Over 40 years ago, an artist in Israel wanted to grow tomatoes. The result was a greenhouse that has grown into a place of learning and a meeting place for young people - no matter what religion they belong to or where they come from.
"About the size of a football field" - this is how Noam Geva describes the Ecological Greenhouse at Kibbutz Ein-Shemer in Israel. He is the director of the project and son of founder Avital Geva. Both recently accepted an invitation to Vienna from the art and discussion space Depot, where they had already presented the Ecological Greenhouse in 2000.
An idea that bears fruit
Even when the greenhouse was built in 1977 by Avital Geva together with young people, togetherness was the main focus, as his son Noam describes: "My father told me that back then he simply wanted to grow tomatoes. But it was very important to him to do this together with the people from the kibbutz. The result is a place where people of different religions and backgrounds meet and work together to find solutions to problems that affect us all."
Today thousands of adolescents use the Ecological Greenhouse for research. Every year there is a core group of about 50 young people who carry out numerous projects in the greenhouse, Geva explains. In addition, there are about 850 middle school students from Israeli schools who regularly participate in the projects. Furthermore, every year about 3,500 interested people take advantage of the courses and workshops offered by the Ecological Greenhouse. Around 2,000 families from the surrounding area are also regular guests in the greenhouse.
Interest from abroad is also growing steadily, Geva is pleased to report. Every year about 2,000 interested people from all over the world come to learn from the Greenhouse project or to contribute and implement ideas themselves.
Teamwork between young and old
Every idea has its place in the Ecological Greenhouse, assures Geva. About 95 percent of the projects that are implemented there have something to do with the environment - be it the sustainable production of sufficient food or the filtering of wastewater. The youngsters can do their own research, with the help of experts from industry and universities - many of them on a voluntary basis.
Teaching staff employed by the Ecological Greenhouse help with the exchange between experts and the younger generation. This is very important, says the director of the Geva project: "It is almost as if experts and adolescents speak two different languages. Our teachers help to ensure that both sides can benefit from each other."
In a land of many conflicts
In a country like Israel it is not always easy to work and research together, Geva explains. Especially the conflicts between Jews and Muslims, which have been raging in the country since the beginning of the 20th century, make many cooperations difficult.
At the Ecological Greenhouse, however, one notices very little of these conflicts, the director is pleased to say: "We have Muslim youths who work on projects together with Jewish youths. People simply come to us and work together under one roof on challenges that affect us all. We don't talk much about the conflicts, but simply do research together. I think that's why working together works for us." In order to further promote cooperation, the Ecological Greenhouse also offers workshops and courses that are held simultaneously in Hebrew and Arabic.
Positive effects for people and the environment
The joint research has a great influence on the youths, Geva says. In addition to developing friendships, they also come into direct contact with topics relevant to their future and are challenged to solve problems themselves. "Some of the people who did research with us at a young age are now experts in the high-tech industry or take their projects out into the world," says Geva happily.
He tells, for example, of Lipaz Harodi - a young person who was hired by an Israeli company to find a solution for clogged irrigation pipes. Microorganisms and algae had settled on the inside of the pipes. Harodi was tasked to find a solution without the use of toxic chemicals.
As a model for her research, the teenager chose the skin of sharks. It is structured in such a way that algae and bacteria cannot adhere to it. Harodi imitated the surface structure on the inside of the pipes, making them resistant to deposits. With this project, the young woman won first place in the Stockholm Junior Water Prize in Israel and was allowed to present her research results in Sweden in 2016.
"If you want to improve the world..."
In the future, Geva would like to improve the Ecological Greenhouse and support similar projects: "We are always interested in developing our project further and we always have new ideas on how it could be made better. We don't want branches of the Greenhouse - one is enough work - but we want to support other greenhouses and similar projects and help them with advice and assistance.
Both the director Noam Geva and his father Avital hope that more and more projects like the Ecological Greenhouse will be implemented in the future. All they have to do is take the initiative, says the director of the project: "If you want to improve the world, you simply have to start doing something. My father wanted to grow tomatoes and built a greenhouse - you can see what has become of it today. If we want to change things, we all have to take initiative."