Photo: Volunteers package lettuce in Be’er Ganim, near Ashkelon, Nov. 8, 2023. Photo courtesy of Yoav Dudkevitch/TPS.



The noise in the packing plant is deafening. Forklifts constantly carry blue, red and yellow cartons of lettuce back and forth. At one conveyor belt, volunteers trim heads of lettuce. At other conveyor belts, machines seal the lettuce in plastic or pack them into boxes. Some of the volunteers know better and wear earplugs.

But Nadav Saadon, whose family owns the Ben Saadon farm and packing plant in Be’er Ganim, near Ashkelon, worries that the plant—and others like it—will soon go silent because of the Gaza war.

“We are in a crisis in agriculture. In a week, two weeks, one month, two months, we will not have any produce, because farmers are not planting,” he said.

“They are not putting seeds in the ground, and those who do not plant cannot harvest. We will have no produce to sell—tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, cabbage, onions, potatoes, carrots, anything. The whole basket of vegetables, there will simply be nothing to sell on the shelves,” Saadon warned.

“There will be no produce because there is no one to sow, no one to harvest, no one to do it. Only the volunteers today do it, so that’s what it is.”

Many farms are located in evacuated areas near the Gaza Strip and the Lebanese border. Around three-quarters of Israel’s vegetables were grown in the farms, kibbutzim and moshavim devastated by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7.

Further complicating matters, with 32 Thai agricultural workers killed and 23 taken hostage, nearly all of the 30,000 Thai workers in Israel returned home after the war began. The strain on the workforce increased even more as the Israeli military mobilized reservists for war.

Volunteers Join The Farms

This created a labor shortage, even in farms far from the fighting.

That’s what brought 30 volunteers to the Saadon’s packing plant. Some came in groups, others as individuals, united in a desire to help.

“We understood that there was a lack of manpower. I was not called up into the [IDF] reserves, so we will do what we can instead. We are a few workers here, we came as a whole team and had fun,” said one volunteer.

“We see all the people of Israel here as friends and happy to help. What could be better than that?” another volunteer said with a smile as she trimmed heads of lettuce.

In an effort to alleviate the shortage of workers, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Employment Service have begun an initiative to pair unemployed Israelis with farms. Salaries will be doubled in areas near Gaza and Lebanon.