Day in the Life: Eco farmer grows edible flowers for Dubai’s Michelin-starred restaurants

See how Mary Anne de Haan grows 180,000 colourful blooms a month for the likes of Nobu, Ossiano, Tresind Studio and Moonrise

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“A Day in the Life” allows you to step into the shoes of a UAE resident to experience a typical 24 hours in their work and home life

Mary Anne de Haan’s flowers look good enough to eat – and if you’re a fan of Michelin-starred restaurants, you’ve probably had them.

Ms de Haan, 35, left her corporate job in 2018 to grow flowers in the Dubai desert and now supplies dozens of the UAE's top restaurants with up to 180,000 edible blooms every month.

The mother of one's sustainably grown farm-to-fork produce can be sampled at Moonrise, Ossiano, Tresind Studio, Hakkasan, Jaleo, Boca and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, among others.

Here, The National joins Ms de Haan on a typical day on the farm, juggling flower picking and hydroponics with thousands of predatory wasps.

6am: Blowing the cobwebs away

Ms de Haan is woken every day by her son Leo for breakfast, after which she takes her two rescue dogs and her horse for a brisk walk through Al Waha Village.

"I take my desert dogs Tokyo and Alma and my horse Peanut for a stroll every morning," she says. "I enjoy being surrounded by nature, which was the main reason I became a farmer.

"When I started back in 2018, I had absolutely no experience but I learnt everything as I went along.

"I gave up my job as an account manager at a business marketing company and threw caution to the wind."

Ms de Haan was inspired to grow fresh food shortly after moving to Dubai from the Netherlands in 2014 when she noticed that a lot of produce was imported.

Tresind Studio is one of Ms de Haan's clients. Photo: Tresind Studio

She taught herself sustainable growing techniques including hydroponics, which involves growing plants without soil using solutions that require up to 10 times less water than traditional methods.

“I had no agricultural experience at all but I decided to go for it,” says Ms de Haan.

“Today we have 13 staff at Mary Anne’s Fresh Produce and on a good month we sell about 6,000 boxes containing up to 30 flowers each to the city’s restaurants.”

8:30am: Life is better on the farm

Ms de Haan arrives at the farm just off the Dubai-Al Ain Road between 8.30am and 10am most days for a team meeting and to go over new orders from the likes of two Michelin-starred Tresind Studio.

“It’s very cool working with such incredible chefs and the whole team is very proud to be involved,” she says. “They’re also just really lovely people to work it’s amazing to be able to contribute to their success in a small way.”

During the quieter summer months, Ms de Haan and her team focus on sustainability projects including plant-based packaging and waste management.

“Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do and we’re always looking for ways to make a difference,” she says. “I’m currently trying to develop packaging that is recyclable but still guarantees the shelf life of the flowers.”

Dish from Boca using Mary Anne de Haan's edible flowers. Photo: Mary Anne de Haan

2pm: Crafting Dubai’s prettiest plates

After a light lunch, Ms de Haan meets chefs and restaurateurs in their kitchens or on the farm itself.

“Sometimes they’ll be looking for something with a particular aesthetic and other times they’ll be aiming for a certain flavour,” she says. “We grow amaranth, nasturtiums and marigolds but the most popular flower is mixed violas as they are very versatile and the flavours aren’t too strong.

“All of the flowers are hand-picked and though I don't do much of it myself these days, I love to walk around the farm soaking up all of the beautiful smells and colours.”

To prevent bugs and pests from destroying the crops, Ms de Haan imports 200 predatory wasps every month from the Netherlands in the hope they will eventually begin to nest and reproduce.

“It’s a beautiful way to reduce pesticides,” she says. “I believe in using nature positively instead of trying to fight against it.”

5.30pm: Tasting the finished product

Ms de Haan heads home in the late afternoon and spends time with Leo, before heading out to see her flowers in action.

“Sometimes we go out to try the dishes. We went to Chez Wam recently which was really nice,” she says. “It’s really cool to see how the chefs use the flavours in unexpected ways and I'll always snap a few pictures to share with the team.

“The chefs really bring it all to life and it’s pretty amazing to see everything come together on the plate.”

Updated: September 12, 2023, 2:30 AM