Farmers' market aims to sow seeds of change

A market will sprout on the terrace of the Baker and Spice restaurant, where farmers from Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Ras al Khaimah and Oman will sell their produce.

The luxurious Souq al Bahar in Dubai, with its art galleries and upmarket nightspots, will get a little earthier this Friday. A market will sprout on the terrace of the Baker and Spice restaurant, where farmers from Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Ras al Khaimah and Oman will sell their produce. The seeds of the country's organic market were planted in 2006, when Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, pledged his support for such enterprises, referring to a phrase often used by Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE: "Give me agriculture and I shall give you civilisation."

A year later, the Abu Dhabi Organic Farm became the first to be internationally recognised as organic in Abu Dhabi by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements. Matthias Schwarz has run Salata Farms in RAK with his father since late 2008. Their first harvest yielded about 400 tonnes of produce. The second planting brought in as much as four times that.

So, this year, the farm is adding 10 hectares of greenhouses in a US$55 million (Dh202m) expansion. Being part of the farmers' market is a way of "connecting to the customer", he said. "It's also a social thing. You know the person selling the product. You meet others in the morning. You create a community." Yael Mejia, the food consultant at Baker and Spice, hopes the introduction of a farmers' market in an urban setting will inspire consumers to think about local products when buying fresh fruit and vegetables. "My main concern is food and flavour," she said. "That's what I do for a living; I cook."

She said it was absurd that most people bought produce flown in from elsewhere at the expense of both taste and the environment. And she said her message was especially timely now, considering the volcanic ash cloud that enveloped Europe in recent days and left cargoes of flowers in Kenya, fruit in Morocco and fish in Egypt. This weekend marks the end of the outdoor growing season in this country. Farmers will soon move to hydroponic agriculture for the summer.

But Ms Mejia hopes to have whetted appetites enough so that visitors will attend a weekly farmers' market when the growing season begins in September. ashah@thenational.ae