The Vidor Center – A Window to Agriculture in the Arava

Monday, February 10, 2014 11:38 AM

“Being here and seeing everything the residents of the Arava have accomplished is an experience that makes one feel both humble and grateful.”

The Vidor Family Visitors' Center was inaugurated at an official ceremony attended by honorees Ervin and Lottie Vidor of Australia. The interactive experience the center offers gives visitors the opportunity to learn about desertification, Arava flora and fauna, and the development of communities and agriculture in the region.

“Many Israelis don’t know what’s going on in the Arava, and this is an opportunity to show them the wonderful things that are being done here,” said Ervin Vidor. “Being here and seeing everything the residents of the Arava have accomplished is an experience that makes one feel both humble and grateful,” he told those present at the inauguration ceremony.

The center, which is located at the Yair Agricultural Research and Development Station, was established with the support of KKL-JNF’s Friends in Australia, Israeli government ministries, the Israel Government Tourist Corporation and other partners. It is dedicated to members of the Vidor family of Sydney, Australia, in recognition of their long-standing support for Israel in general, and for environmental initiatives in the Arava in particular.

The Vidor Center. Photo: Yoav Devir

Ervin and Lottie Vidor. Shira Bachar

“Despite its harsh climate, the Arava has become the jewel in the crown of Israeli agriculture,” said Menachem Leibovic, Vice Chairman of KKL-JNF. “When one considers the sparse rainfall and the small number of people who live there, it really is a modern miracle. I’m sure that the new center will attract farmers and visitors from both Israel and abroad and encourage them to study together, conduct experiments, and enrich the world.”

Creating desert landscapes with an interactive sand table. Photo: Yoav Devir

Visitors to the center are invited to view photos, watch films and enjoy special exhibits, all relating to the Arava. A sand table equipped with a computerized projection system portrays topographical processes in the region: visitors can construct their own sand hill, dig a valley, create a channel and even cause rain to fall, and the scene projected will change in accordance with the changing events on the surface. Information about different crops appears on screen when the appropriate plot of sand is touched. Wooden cupboards contain video screens that present the personal stories of families who live in the Arava; other exhibits portray biological pest control, water issues, an apiary and an aquarium of orange clownfish (Amphiprion percula), which Arava residents can now breed using a special technique that was developed locally.

Fruit and vegetable stalls exhibit the best of the local produce, which includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, pumpkins and melons. Although the Center is based upon advanced technology that caters to all the senses, the wonderful smell and brilliant glow of fresh vegetables need to be experienced at first hand, as not even the most cutting-edge techniques can reproduce them. To enjoy these sights and smells for yourselves, you are invited to come and visit the Center.

Produce display. Photo: Yoav Devir

Participants in the inaugural event watched a 3D film that showed scenes from Arava life: the desert expanses, the flora and fauna, the extremes of climate, the lively local community and, of course, the flourishing local agriculture. During the hot summers, temperatures in the Arava soar to over 40 degrees Celsius in the shade – not that there’s much shade to be found in this desert region – and on cold winter nights they fall below freezing; a year that has 30 centimeters of rainfall is considered unusually wet. However, despite these difficult conditions, around 60% of Israel’s fresh farm produce for export comes from the Arava, thanks in no small measure to the agricultural research and development stations that operate with the support of KKL-JNF.

KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler sent a video-recorded congratulatory message that was highly appropriate to the technological environment of the Vidor Center. He thanked the Vidors warmly and promised: “KKL-JNF will continue to help the residents of the Arava to prosper, so as to ensure deeper Jewish roots in the Negev. This will be KKL-JNF’s main task in the years to come.”

Learning about the lives of Arava residents. Photo: Yoav Devir

Some 3,500 people live in seven communities in the Arava. They have succeeded in making the desert bloom, not metaphorically, but in the most literal and practical manner possible. DrEyal Blum, Head of the Central Arava Regional Council, told those present: “The Vidor Center celebrates both human achievement and the beauty of nature. It will attract visitors from both Israel and abroad, thus encouraging local tourism and bringing potential new residents to the Arava.”

The Vidor Center is situated at the Yair Agricultural Research and Development Station, which operates with the support of KKL-JNF and which is home to a host of innovative initiatives and applied research designed to promote farming in the Negev.  Mayan Kitron, a researcher and instructor at the station, said in the course of the inauguration ceremony: “This innovative information center will provide visitors and researchers with information about agriculture in the Arava and about the research and development activities designed to ensure a sustainable future for the region. This will enable them to understand how and where we live in the Arava.”

Dr. Eyal Blum presents the Vidors with an Acacia Tree sculpture. Photo: Yoav Devir

After the ceremony, the participants were given a guided tour of the Center, and they also visited the nearby agricultural greenhouses where different varieties of flowers are grown, together with peppers of different sizes (from dwarf to giant) and colors (including violet) and melons. Strawberries are grown in a hanging frame, and there are beds of elongated yellow and orange cherry tomatoes.  Unlike seasonal agriculture in the area, these greenhouses are planned to be kept active all year long, in order to showcase the Arava’s special agriculture and cultivation techniques.

It is hard to believe that before the Vidor Center was established, this, too, was just an ordinary agricultural greenhouse. In the course of their visit the visitors did more than just look at the fruit and vegetables under cultivation in the Arava – they also tasted them. Lottie Vidor especially enjoyed the sweet, tasty strawberries that are grown in a special frame suspended above the ground.

Towards the end of the tour, Regional Council Head Eyal Blum presented Mr and Mrs Vidor with a symbolic gift: an acacia tree sculpted by local artist Chacha Porat. From this artistic representation, the guests moved on to the real thing, and planted an acacia tree together. Instructor Adi Rapaport told the visitors about the Adopt an Acacia project, which is designed to conserve and rehabilitate acacia trees and the ecology of the Arava in general.

“I hope to live for many more years and have the opportunity to see the tree we planted grow tall,” said Ervin Vidor with a smile, and his wife Lottie added in conclusion: “This center is based upon initiative and innovation, and I’m sure that it will make a significant contribution to tourism in the region.”

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