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Growing vegetables in the desert

March 25, 2012

Organic lettuce covered in sandThe phone rang, “Can you answer that?” said Nausheen, who was driving.  The screen flashed Obaid the farmer.  After a rendezvous in a shopping centre car park we were soon following a pick-up truck, at speed, along a series of highways, out in to the desert.  “What do you want to see?” Obaid had said, “I have seven farms.”  He was prepared to show us them all but we only had a morning free so opted for the nearest one.

Locally grown, organic vegetables wasn’t a phrase I had heard in Dubai prior to April 2010, than Nazwa opened and there was the first farmer’s market organised by Baker & Spice.  I hot-footed it down there, not really expecting much but was proved wrong by the freshness of the vegetables and the pride of the producers in what they were selling.  Sadly Nazwa closed but was followed more recently by the Ripe market and veg box scheme – and Elena who ran Nazwa is also providing veg box deliveries.  So much choice in less than two years.

Organic vegetables and fruit

My bounty from Organlicious on the left and the contents of my shopping basket from the Farmers' market this Friday on the right

The way I shop has changed completely due to the Baker & Spice market (on Fridays at Souk al Bahar and Saturdays at the Marina during the growing season).  I shop once a week for fresh vegetables, selecting what looks best on the day, and then structure our meals around the ingredients.  My family eats more healthily, the produce tastes so good and we also save money.  There will be a hole in our lives once the growing season ends and we have to go back to tasteless, overpriced, air-miles accumulated, imported stuff.

The choice of locally grown organic produce and producers has grown at the B & S market and the connection with growers and eager customers seems to benefit both parties.  Organically grown vegetables are important to me (especially since coriander was withdrawn for a month last year due to unacceptably high levels of chemicals being detected by the Municipality) but I’ll admit to being dubious about how feasible true organic farming is in the UAE.   The choices we make are not cut and dried.

Local vs imported

In a desert country where most things are imported and water is in short supply the choices are not always cut and dried

I met Yael Mejia at the recent launch of her third Baker & Spice restaurant (in Dubai Marina), and someone asked her what benchmark was used for the organic produce, “UK Soil Association standards” she replied immediately.

Really?!  I wanted to see this with my own eyes, which is why I was tearing down the highway into the desert with blogger Dubai-Bites and TV presenter Saba Wahid – both avid organic veg. shoppers.

My first question to Obaid was “Why?”  After all you have to be pretty committed to agriculture in a desert country with average five days rain a year and summer temperatures in excess of 40 C

“I am a father now.” was his simple but sincere answer, and his dedication to putting the best food he possibly could on his family’s table and to show others how to produce it too, became clear as we toured the farm for a couple of hours.

Water source

Water from the well

Obaid and his (very tall) friend Khalaf showed us round and answered all the questions we fired and more.  This particular patch of land was bare two years ago and a lot of hard work, trial and error and research has gone into making it into the fertile plot of today.  Obaid is helping Khalaf to convert his family’s 22 farms to use organic practises.

We started at the water source.  Well water is used (Obaid is strongly opposed to desalinated sea water), it is filtered to extract the small amount of salt that is present which inhibits plant growth.   We dipped our hands into the gushing stream and drank.  It was just  like spring water, if a bit warmer.  Next to the reservoir is the compost heap, supplementary fertiliser is also used but this too is organic.  The earth was already turning into crumbly brown loam in contrast to the red sand that surrounded us.  Pest control is through companion planting (for example garlic next to lettuce), physical removal (e.g. washing black fly off leaves) and some imported organic pest control remedies from Europe.

Crop rotation is used very carefully in order to put nitrogen back into the soil.  For instance there was a crop which is used for animal feed, a sort of clover which generates a lot of nitrogen.  As we were visiting at the end of the season, a lot of the crops were going to seed.  The farm collects the seed to plant next year and Obaid believes that the same plant, several generations on, will evolve to become more tolerant to the specific conditions and location.  We marvelled that the broccoli had produced a most beautiful burst of yellow flowers.

