Blueberries from Down Under thrive in Israel’s north, indoors

Blueberries, a super fruit that’s high in fiber and vitamin C, are usually picked from bushes that grow in the ground.

Now, a group of growers in the Golan Heights is marketing an Australian type of blueberry that grows well in the brisk northern air, but in containers on platforms, inside a greenhouse.

These blueberry bushes were planted in 2018 by Carmel Berry, a partnership of the Ampa Group, Kibbutz Ein Zivan and Moshav Natur, in containers that are monitored for bugs, water, fertilizer and oxygen. They yielded 100 tons of blueberries this year, and the growers will be adding raspberries, blackberries and strawberries to the mix.

The blueberry bushes of Carmel Berry are grown in containers in the Golan Heights (Courtesy Carmel Berry)

Carmel berries are not organic but are tended with a biological insect control, and have beehives placed nearby to encourage the flowering stage.

The price for these gems? NIS 175 (about $50) for six boxes of 125 grams (4.4 ounces) each (they’re available for home delivery, and are exported to Dubai and Europe).

That’s roughly double the NIS 15 (about $4.2) price tag on a same-sized box of imported Chilean blueberries.

Allowing more produce imports to Israel has driven down the price of some crops, said Orna Sandal, from the fruit department of the Plant Marketing Board.

Carmel Berry blueberries, now being exported to Europe and Dubai (Courtesy Carmel Berry)

There’s always a balancing act between agricultural imports and exports, said Sandal.

“We can pretty much grow anything here,” said Sandal. “It just costs more, mostly because of labor. So we always have to weigh what can be grown here, or what can be more easily imported.”

Blueberries are clearly an expensive crop in Israel, said Sandal, “compared with something like tomatoes, which only cost a shekel or two each.”

And Israelis have learned to love berries, she added. Some have “even changed the name,” said Sandal. “It used to be called uchmaniot, which is an ugly name for a lovely fruit. Now they just call it blueberries, with an Israeli accent.”

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