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Peace of the Olive Branch

Erin Crowell - December 19th, 2011  
Run Across Palestine raises funds and awareness for fair trade farmers

Timothy Young and Chris Treter meet with olive growers from the Palestine Fair Trade Association to discuss the upcoming Run Across Palestine, which will raise funds to plant thousands of olive trees, along with creating scholarships for Palestinian students.

Mahmoud Issa—pictured here with his daughter, Enan—is an organic olive grower and on the board of directors for the Palestine Fair Trade Association, a partner and co-organizer for the Run Across Palestine.

Norman Plumstead and Chris Treter ran hundreds of miles across Ethiopia this January in support of fair trade coffee farmers.

While most people would consider running a marathon (26.2 miles) a daunting or impossible task, imagine running one every day, five days in a row across a foreign landscape.

Randi Lyn Stoltz of Frankfort had just run her first race — comprised of six miles — a few months before when she signed up to run the 129 miles in five days for the Traverse City-based non-profit On the Ground.

Started by Chris Treter, owner of Higher Grounds Coffee, On the Ground provides opportunities for fair-trade farmers and their families across the world. Last January, the organization raised $200,000 in support of coffee farmers with its Run Across Ethiopia. It is looking to support olive farmers with the Run Across Palestine (RAP) in February 2012.

A group of runners will start in the Southern Hebron Hills, then continue through Bethlehem, Jerusalem and into the olive-growing regions where they will stay with farmers from the Palestine Fair Trade Association and their families.


On the Ground raised enough money to build three schools for the children of Ethiopian coffee farmers – the same coffee farmers who provide the beans for Higher Grounds coffee in Traverse City.

In 2012, they’re turning their sights to olive oil, another product sold at Higher Grounds.

The run will help plant thousands of olive trees, many which will serve as replacements to those destroyed by Israeli forces.

“These olive groves in Palestine are thousands of years old. Generation after generation have had a symbiotic relationship with these trees ... it’s celebrating this relationship, which I connect with,” said Meryl Marsh, a RAP participant.

Marsh climbs trees all over the world to collect new growth for the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, a nonprofit based in Traverse City.

For her, running in support of trees that are thousands of years old just makes sense.

“I thought, ‘The running aspect is cool, it’s an amazing cause and it involves trees … how can I not get involved?” laughed the Traverse City resident, who has four marathons under her belt.

Aside from planting trees that will help support the economy and well-being of the Palestinian people, RAP will raise money for scholarships to ensure future generations will continue to fulfill those needs. RAP is working with the Canaan Scholarship Fund to prioritize qualified students from marginalized rural and refugee communities who will work with international students on farmers’ projects over a four-year period at local Palestinian universities.


On the Ground director Norman Plumstead participated in the run last year, and expects the runners in Palestine will experience the same epiphany he had.

“Regardless of people’s circumstances, socio-economic status and where they live, in the end they’re just looking for a good life for themselves and their families,” he said. “We want to bring that story out because it’s a more controversial place and topic. There’s a lot more about these people that we share in common with versus what we have in differences.”

On the Ground stresses this is not a political statement; rather, it is a way to show what is happening with a peaceful group of Palestinian farmers.

“These are people I know personally who I work with through our importation of fair trade olive oil,” said Treter. “I’ve been to Palestine multiple times and have gotten to know who they are. Then I come home and see how much of a misunderstanding Americans have. If people saw their faces, knew their story, they’d be more likely to understand.”

Treter said folks back home can follow a web series during the run and learn more about a people that has been misconstrued by the media.

“In some ways, it’s an attempt to show people what’s taking place in the world and a way to promote social change.”


Safety was a main concern when Stoltz told her family and friends about the run.

“It came up, but everyone has been so supportive,” she said. “I have confidence in On the Ground and in Chris, and I know they wouldn’t put us in a situation that would endanger our lives.”

Support has also been evident throughout the community, said Stoltz. Several local businesses have donated sales percentages and hosted events in support of her fundraising efforts, including a concert and spaghetti dinner at the Cabbage Shed in Elberta that raised $1,500.

People have also been supportive of Stoltz’s new hectic schedule.

“I have to schedule my day down to the half hour practically,” said the spinning instructor at the Betsie Valley Racquet and Fitness Club. “It’s important that I fit in my long runs. You really have to pick your battles.”

Stoltz recently chose to put her training on hold when her stepfather, Robert Bint, had to be hospitalized after his truck rolled off a Benzie County road in October. The person who is suspected of causing the accident, Torey Denman, fled the scene and was recently arrested in Colorado.

“I stayed with my mom at the hospital.

We felt we needed to be with her, so it was close to a week that I didn’t get a workout in,” said Stoltz. “I bounced right back and I feel it helped me. It gave me more motivation to run hard. Running has become my meditation.”

Marsh has also had to balance her schedule.

“I’ve had to borrow some daylight hours from work and then work later. The other day I had to run with a headlamp because it was pitch black,” said Marsh, who is currently logging around 20 miles for her long runs.

Despite the hectic schedules, the sore muscles and long hours, the participants of Run Across Palestine say every minute is worth it knowing the cause they support.

“It’s not just a running exhibition or fundraiser,” said Treter in a recent informative video on the event. “At the heart of it is an opportunity for all of us to learn about the rich culture and peaceful people that exist in Palestine.”

For more information on Run Across Palestine, donations and photos/updates of Run Across Ethiopia, visit

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