Broccoli gone to seed

Broccoli gone to seed

Some ears of bleached wheat waved in the beating sun.  This was planted as organic food for a small flock of hens.  I have long thought there was the market for organic, local chicken but Obaid is not so certain that there is the volume of consumers prepared to pay the higher prices necessary to sustain this.

As a child who spent my six weeks summer holidays in the garden, I couldn’t resist taking a pea pod from the plant, prising it open and eating the sweet, bright, pea while contemplating the peace of the surroundings.  Young date palms underplanted with grass framed one corner, rusty-brown corn sheaves another, the green planting stopping abruptly at a wire fence edged by the red ribbon of the desert.

Wheat and seeds

Ears of wheat for the hens and vegetables gone to seed to provide next years crop

We brushed off our clothes and washed the bottom of our shoes in disinfectant before entering the greenhouses.  Tomato vines were trained up to the roof but the stems snaked in ropes along the bottoms of the cordons.  This was a system that Obeid had seen used in Europe, making the plants much stronger.  We tasted some tiny sweet strawberries irrigated and fertilised through a system devised by Obaid (which he wanted to keep secret) using the experimental aquaponics method (using live fish).  He was damning about hydroponics which he believes concentrates the chemical fertilisers in the plants.

aubergine and peas

Aubergines and peas

Large fans cooled the greenhouses of tomatoes and cucumbers.  Obaid has looked into solar and wind power but the set up costs are prohibitive.  I couldn’t help feel confident that the pair will come up with a solution though – Obeid’s previous passion was in motor-racing and Khalaf had invented an electric car and spoke enthusiastically about the benefits of using one (including the politics of electric vehicles in an oil-centric world).  Eco warriors might be the wrong term for Obaid and Khalaf but they are genuinely dedicated to bringing sustainable organic agriculture to the U.A.E. drawing on international experiences from farming and combining it with their own skills and ingenuity as a legacy generations of Emiratis to come.  Obaid mentioned several times about feeding organic, chemical-free food to children for their development “the first seven years are the most important”.  I feel convinced that he and Guy Watson of Riverford would have a lot to talk about.

Tomatoes and cucumbers

Tomatoes and cucumbers in the cooler greenhouse

Obaid showed us the difference between male and female flowers on the courgettes and we mentioned that he could sell them to restaurants.  He asked one of the farm workers who was harvesting the courgettes not to discard them.  As well as excellent English (and Arabic of course), Obaid speaks the Indian language of his workers and spends long hours on the farm with them.  Despite the immaculate dish dash he was wearing, he is the driving force and knows every metre of the land.

Organiliciouz

Obaid and Khalaf were very shy about having their photo taken as they wanted the farm to be the focus. Obaid appears to have a very good working relationship with his team especially as he has taken time to learn their language.

We were sent home with bags of produce (including the courgette flowers).  Any scepticism I had harboured was completely blown away and replaced by immense admiration for the dedication and perseverance it takes to farm in such inhospitable conditions.  I sliced and grilled the aubergines for freezing (thanks Celia), the enormous bunch of coriander went into taboulleh and I made this dip out of the courgettes.  I was back at the market this weekend.  The ripe tomatoes rival anything from the Mediterranean at this time of year with that ‘just picked’ smell from the vine, I bought a big bag of freshly-picked peas, a huge bunch of basil that scented the entire kitchen and bunches of sweet baby carrots from Obaid’s farm Organiliciouz.  Like many of my friends who shop at the market I try to buy a bit from each producer; they deserve our support going to such lengths to produce fresh, tasty, nutritious food of such good provenance.

