UAE

From farm to fork – literally

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For someone who isn’t a shopping enthusiast (no kidding), a gasp or two were heard as I was heading out at 7 am in the morning to do some grocery shopping on a Friday – that’s right, on a weekend.
A greater half of Dubai was probably sleeping in around that time. (tsk..tsk..)

The Farmer’s Market On The Terrace is a remarkable platform for consumers like you and me to buy our produce directly from the farmers themselves, without having to interact with or worry about ‘broker’ organizations and how they would handle logistics. Though there are quite a few trusted food and beverage trading companies out here, with the ongoing battle between food security and food fraud, the real definition of fresh” appears to be slightly blurred these days. What I appreciate about this admirable initiative which actualized thanks to the efforts of team Baker and Spiceis the freedom of interaction with the local farmers. The transparency is laudable and quite evident when they give you tips on how to care for the fruits and vegetables, where it comes from and how it’s harvested. Some of the representatives at the market even shared the mistakes they made along the way when the farms were still in their foetal stages of development.

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This organic green movement (sounds like a revolution, doesn’t it?) sprouted in 2009, and ever since, more agriculturists have been added to the growing list of local contributors. With information and technology exchange, international techniques and traditions that have been passed on from one generation to another, appears to have been calibrated locally to match and meet the expectations of a multi-cultural consumer group.

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If using the words economical, sustainable, organic and plenty-of-parking-slots in the same sentence is not appealing to you, then I don’t know what is. Set in the ballroom garden at Jumeirah Emirates Towers, adjacent to the ballroom parking area, which, by the way is abundant and free of charge, The Farmers Market comprises stalls flanked by laid back alfresco embracing wooden benches and simple yet lush landscaping. It’s hard to not want to go on a picnic, especially when the morning air is laced with the aromatic elements of toasted bread, rich brewing coffee, roasted coffee beans and hints of herbs.
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Whilst shopping for vegetables and fruits, one must ensure that the bakery plethora, courtesy Baker and Spice is not missed. Keeping the festivities in mind, he and she ginger bread cookies were aligned on display and they sure were selling out quickly. It’s hard to ignore ginger bread that smiles back at you.

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When it comes to picking produce, one would definitely have to be mindful of the seasons and for this very reason, The Farmers Market runs for a span of six months. Nonetheless, a spectrum consisting of aubergines, courgettes, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, kale, beetroot, cucumbers, fenugreek, sweet corn, curry leaves, herbs, eggs and much more await you to serve as promising organic ingredients in your next recipe.

 

Speaking of curry leaves, a rather enterprising and energetic Nora first caught my attention as I was scanning the market, wondering where to begin from. Sprigs of curry leaves and rosemary were well arranged on the table and it was a pleasant surprise to learn, that like my mother, she cultivated them in her garden. Nora and her father are very passionate about cultivating these herbs and take extra care to ensure that the freshness is retained on the day its harvested and sold through temperature and moisture control. She happens to make her own rosemary oil at home using the extracts from the herb.

IMG_1231“Every time I open the window, these herbs greet me.” You don’t hear that a lot around these parts now do you?

 

In case you’re interested in plant swapping or are looking for add-ons for your garden, this little corner might be of interest to you.

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Coffee lovers in the house, here’s some great news for you.

Boon Coffee specializes in importing Arabica coffee beans from Ethiopia and this variety stands out because of the diverse flavor range (depending on the variety). If you know coffee beans well enough, you’d also know that the growing conditions of Arabica beans are rather delicate as compared to other varities such as the Robusta beans. Once the Arabica coffee beans reach Dubai, they are then screened and roasted before they are packed into convenient sachets. Green beans can also be purchased as well, upon request.

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If you’re not a coffee person, that’s alright. You’ll get to choose from healthy options such as conventionally pressed pomegranate or even vegetable juice. Juicing is a trend that’s slowly but steadily picking up. Who wouldn’t like a generous helping of antioxidants?

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Speaking of detox, honey too comes packed with beneficial properties. Balqees Honey offers different raw Yemeni honey to choose from. Be it infused with herbs, ginger or the good ‘ol Sidr, their jars of raw goodness will not fail to impress.

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I had the opportunity to interact with the muscles and the brains behind Prime Organic Farm.

Dr. Hanan Selim and her supportive husband should feel really proud of what they’ve established so far. The team behind the Sharjah based farm took me through the farming techniques they follow and how they strive to ensure that both quality and safety go out with each crate that leaves the farm. The emphasis here is not on quantity, but quality.

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Speaking of homegrown businesses, it’s not easy to miss the charisma of the Stavrianakis family. They represent Astraea which is a family run farm located in Samothrace, Greece.

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Cultivating, harvesting and packaging an array of olives and olive oil is what they specialize in using a blend of traditional and scientific approaches.

Kostas and his rather peppy wife, Angela gave me a virtual tour of the island explaining how they’ve also helped the community by creating opportunities of employment  on the farm. I’m pretty sure they’ve talked me into visiting the island as well.

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Anastasia, his mother, was very considerate to take out a map of the island and point out where they choose their fruits, such as apricots from. These fruits are carefully selected for preparing traditional spoon sweets. Sealed in hues of forest green to amber bottles, the meticulously pressed olive oils go so well with salads and bread. I’d recommend the wrinkled olives with some cheese to complement it.

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You may want to stop by early if you plan on ticking off a few boxes from the grocery list as stocks are limited and run out quite quickly. It’s a great way to shop and socialize at the same time and I had a brilliant start to the morning by catching up with chefs and restaurateurs. Cooking demonstrations can be witnessed as well and each week there’s something new to look forward to.

Culinary Jedi Yael Mejia, Brand Consultant to Baker and Spice and her team have definitely redefined the organic produce industry in the UAE. It gets bigger and better with each season which is quite reassuring because projects like these also emphasize on sustainability.

Having said that, you might also want to check out the Slow Food Movement which is spear headed by Laura Allais-Maré in Dubai. It’s a great initiative as well that encourages residents to engage in sustainability and further aid in reducing the carbon footprint simply by growing vegetables in their own gardens or even balconies (like my mum does). It’s a beneficial networking web for gardening enthusiasts as well.

 

There are other farmers that are eager to meet you at the Farmers Market On The Terrace and I hope I’ll get to meet you there too.

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And to conclude, here’s a candid shot of a few of my favorite people (Chef Tomas Reger, his lovely wife Kristyna and Yael Mejia)  that I’d met at the market. Positive energy, knowledge and experiences have been captured here.

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Comestible regards,
Judy Sebastian

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