The clock strikes 6 am, the flowers and the birds have awakened, and the Kfardebyan air is saturated with an unfamiliar scent of freedom. The color of the morning sky is as fresh and raw as that of the fruits and vegetables planted in the sacred soil. George’s voice echoes in the distance, “Breakfast is ready!”
The five young farmers come out of their huts, giving grace to the morning sun, grounding themselves with the frequency of the Earth with their bare feet and open hearts. A table full of natural goodness awaits us.
During our morning meal, the topic of the meaning of permaculture farming pops up. “Our footprint on nature should be transparent, even nonexistent,” says George Atallah, one of the founders of Shams permaculture, while filling our cups with organic apple juice. “In order to build a sustainable and renewable permaculture farm, there are many elements of nature that should be working together in harmony. When man treats Mother Earth as a companion and friend, and works with her instead of against her, he can obtain the best of what she has to offer.”
“Permaculture by definition,” he continues, “means permanent agriculture. The base of this practice is built on a mutual understanding between man and nature, something the modern world deeply lacks.”
His words resonate across the breeze that dances with the branches of the apple trees while the sun shares her lucid light with us. The strength of her glow is so intense that it makes us want to get off our seats and caress the warm soil with our footsteps. George ties his long hair, wraps his head in a bandanna, puts on his farmers’ boots and begins guiding me towards the tomato plants.
“So, how did it all start?” I ask.
“It all began in 2013,” he says. “My dear friend Michel, co-founder of Shams, and I, realized that the chaos of the city life was pulling us away from nature in a destructive way. We had had enough.” George approaches a fully-grown tomato plant, picks the red fruit and hands it over to me. “Isn’t it wonderful?” he asks, smiling. “This is how man should eat. Straight from the Earth,” He continues. “Anyway, after getting fed up with the absurdity of working in the media industry, Michel and I left our careers and began researching about permaculture,” He says, while checking up on the health of the plants with his hands. “We started growing organic tomatoes in Michel’s backyard in the village of Ghineh, and slowly tested, observed and understood how nature works and acts when left undisturbed. Through this, however, we only practiced the agricultural factor of the permaculture community,” George clarifies, “After relocating to the Kfardabyan land; us and three other earth-loving friends began working towards accomplishing our mutual dream of living in a permaculture community.”
The land on which the Shams farmers now grow their organic products is 14,000 m with an elevation of 1,400 m. When they first found the farmland, it had been designed and cultivated in a very conventional way; with diverse kinds of apple trees, peach trees, grape vines, and wild plants like thyme and elderberry. The young farmers are working on altering the pattern of the agricultural outline in a way that suits their permaculture farming principles. They are also growing organic tomatoes, kale, corn, pumpkins, and other produces with absolutely no incorporation of chemicals or pesticides with the crops. The food they grow is later used in the making of various products, some of which are apple cider vinegar, sugar-free apple, peach and tomato jams, and sun-dried tomatoes, as George describes to me. The goods they make are all for the well-being of our bodies, as oppose to the garbage we normally eat in fast food chains.
After fifteen minutes of hiking and talking, we reach a wildly flowing river. How much more magical can a forest get?
“Does the water pollution which is overwhelmingly affecting almost all the agricultural produces in Lebanon affect your organic farming?” I ask George, who is checking the coldness of the water with his fingers.
“It’s the perfect time and place to pop this question up,” He responds, grinning. “Luckily, we don’t deal with the devastating issue of water pollution since the water source of the Shams farmland is directly from a nearby spring called The Honey Spring. There is no cross-contamination with wastewater and sewage.”
After I express my personal admiration about the project, George thanks me and says, “You know, coexisting with Nature is all what humanity needs. Through it, man learns patience, organization, modesty and compassion,” He pauses for a moment of gratitude and continues, “When you try to comprehend the ways of Mother Nature, you understand the reason you exist, where you have come from and where you are eventually going to. You realize how your intelligence is so minimal in contrast to that of the Earth, and through doing that you go back to your natural roots, where ego and the sense of superiority over the elementary creations does not exist.”
A smile paints our faces as we look at the magnificence of the river one last time, for noon has already arrived, and it is time to get back up on our feet and return to help the other farmers with their benignant tasks.
As we all later sit to have lunch, I ask George, “If you had one thing to say to Mother Nature, what would it be?”
“Thank you,” he responds with a peaceful smile, “Thank you for giving and giving and not asking for anything in return.”
We fill our glasses with sugar-free, organic apple juice, and raise a toast for the mother of all.