Courgette dip on wholewheat organic flat bread

Courgette dip on organic wholewheat flat bread

Where to buy locally grown organic vegetables and fruit in Dubai:

The Farmer’s Market on the Terrace outside Baker & Spice – at Souk al Bahar every Friday 9 am – 6 pm and at The Promenade, Dubai Marina  every Saturday 9 am – 2pm (during the growing season approx November to May).  On Facebook follow Baker & Spice here and The Farmers’ Market here.

Ripe  holds a market at Dubai Garden Centre every Saturday 9.30 am – 1 pm, Abu Dhabi Khalifa Park’s Desert Garden Centre every Friday 9.30 am – 1 pm & Al Raha Jones the Grocer Thurdays 3 – 7 pm.  They deliver vegetable boxes to some areas in Dubai and also have a schedule of collection points in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  More information here.

Organic farm box scheme. Elena delivers vegetable boxes to collection points in Arabian Ranches and Umm Suqeim.  Leave a comment on this post if you’d like contact details.

Organic Foods & Cafe at The Greens and in Dubai Mall stocks a small selection of locally grown organic produce (the range is mainly imported).  You can buy online and they provide free home delivery if you spend over 250 AED. More information here.

Organiciliouz – you can follow on Twitter here

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Courgette crostini

This is a simple recipe for using up a lot of courgettes; you can smear onto crostini as a starter, stir through pasta as a sauce or use as a dip with bread and crudités.

Ingredients

olive oil
250g (approx.) courgettes
sea salt
black pepper
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
A handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or a vegetarian cheese to make this vege friendly)
Leaves from a couple of sprigs of fresh mint (about 20) – although you could use other fresh herbs too

For the crostini:

1 thin baguette
approx 120 ml exta virgin olive oil

Makes about 40 crostini

Courgette paste on flat bread

Method

Wash and dry the courgettes and slice them into rounds (about 1/2 cm thickness).  Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a non-stick frying pan and gently saute the courgette with a sprinkling of sea salt for about 15 -20 minutes until cooked but not browned (the courgettes turn transparent).  Leave to cool for a few minutes then tip into a food processor with the rest of the ingredients and pulse until blended but retaining some texture.

To make the crostini, preheat the oven to 200 C.  Slice a French stick diagonally into rounds of about 1/2 cm, lay on a baking tray and smear each slice with a little extra virgin olive oil (I use a pastry brush).  Toast in the oven until golden turning them over halfway, then rub the surface of each one with the cut half of a garlic clove.  Leave to cool (can be made a couple of hours before you want to use but no longer).  Top with the courgette paste and some chopped parsley or a small amount of finely chopped red chilli and serve immediately.

How important is organic or local when you are shopping for fruit and vegetables?

100 Comments
  1. March 25, 2012 12:10 pm

    Lovely post. Doesn’t it feel good to find some fertility in the desert? I know they take precious groundwater, but so much better than shipping in from Os. I’m interested in Elena’s details.

  2. March 25, 2012 12:15 pm

    Outstanding post, Sally! It makes me realise how lucky we are in the UK with our temperate climate (as much as we moan about it). Huge kudos to the Dubai organic pioneers, and to you for highlighting their agricultural valour. Love the beautifully simple courgette crostini recipe too. Hugely enjoyable post

    • March 25, 2012 5:59 pm

      Oh yes – savour that rain! We’ve had only one day of rain this winter!

  3. Ummaimunah permalink
    March 25, 2012 12:21 pm

    Interesting post! Was this a Dubai based enterprise? May I have Elenas contact too pls, sad so sad when Nazwa closed!

    • March 25, 2012 5:58 pm

      There are many organic farms in the UAE – Organiliciouz have sites just outside Dubai and Al Ain. Have sent you Elena’s details – it was so sad when it closed.

  4. March 25, 2012 12:36 pm

    Great post Sally- it’s always good to hear about new stuff happening on the veg scene here…it is a shame that the growing season is nearly finished…

    • March 25, 2012 5:56 pm

      Oh I know….what will we do?!

