Monday, May 31, 2010

Kibbutz Lotan

We spent the day in the Israeli settlement Kibbutz Lotan. A Kibbutz is a community that works collectively to meet the necessities of basic life. They were traditionally based on a combination of socialism and Zionism ideologies and developed communal means of agriculture. Recently, however, Kibbutzim (pl) have become more privatized and capitalistic.
We spent the day in the Israeli settlement Kibbutz Lotan. A Kibbutz is a community that works collectively to meet the necessities of basic life. They were traditionally based on a combination of socialism and Zionism ideologies and developed communal means of agriculture. Recently, however, Kibbutzim (pl) have become more privatized and capitalistic.

Kibbutz Lotan is located in south Israel in the Araba Valley of the Negev Desert, nearly on Israel-Jordan border. It is known as a "reform" Kibbutz because it has lessened the traditional philosophies in favor of new ones centered on ecology. The community of Kibbutz Lotan practices recycling, permaculture, and sustainable living through various ecological projects. It is also a popular stop for birds as they migrate through Israel, which attracts many birdwatchers.

When our bus arrived, we were greeted by Alex Cielsky, a founding member, researcher, designer, and builder in Lotan with an emphasis on environmentally appropriate systems. He led us into a nearby building where he outlined Kibbutz Lotan's philosophy, projects, outreach programs, etc. We then were given a tour of the complex and allowed to explore a little ourselves. Lotan has numerous recycling and waste centers positioned all over the complex. The idea is to not waste anything and to enact the full circle of reducing, reusing, and recycling. Even the water that drips from your mouth after drinking from a faucet is not wasted; it is caught in a container and drained into a garden to water the plants. There are numerous organic fruits and vegetables growing at Lotan including tomatoes, basil, and sage to name a few. All of the plants are fertilized using soil from composts in the village. One type of compost is made using solid human waste that falls into garbage bins connected to the bathrooms. Leaves, soil, and water are then added, and after several months, the mixture becomes fertile soil.

Next, Alex showed us the architecture of the buildings and other civil structures on site. Many of the benches in the village are actually made out of trash. First, a clay-mud and straw hollow mold is made, then filled with trash to provide structural support, and finally sealed. Many of the buildings were also made out of a clay-mud-straw mixture. Several buildings on site were geodesic domes, chosen for their high structural integrity.

After walking around for a while, we were served tea and lunch produced almost solely from the plants and animals on site. We finished lunch and were then introduced to Mike Kaplin, co-creator, director, and head permaculture teacher of the Center for Creative Ecology at Lotan. He showed us the community solar cookers, which basically work by reflecting and concentrating sunlight to cook food. We witnessed him cook an egg using only concentrated sunlight and a frying pan. He then gave us a presentation outlining all of the various models and implementations of the solar cookers. He explained how such technologies are essential for undeveloped countries, which can't rely on gas or electricity for cooking, but also outlined limitations of solar cookers, such as variance in sunlight based on location, time, and weather. After his presentation we were handed back over to Alex.

It was time to get our hands dirty. Alex showed us the method used by the Kibbutz to make clay-mud bricks used for the various buildings and structures around the village. We first gathered water and sand (which contains some clay) and mixed them until we achieved a muddy consistency. We then added straw to the mixture, which provides strength to the structure of the brick. After mixing everything thoroughly, we filled brick molds with the mixture to make them the right shape. After a few seconds we took the brick out of the mold and set them in the sun to dry.

We then had a competition within our group to see who could build a small-scale roman arch out of mud bricks. We broke up into three groups and went to work. In the end, after one of the groups split up and joined the other groups, two roman arches were built. The arches not only stood up, but also were strong enough to support the weight of multiple students standing on them.

By the end of the day we were pretty wiped out and ready to go to our hotel. Our experience at Kibbutz Lotan left an ambivalent feeling within the group, but we all agreed that it was interesting to see how a community of hard working people can come together to form a self-sustaining eco-friendly society.

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