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The Solar Dryer, Part 4: Construction

  There were few hand tools available at the farm, and almost none (except quite a few hammers) in working condition. The Taneeb family maintains a strangely large collection of—for example—old wire-cutters fused by corrosion into immovable wire-cutter-shaped hunks of iron. There were no power tools, and anyway no grid power at the farm. Fayez was able to borrow a diesel generator and a gigantic hammer-drill; and we purchased, among other things, a screwdriver, hand saw, sets of drill- and screwdriver bits for the power-drill. For one day, one student brought both a battery powered screwdriver and a circular saw.

Assembling the base and legs.

Assembling the base and legs.

 Use of the generator with the huge hammer-drill to drive #4 screws into up-cycled lumber was not the most efficient or ecological solution, but it made it possible to make progress quickly on the construction and complete the solar dryer in the time we had. After spending much of the two weeks on discussion, other activities with the larger Global Campus group, recovering and preparing the materials, tracking down and purchasing new materials when needed; the final design choices, cuts, and assembly took place in a dense, intense, and surprisingly well choreographed final few days. By this time, everyone had a clear idea of what we were doing, and the group worked smoothly to create the final product we had imagined together and prepared for.

This was when we realized that something was really taking shape.

This was when we realized that something was really taking shape.

 In addition to purchasing new fasteners (although many were recovered from the found lumber) we also bought new polyethylene sheeting, plastified metal mesh for the drying trays, and of course the solar panel. The three fans were recovered from old computers out of necessity; new 12V computer fans were simply not available in Tulkarm. I would have preferred to buy these new, and intend to replace them next time I visit the farm. Three kitchen strainers were purchased for use as inlet filters over the fans.

placing the main working surface

placing the main working surface

 The final product differs from the designs in Lorenz-Ladener in several ways: The roof is more peaked, simply because this is the way the students built it and I didn’t notice until after the roof beams were cut and assembled. Readers of this report should be aware that in Northern Europe, with less intense sunlight and lower ambient temperatures, this could be a problem; in Palestine, the inside of the dryer immediately reached temperatures of around 40C on a mild autumn day, despite the high roof and the light color of the dryer interior.

the team in consultation

the team in consultation


Our initial idea was to paint the floor of the dryer a slightly darker color—the recovered plywood we used had been painted white—or to lay brown paper on part or all of the floor. But as mentioned, the dryer quickly reached ideal temperatures as it was; we have left it for now. There is a thermometer in the dryer, and the Taneeb family will experiment with it to determine if we need to darken the Solar Dryer interior.

fabricating the trays

fabricating the trays

 Lorenz-Ladener make no mention of it, but in Tamera we learned that it was an absolute necessity to protect the Solar Dryer from ants. As in Tamera, we incorporated water-traps into the legs of the Solar Dryer.

Both the roof beams, and a tray, are visible here.

Both the roof beams, and a tray, are visible here.





The Solar Dryer, Part 3: Design & Materials

 The first steps in Tulkarm were 1) to discuss with Fayez and his family their plans for the Solar Dryer, 2) to begin to discuss the basic plans and design parameters with the students, and 3) to inquire about available tools and materials.

Fayez did have interest, and specific intentions, for the Solar Dryer. The practice of sun-drying fruits and vegetables exists in the local culture of course, though the habit is largely disappearing. It was gratifying to hear how often the local response to the solar dryer was to remark that everyone’s grandparents had sun-dried excess farm production, and that we–the internationals of the Global Campus–were merely bringing a reminder of wisdom already present in the community. This assuaged our fears of being (or of being seen as) well-intentioned, neo-colonialist aid workers.

The “Solar Dryer Group” consisted of myself; one international participant with some experience in Tamera; and several students in in Agricultural Engineering from the local university. The group had a fairly sold core—Wafa, Inas, Baha’, Adul Rachman, and Bashir; eveyone was encouraged to support group needs, occasionally working in the kitchen for example, and to visit other procjets. As a result, not everyone was present every day, and other participants came to us occasionally. I leave these details to general discussions of the Global Campus in Palestine, available elsewhere.

The first step with the group, after having discussed Fayez’s plans, was to look at the pictures in the aforementioned book, and discuss the airflow and temperature requirements. I still have the first drawings I made, which were based on standard sizes of lumber in Europe, and the expectation of access to hand- and power tools.

Initial drawings for our solar dryer.

Initial drawings for our solar dryer.


 These drawings were about ideas and communication, and not a blueprint for building. The main reason for this was the desire to use material available locally, ideally to “upcycle” material from the waste stream, and designs. This meant that the design would depend on what was around.

These bits of framed plywood were available for a number of construction projects on the farm.

These bits of framed plywood were available for a number of construction projects on the farm.

