The Arava Institute recently welcomed agroecologist Oren Hoffman as the new Director of the Center for Sustainable Agriculture, taking over from renowned agronomist, Elaine Solowey, who founded the Center in 1987. In this post, we are extremely excited to introduce Dr. Hoffman to the Arava Institute community, as well as shine a spotlight on Dr. Solowey’s many accomplishments and the improbable path that led her to the Arava Institute. Dr. Oren Hoffman Oren was raised right here on Kibbutz Ketura. Oren never thought about ecology as a child. ”Growing up, I just called it nature.” With his love of the outdoors and exposure to farming as a child, Oren pursued an undergraduate degree in agriculture at the Hebrew University. However, Oren was motivated to take a more holistic, nature-centered focus in his professional pursuits, rather than focusing only on production means, crop yields and profitability. He decided to pursue an ecology PhD at Ben-Gurion University after finishing his degree in agriculture. Upon finishing his PhD in 2016, he did post-doctoral work at UC Davis, where he studied how different agricultural practices affect soil health and ecology. In joining the Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Oren has come full circle, returning from California to Kibbutz Ketura, where it all began for him. He is excited to work on a number of interesting projects and initiatives, among them:
- the Shelter Garden for Endangered Species, begun by Dr. Solowey, where he will lead ex situ rare species conservation efforts, in cooperation with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority
- agrivoltaics, where Oren will spearhead efforts to find cost-effective and land-effective crops to grow alongside and underneath photovoltaic panels with the Institute’s Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation
- work on the Center’s Marula Tree orchard. The Marula, a fruit-bearing deciduous originally from Africa, has proved extremely resilient to the southern Arava’s hyper-arid environment. One unique aspect of the Marula is its enormous seeds. While that dims its prospects as a tree that can be harvested for its fruit, Oren is enthusiastic about the prospect of harvesting valuable oil from the large seeds.
- the Argania project, which suffered many setbacks, including at one point the total loss of all the trees, only to see it recover after Elaine obtained an additional 1,000 seeds from Morocco.
- the Kibbutz Ketura date orchard, in which Elaine herself worked until 1985.
- the ancient dates. Alongside the commercial success of the date orchard in her early days, Elaine received international acclaim when she was able to sprout a date palm now called Methuselah from a 2,000-year-old date seed found during excavations of Masada in the mid 1960’s.
- The Ramon Airport Parking Lots. After others failed, Elaine was asked to take over the planting of all trees and shrubbery at the Ramon Airport Parking Lots. She succeeded using a carefully researched combination of poinsietta regina, palo verde, and tamarisk trees.