While local farms are gaining in popularity with the UAE’s finest restaurants and pickiest chefs (who would import nearly every ingredient but a few years ago), one Sharjah hotel is taking baby steps in harvesting its own crops and then integrating each freshly produced lot into its daily menu.
Coralganic, as the miniature farm is known, was started on Earth Day this April and is the brainchild of Iftekhar Hamdani, area general manager of Coral Beach Resort and Bahi Ajman, both hotels owned by Hospitality Management Holding.
In only six months, 450 square metres of land, located within the property’s premises, produced more than 60 kilograms of crops that are being used in the hotel’s kitchens. “A harvest day is like a day of fortune,” Hamdani tells The National. “It feels just like yesterday when we began with a simple plot and built Coralganic and now we are reaping what we sowed.”
Hamdani says the crops – which include cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, baby radishes, mint leaves and lady fingers – are produced using sustainable farming methods and are certifiably organic. “We have taken baby steps and are learning along the way. Though the quality of lady finger wasn’t too great, the mint and tomatoes have grown nicely all year round.”
From the beginning of its foray into farming, the resort formed a “green team” comprising members of staff from various departments who volunteered to be taught about sustainability and culinary practices. “We engaged them so as to educate them to be part of the journey,” Hamdani says. The hotel also has two gardeners who tend to the farm and manage the green landscape.
Head chef Sumeet Soni is also engaged with the project. From picking the vegetables to infusing them into the buffet, Soni ensures the fresh yield is part of the culinary offerings.
Guests, too, can opt to be part of the experience. “We take them for a tour of the farm and show them how we are growing the vegetables and then using them in the menu. Hamdani says that an Emirati man, who has been a patron for the past 20 years, has noticed the change in the freshness of the food. “This gentleman is a coffee lover, but now also loves the green tea we serve him with freshly plucked mint from our farm.”
The patch of land has already been readied for round two as the months of October to April yield the best harvests, says Hamdani, who is also is working towards eliminating plastic bottles in both the hotels he manages.
“I am liaising with the Anantara The Palm Dubai Resort team as they have eliminated plastic bottles at their property by introducing the Infinity water system and we hope to adopt a similar system very soon,” he says.
The teams are also actively involved in protecting the mangroves in Al Zorah Natural Reserve in Ajman. Mangrove forests are capable of storing 10 times more carbon than terrestrial ecosystems, putting them at the front line of climate change, Hamdani explains.
“With rising sea levels, mangroves are essential because we expect they will play an important role in protecting our shorelines from erosion. In my opinion, mangroves are part of the heritage of the UAE, and it is our responsibility to protect them,” says Hamdani, whose name can be found highlighted in the Syria Pavilion for the duration of Expo 2020 Dubai, in recognition of his eco-friendly efforts.