 For example Fayez had already brought some “scrap” wood—plywood and pallets—to use during the Global Campus. Two of these, end to end, came very close to fitting the initial drawings of the dryer. We needed quite a bit more lumber, which we found a few hundred meters from the farm, at a kind of scrap yard. This yard was probably also the origin of the wood already at the farm.


Just outside the scrapyard fence. The wood we picked out is piled for collection.

Just outside the scrapyard fence. The wood we picked out is piled for collection.

By weight, nearly the entire Solar Dryer was built with recovered materials. (We’ll mention the exceptions as they come up.) This was a conscious choice. The construction process would have taken only a few days, had we bought new materials.

In any case, nearly all the final design decisions were made by the student team, with only the occasional veto from me. Adapting to available materials was therefore quite natural.


The Solar Dryer, part 2

The Solar Dryer-Background

The Solar Dryer that we built on the farm of Fayez Taneeb in Tulkarm, Palestine, is based on existing solar dryers in Tamera, Portugal; and on the designs proposed in the book Sechoirs Solaires by Claudia Lorenz-Ladener. More information and background about the first solar dryer in Tamera is available here: .


 Designs from this book (in French but translated from a German original) were the basis for the solar dryers in Tamera, Portugal; and in Tulkarm, Palestine.

The basic “tunnel” solar dryer is essentially a table-top greenhouse, with active ventilation provided by electric fans and a dedicated photovoltaic panel. It provides optimal airflow and temperature for drying food; in an environment protected from animals, UV radiation, weather, and contamination. The basic design goal is to maintain, when in sunlight, a constant airflow of about 50 m3 per hour per m2 of surface; and a temperature of between 30C and 50C, the ideal being about 40C. Once constructed, the Solar Dryer is entirely autonomous and “off grid,” and supports both local food autonomy and economic resilience.

One of the Tunnel-Type Dryers, from Lorenz-Ladener's book.

One of the Tunnel-Type Dryers, from Lorenz-Ladener’s book.

Many of these dryers have been built around the world. from the smallest versions of about 2 m2, as proposed by the book mentioned above, up to dryers of 40 m2. The current tunnel-type solar dryer in Tamera is about 18m2.

The design principles are very simple, and many variations are both possible and often desirable. My colleagues in Tamera assured me that for hot, sunny climates, such as Portugal or Israel-Palestine, some changes are appropriate. For example, the designs in the book, developed in central Europe, include leaving the first meter of the dryer empty and painted matte black, to warm incoming air. I was assured that even in the Alentejo, this was not needed to achieve the needed temperatures.

The Solar Dryer in Tulkarm was a result of a combination of these published designs, experience from Tamera, the locally available tools and materials, and the creative impulses of our group. The details will be available in upcoming posts.

The Solar Dryer, part 1

Note: There will be, in the next week or so, a series of fairly technical posts about the Solar Dryer built in Palestine during the Tamera Global Campus.

The completed Solar Dryer, in position. The PV panel is not visible, but the separation wall is in the background.

The completed Solar Dryer, in position. You can’t see the PV panel, but the separation wall is visible in the background.


As a member of the team of the Tamera Global Campus in Israel-Palestine, my main role was to coordinate the design and construction of a “Solar Dryer,” a solar-powered food dehydrator, on the farm of Fayez Taneeb in Tulkarm, Palestine.

This project had a number of goals, one of which was to provide the Taneeb family farm with a food dryer, to allow them to preserve seasonal surpluses of fruits and vegetables. The other main intentions of the project were pedagogical; our wish was that the young Palestinians working with us leave with a full understanding of how and why to build a Solar Dryer.

The construction of the Solar Dryer was successful completed within the time-frame in Tulkarm, Palestine. It was built almost exclusively of recovered materials (most fasteners, the polyethylene sheeting, the photovoltaic panel, were purchased new). The students reported at the end that they had a complete understanding of the Solar Dryer, having fully participated in every stage of its design and construction. The students also engaged deeply with the more complex human and ecological questions raised by the Global Campus. For example, the political significance of local food and energy autonomy, was readily appreciated and discussed.

In the time we had, we were not able to see the Solar Dryer put into use. The important question of how this technology will be integrated into the lives of the people that use it, will have to be a subject for follow-ups, and further visits.


The Situation of Fayez’s Farm


Walking to the farm with the Permaculture students. Directly ahead is the separation wall and a guard tower, on the right is the wall of the chemical factory compound. Fayez’s land is on the narrow strip of land between them, to the right of the tower.

Fayez’s farm is in an extraordinary and highly symbolic location, on a narrow strip of land between the separation wall and and an Israeli chemical factory, which is in a compound also surrounded by a seven meter wall with guard towers.

