognized by Global Gap which informs companies across the world about how food is produced and developed while minimizing detrimental environmental impacts of farming operations, reducing the use of chemical inputs and ensuring a responsible approach to worker health and safety and this opens the doors for international marketing. Exporting is done through Agrexco and they meet with the very rigid export requirements.
With pride, Ilana speaks of the "Red Heart" plums they have now perfected and which top the charts for their exceptionally high levels of anti-oxidants. Research has proved that red plums are number one in combating the negative effects that the consumption of red meat has on the cardio-vascular system. Experimentation at the Volcani Institute proved that the eating of only one such plum can combat the oxidizing process of up to 200 grams of red meat.
Competing with other fruit producers around the globe Ben Dor has spread its roots in countries south of the equator and the saplings they have developed are sent there to be brought to fruition and supply the all-year demands of the markets. New on the market this year from their nurseries is an Asian pear – also known as the Chinese apple – that they have perfected. The fruit is rounded like an apple but has the flavor of a pear and Ben Dor has improved both skin quality and color besides sweetening the flavor.
My visit to their premises was sadly at the end of the season and so I missed seeing the verdant and colorful orchards in fruit. However I did return home with a treat for my taste buds and delighted in sampling both fleshy red plums and the juicy and delicious "apple-pear" – what shall I call it? Never mind – the taste still remains with me.