There is a popular hashtag doing the rounds of social media in this country. #UAEHealthMovement is proof that this country’s community is witnessing a proud shift in it’s eating habits. For every fast food chain that is opening up, a locally sourced sandwich bar opens it’s doors right beside it. Local and Organic are two words that are changing the way people look at and buy food in this country. Especially when it comes to fresh produce.
This explains why The Farmers’ Market on the Terrace, a seasonal farmers’ market running from November to April, gains increasing popularity every year. On any given Friday during the season, you can witness passionate farmers discussing the details of the produce with their loyal customers. What makes this market so different from others of its kind, is that not only does it eliminate the middle man to let us interact with those who lovingly grow our food without the help of chemicals, they also sell it to us at prices that are extremely affordable, even for the average middle class family in the UAE. It takes the price intimidation that usually comes with the ‘organic’ tag out of the equation, so that people from a much wider range of income levels can afford most of the produce.
However, like all good things, it comes to an end every May, leaving its patrons with a lingering sadness come Friday morning, when they realize that the market season is over. To loyal customers of the market, it almost feels like a family member has left after a brief, delightful visit.
However, for the farmers, the show must go on, and they continue to grow and sell their produce. The crop doesn’t yield as much as in the winter months, but after years of hard work, there is enough to supply a steady stream of local, organic produce. And just because we do not have access to buy directly from them, is no reason why we should deprive ourselves of the vibrant, sweet fruits of their labor.
But first of all, why buy local? The prices of local produce are slightly higher than it’s counterparts from around the world, so what benefits do we get? To this we say, just try it ONCE. The difference in flavor is so incredible, that even the teens of our household (who couldn’t care less where their sparsely consumed veggies were coming from) commented on how fresh and flavorful their meals were, without quite understanding why. Also, the price factor is in our hands. The more we support our local farmers, the more they can sustain and invest in their farms. And the more they produce, the overall prices will be lowered (business folks will recognize this as economies of scale).
The second question is, why buy organic? Again, it is definitely more expensive than it’s counterparts, whether local or imported. The answer to this one is a little more complex. Organic produce is grown using natural pesticides and natural, biological ways to retain soil fertility, among a host of other things. Basically, everything that would have been made easier using chemicals is instead done patiently and naturally, resulting in crop that is free from artificial chemicals. As you can imagine, this takes a lot of time, effort and investment. Now imagine doing all this in a desert environment, and the task that these farmers have taken on is nothing short of a miracle. So it seems like a no-brainer right, buy organic where you can afford it. However, there is some produce where buying organic is absolutely recommended (such as leafy greens, tomatoes etc), whereas with others, you can get away with buying non-organic. Anything with a thick outer skin that protects the inside from chemicals, usually doesn’t need to be organic (think onions, pineapples and the like). If you can afford it, sure, but realistically speaking, it is just not feasible for most budgets.
Convinced? Ready to be part of the change? Now that we’ve (hopefully) established the importance of buying local and organic, we have also compiled for you what we hope is a comprehensive list of options to purchase local produce during the summer months, until the next season of the Farmers’ Market comes around in November.
Buying from the farmers directly
Starting last week, there is an indoors Farmers’ Market organised by Mawasim Organic Farms, taking place every Friday between 2-8pm at The Mall, World Trade Centre in Abu Dhabi. For all the folks who used to make the drive down to Dubai for the market, this is great news. For those of us in Dubai, the tables have turned ;). We do like the timing though, just ideal for a nice drive down to the capital.
Ordering from the farms directly
As far as we know, there are two farms which offer a home delivery service. They update their websites with what’s in season, and you can also give them a call to discuss your options. These are the farms:
- Organic Oasis (www.organicoasis.ae)
- Greenheart Organic (www.greenheartuae.com)
Major supermarkets in the UAE
From our conversations with the farmers at the market, when asked where we can buy their produce after the season ends, most of them said Union Coop. Quoting one of the guys, “we do sell and will continue to sell through Union Coop. Prices? What we sell for Dhs. 15 here will be for Dhs. 18 over there“. However, after contacting the management of several farms, we were given a bigger list of supermarkets.
- Union Coop (highest availability and stock, local farmers supplying to the locally owned supermarket)
- Spinneys (offers on produce every Monday)
- Hyper Panda
- RAK National
- Park n Shop
- All Day Minimart
- Milk n Honey
- Milestone (15% off on Sundays)
We feel the prices here for the produce might be higher than the other options, given the premium nature of the stores. However, several of them have various offers to sweeten the deal, and they also have a reliable stock of local produce, as most of them were established out of a desire and passion to support healthy living and eating in the UAE.
- The Farmhouse Dubai – for frequent visitors of the Farmers Market on the Terrace, these guys are a familiar name. Always right there with the farmers, supporting them in a way few can claim. In fact, they are now working on sourcing wholesale organic seeds to the UAE’s farmers. If this happens, it will definitely have a positive impact on prices. Currently, you can buy produce from them at their branch in Al Manzil, Downtown Dubai and The Change Initiative on Sheikh Zayed Road. They also provide home delivery (www.thefarmhouse.ae for more details).
- Ripe Market – The popular market in Za’beel Park where you can buy customized boxes of locally sourced organic produce has now shifted indoors at Times Square Mall, every Saturday from 9am-2pm. You can also order online (www.ripeme.com for more details).
- Biorganic store – Located near the Jebel Ali Racecourse (their website has a detailed location map), this store is an organic food lovers’ paradise. They stock local produce as well as imported. You can also order online (but they have delivery charges). Visit www.biorganicstore.com for more details.
- Organic Foods & Cafe – the first of it’s kind and still going strong, they do source locally from the Organiliciouz farm, along with imported produce. They have between 15-20% off on produce for several days of the month. Worth visiting on those days to get a good deal. They have several branches across Dubai and Abu Dhabi (www.organicfoodsandcafe.com for more details).
- The Farmer’s Garden – Another store that sources fresh produce locally, this one has two branches located along the Al Wasl Road in Dubai. Also provides online ordering and home delivery (www.thefarmers-garden.com for details).
If you’ve made it till here, we salute you, that is a lot of information to take in! But it also proves that the future of the UAE Health Movement is bright, and it is upto us to educate ourselves and make changes in our lifestyle. With that exhaustive a list of options (and this is only what we have found, there might be many others), a lot of passionate people have made sure that should we wish to embrace this lifestyle, it is extremely convenient for us to do so.
If you still need convincing, Sally Prosser of My Custard Pie fame and one of the most loyal and vocal advocates of buying local might be able to persuade you.
What is your opinion on the movement? Have we missed out on anything? Is there anything you would like to know more about? Do share your thoughts in the comments below!