The wall is better known than the factory, but both are strikingly unjust. It amazes and depresses me that the world tolerates, and then rationalizes tolerating, these things. What saddens me the most is the indifference of those who are both close enough to know what is happening, and far enough away to be objective. For example, I mean the UN and other international organizations that at most pass resolutions condemning the Israeli government, and then ignore their own resolutions; and I especially mean the western nations whose unconditional support makes Israel’s dehumanizing treatment of Palestinians possible.

The factory, which makes pesticides among other things, was previously near Netanya, in Israel, and was moved due to local Israeli health concerns. It was moved to farmland in Palestine directly adjacent to a large city. A narrow railroad right-of-way initially justified claiming land for a huge sprawling complex, displacing many farmers. When the separation wall was constructed, a passage was included to allow direct connection with Israel; the compound is a kind of pseudopod of wall, a bubble of occupation. And here’s a nice touch: The factory only operates when the wind is blowing away from Israel and the wall and into Palestine. The rates of cancer in Tulkarm—and especially in the lee of the factory—are the highest in Palestine.

The Google Maps view of the farm.

The Google Maps view of the farm.

It sometimes numbs the human capacity for compassion to hear these lists of banal humiliations. The numbness is partly due to the shame that we, the international community, allow the cruelty to continue. And then this numbness feeds the apathy and indifference, which in turn allows the abuse to go on. Should I say anything about the loss of Fayez’s previous lands to Israel? Should I go on about the three gratuitous destructions of the remaining farm, by the bulldozers of the IDF? Fayez’s history of political activism and his subsequent history of prison and persecution? Or would this narrative turn him into some kind of noble cliché, blending into a forgettable background of heroic victims?

I hesitate to try to describe him as a unique human individual because I don’t know him so well, and also because I don’t feel up to the task. I don’t understand where he gets the inexhaustible energy for peacework and revolution from. He isn’t Gandhi; he’s very political and his focuses, though not exclusive, are communism and Palestine. But he is nearly tireless, compassionate, and seldom forgets his mission.

After the last destruction and re-creation of the farm from nothing, Fayez promised his wife Muna that every kind of uprooted fruit tree would be brought back and restored. A large part of his precious land is now “Muna’s Garden,” an entirely organic, mixed culture fruit orchard, from which nothing is commercialized. Production from Muna’s Garden is not sold; it is only for the family, or to be shared and given as gifts.

I don’t dare to try to capture what this might mean exactly, except to say that I was moved when I heard about it, and continue to be moved whenever I visit this garden, which is often. Muna’s Garden itself tells the story, of a relationship with land—with this land—with life and love, with community and family. This story makes a striking contrast to the narrow and repressive context of the occupation, the economic calculations of the different interests, the political triangulations of the struggling factions. This is where we are, and why: Despite the existential struggle to survive, there are people who are still so romantic, and so beautifully impractical: a garden and a love story, trapped between the walls and the guard towers of the occupation.

The Palestinian Autonomy

Several months ago I sat in for parts of the Professional Education for Creating Water Retention Landscapes, in Tamera, in the role of back-up translator for a francophone contingent from Togo. About fifty people had traveled to Tamera to study sustainable water management and lake-building; the participants mostly represented existent or planned projects. In one round, they each talked about their main motivations for studying the subject. The facilitating team had given some possible ideas as suggestions: Have you come because of ecological concerns? Maybe political awareness of water issues? Are you worried about desertification? Do you have a wish or need for local food and water autonomy in your projects or communities? Perhaps you have a spiritual connection to water?

There were groups from across Europe of course, but also several from Africa, the Americas, and the Near East. This latter included five Palestinian farmers, all of whom without exception had the same leading concern: autonomy. And each of them spoke this word with feeling, with a palpable tension and intensity… an almost too-real emotion in the midst of a fairly technical curriculum of hydrology and earth-moving. I took this as an insight into their situation, a shared exhaustion with living at the mercy of a hostile authority that controls a scarce resource.

Stepping out of an exploitative, centralized system—instead of fighting it—can be a purely pragmatic response, and a reasonable one. But the effects of local autonomy are greater than simple survival for marginalized people. It is a way to resist central authority, but this misses the depth of the transformation that autonomy represents: The “centrality” of a centralized system depends on the existence of the periphery; if the periphery opts out, there is no center. The authority, control, and potential for manipulation and exploitation, are simply gone. Autonomy is fundamentally revolutionary.

When this is the conscious motivation, in places like Tamera or Fayez’s farm here in Tulkarm in the West Bank, then autonomy becomes peacework. We use terms like “autonomy” and “autarchy,” because that’s the usual jargon, but the goal is not rugged individualism or a survivalist siege mentality; to goal is an open and trusting network of local production and exchange, based on choice and complementarity, and not on control or dependence. We mean regional autonomy. And on an even deeper level, autonomy just isn’t the right word. The true goal is independence and sovereignty, the power to choose; to freely enter into exchange or not, based on mutual support, without fear or need.

