Tami Zori is the chief cook and bottle washer at CityTree, an urban ecology project in Tel Aviv that she created in 2006.

Greening Tel Aviv


Visitors come to CityTree's base in Tel Aviv to learn about permaculture (Photo: Lia Chesikov)

By Abigail Klein Leichman

Once upon a time, Tami Zori was much more interested in acquiring shoes than reducing her carbon footprint.

"I ate out every night. I spent a lot on clothes and travel," Zori confesses, while standing in her kitchen throwing garden greens into the blender and scrubbing old jars in a homemade soap solution. Later, she’ll fill them with healthful sea salt and offer them for sale.

Her dramatic transformation did not happen overnight. It started with a healthier diet to vanquish her allergies when she was 25. Now 43, Zori is the chief cook and bottle washer – not to mention gardener, teacher and entrepreneur – at CityTree, an urban ecology project in Tel Aviv that she created in 2006 and later moved to a ground-floor flat downtown.

Greening Tel Aviv

Tami Zori, founder of Tel Aviv’s urban ecology project CityTree (Photo: Lia Chesikov)

"I never buy anything new"

The former Silicon Valley recruiter teaches permaculture (sustainable living) and offers courses in vegan nutrition, water conservation, composting, and other ways of living harmoniously with the earth. Along with the jars of salt, CityTree sells an eclectic assortment of eco-friendly goods: Raw cacao, organic dates and tahini; natural homemade cosmetics; fair trade olive oil; vegetable bags sewn from fabric scraps; insect-repelling incense sticks of aromatic homegrown sage; and local essential oils.

"Each product tells a multilayered story," says Zori. "We can talk about the jars and what would happen if we didn’t save them from the trash; we can talk about the salt inside and where it came from; and we can talk about small businesses and why it makes sense to buy from a woman living in a house in a big city, instead of buying from a supermarket."

With the landlord’s permission, CityTree’s staff and a crew of volunteers are turning the patch of dirt surrounding the building into an attractive garden.

The volunteers, and anyone else who comes to Friday visiting hours (from 10am  to 2pm) at CityTree, have free reign of the demo flat. Even Zori’s bedroom is no terra sancta, but just another space to showcase a sustainable lifestyle.

"After I moved in, we covered the ugly finish on these walls with mud and papier-mâché made from old files I brought from my former apartment," she recounts. On her bed is a neat pile of linens and clothing she’d collected the day before at a giveaway up north. "I never buy anything new anymore," says Zori. "Everything we need is already around us."

The English slogan ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ is similarly alliterative in Hebrew: me’ut, mikhdush, mikhzor. But it’s not just a slogan at CityTree. It defines the entire enterprise.

Greening Tel Aviv

CityTree teaches students sustainable living right in the heart of the city

On a recent summer day, Alana Greenberg and two other teens from Australia were piecing together a garden walk using tiles discarded from a nearby renovation. Another walkway was creatively cobbled with embedded glass bottles salvaged from the trash.

Earlier, Zori showed the young trio how to make juice from the leaves of shrubs that a professional gardener had discarded in a bin nearby. "Tami explained it was the equivalent of somebody throwing out a bag of fresh apples," says Greenberg.

Greening Tel Aviv

The business is supported by course fees and by some 200 ‘Friends of the Tree’ who pay a yearly membership or donate their services as teachers for CityTree courses. "The fee is really an investment, not a donation," says Zori. Friends are encouraged to create and promote their own ecological businesses.

One perk of membership is free plants from CityTree’s thoughtfully-planned and nurtured nursery. It is much smaller than some of the ecological farms that Zori visited in England several years ago, but then again those farms were situated in rural areas, not dense cities like Tel Aviv. "We have all the same ingredients, just on a different scale," she says.

Greening Tel Aviv

(Photo: Lia Chesikov)

Because she is still in rented space with scarce access to capital funds, there is a limit to what she can do. She dreams of putting solar panels on the roof, for example. "But I feel the energy [consumption] is less of an issue because I am on the same electricity grid as many other people," Zori relates. "I save energy by the way I live." To get around, she relies mostly on her bike and sometimes on a car she co-owns.

CityTree also promotes healthy living via its information-rich Hebrew website, that has a small section in English. It is working with the municipality to create a Green Map of Tel Aviv, and awards city-dwelling ‘composters’ with whimsical medals of honor. Composting workshops are offered on the last Friday of the month. 

Former CityTree team member Tess Lehrick recently started Garbage2Garden, collecting organic waste from two area restaurants and turning it into compost to sell to locals. Permaculture course graduate Boaz Shilo started a community garden. "We spread information and knowledge," says Zori, "and people who come here and volunteer or take courses go and do wonderful things in their own neighborhoods."