Until recently, the subversive nature of local resource sovereignty went largely undetected. Those in positions of power are so accustomed to active resistance and calls for reform; that the idea of someone simply stepping out of the system—creating alternative models outside of the centralized picture—was seen as nothing but a quaint hippy pastime if it was noticed at all. This is beginning to change: In many countries, in recent years sunshine has been essentially nationalized and privatized; solar energy cannot be generated off-grid without permits from—and taxes to—the relevant authorities. Likewise, in more and more countries, rainwater belongs to the state and to the public and private water utilities, and cannot be collected even on private property without a permit.

Centralized control of resources is not only a modern convenience which, in the case of a conflict like Israel-Palestine, may be used by the powerful against the weak. It is rather part of the a system of thinking and acting that inevitably leads to the illusion of scarcity, and then creates conflict. It is “scarcity thinking” that motivates hoarding, centralization, and finally divides the world into the powerful and the weak. It is, in other words, the system of exploitation and war. Our hope for Tulkarm is not only to allow a friend to flourish despite oppression, but to support Fayez in his revolutionary peacework. He has been working for decades to create a different way of living, to build another model of human life based on cooperation. The permaculture agriculture techniques, water management, and energy technology we are supporting here, are neither weapons nor defenses in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle; they are a path out of this and all conflict, a model of an alternative in which the abundance of nature can be seen, and the pointlessness and absurdity of the conflict are revealed.

Heading to Tulkarm — Global Campus, 2013

I’ll inaugurate this blog with a visit to the occupied territories of Israel-Palestine. I’ll be there as part of the Tamera Global Campus, to build some simple, off-grid solar technology on an organic farm in Tulkarm in the West Bank.

Right now I am in the Lisbon airport, after a night in a cheap hostel in Baixa-Chiado, on Praça Luis de Camões. Unlike anywhere else I have been in Lisbon, I didn’t really like it. It was crowded and noisy of course, but not crowded and noisy in an interesting way. It could have been anywhere… or at least, anywhere in Europe where bored, young people congregate when they have energy but no passion; when they have the means to travel and party, but no particular curiosity or aim.

One of Lisbon’s charms is that it looks and feels different–calmer, more peaceful and comfortable with itself–than any other big city I know. But Praça Camões at 2am could have been the coffee-shop district of Amsterdam, or central Prague, or somewhere along the Kurfürstendamm… any architecturally plausible Euro-backdrop sought out by revelers, to give an air of cool to public drunkenness and empty conversations. In the hostel itself, day and night an assortment of astonishingly beautiful young people from all over the western world flirted, with an affected banality and the unconscious but clear goal of having–literally–no culture. I mean no culture in the sense there was no way of knowing where these people were from; they spoke perfect English learned from sit-coms, wore the same globalized, branded fashion emerging from the same sweatshops of the developing world. They sought out the same cheap alcohol in the same nightclubs, playing the same derivative globalized pop-music under a house beat; and then hollered in the streets until at least dawn, in that inebriated mixture of exuberance, privilege, repressed rage, bonhomie, and primate aggression; which as far as I know was perfected by rapey American fratboys in the 80s, and then pitched to the world as some kind of virtue.

These were intelligent and interesting young people, with complex histories and old souls. They were probably quite well-informed and idealistic, to the extent their imaginations and self-interest allow. But what was sacred in them, they hid; what was false and without meaning, they promoted and nourished. The striking woman from Slovenia and the tall Portuguese university student, as they chatted in the kitchen, both radiated a general, anchorless ambition, expressed in the form of demeanor and CV, rather than any real vision. The studies they were in, the internships they dreamed of: European Law, “Business,” finance, international institutions. They are so ready to work so hard, to give their energies to processes and structures that tormented their parents, that are impoverishing their countries, and that will destroy their futures. And yet nothing else seems to occur to them.

Praça de Luis de Camões is not a conflict zone in the usual sense, but we do live in a globalized world: The violence in Israel-Palestine depends directly on political expediency, ignorance, and Christian apocalypticism in the western world. Exploitation of human beings and of the natural world depends on the kinds of consumerist choices these young people make every day. And I’m not really much less complicit than them, anyway. I don’t know where the most urgent work is: Tulkarm? Portugal? Schaerbeek? Wesley Heights?

That last question was a rhetorical one: The most important peacework is inner peacework, as a general rule and especially for an angry, judgmental, hypocritical, neurotic, consumerist basket-case like me. My job as a peaceworker right now is to not judge the Erasmus demographic of Praça Camões, and I’m not doing too well.

I’ll continue with this inner work. For the next few weeks, it just so happens I’ll be doing it in the Occupied Territories. I’ll be keeping my brain and hands busy building a solar dryer.

See you there.