  5. March 25, 2012 12:46 pm

    Really interesting post Sally, and I learnt more about a part of the world that previous to finding your blog, I knew little about. I also liked the slide show of the photos at the end and of course the rather tasty looking Courgette crostini recipe will be saved to try when (hopefully) I have some of my own later this Summer. Thank you!

    • March 25, 2012 5:56 pm

      There’s so much about the ‘bling’ side of Dubai in the media – it’s good that people know there is another side.

  6. March 25, 2012 12:46 pm

    Really enjoyed reading this post. Only wish we had so much choice in Bahrain! I have been buying some beautiful hydroponically (and locally) grown veggies lately but I will be researching that further after reading your comment above!

    • March 25, 2012 5:54 pm

      I will ask Obaid as after a quick Google I can’t find anything negative. He must have done his research though. The Dubai organic supply has come about due to some spirited individuals. Now the farmers and the buyers are connecting directly there is more choice and variety (we had kale this year!).

      • March 25, 2012 9:36 pm

        Thanks, would definitely be interested to know his thoughts. Kale would be great! At the moment we are limited to salad leaves, cherry tomatoes (the black cherry tomatoes are so sweet), peppers and some herbs. Fingers crossed for some spirited individuals over here!

      • March 26, 2012 7:25 am

        I like those black tomatoes – saw a few at the market this weekend.

  7. March 25, 2012 12:54 pm

    What a breath of fresh air Sally. Obeid and Khalaf are absolutely inspiring. To have established this kind of farm in this climate where all the factors (or many) are against you. Are they interested in holding seminars to encourage aspiring veg growers and to give tips. As to date I have harvested 3 tomatos, 1 eggplant and 2 chillies from my garden. Not alot and quite embarrassing to say the least. I have tried for the past 6 years to do container veggies, but the birds keep eating everything or there is some infestation of bugs. Would love to know when to plant what and what to feed. What soil to use, what seeds to us etc etc. Please do ask if they are willing to help. Many thanks.

  8. March 25, 2012 12:57 pm

    Excellent article Sally. It sounds like you had a great and fruitful adventure. I love how we find some local organic produce now in places like choirhrum and waitrose. It does make a difference even if the Choices are less then the farmers market.. It’s something.. And I hope a promise for more things to come.

    • March 25, 2012 5:50 pm

      I find that the organic produce in the supermarket tastes the same as regular produce but costs a ridiculous amount more. The beauty of the locally grown produce, when you buy it at the farmers’ market, is that it has been picked that morning and tastes incredible – it’s also very reasonably priced. I bought peas in the pod this weekend and they are a vegetable that loses the taste so quickly – these were sweet and fresh. We ate them raw. I go to Organic Foods and Cafe for apples (although they are often out of stock).

  9. March 25, 2012 1:03 pm

    Beautiful vegetables! Gorgeous green patches in the desert.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    • March 25, 2012 5:45 pm

      It’s quite amazing what they have achieved Rosa.

  10. March 25, 2012 1:04 pm

    What a breadth of fresh air Sally. Obeid and Khalaf are so inspiring. I feel that they have accomplished the unthinkable. Are they willing to share some tips with aspiring veg growers? I have tried my hand at container gardening for the past 5 years and finally in the ground this year. To date I have harvested 1 eggplant, a handfull of cherry tomatos and 2 green chillies, embarrassing to say the least. I feel there is no comprehensive guide here. I need to know what soil is best, when to plant what, and how to fertilize. Very exciting post, I’d like to share it with my family and friends!

    • March 25, 2012 5:44 pm

      Dubai Veg Growers has given great advice for me (although for some reason, this year has been disastrous!). Well done with your own growing – nothing beats going out and picking it yourself.

  11. Camille permalink
    March 25, 2012 1:49 pm

    Great article thank you very much. Very inspiring.
    Thanks as well for sharing what you do with your weekly supply of veg from the market, as i sometimes run out of ideas. A snap shot of your weekly menu would be even better 🙂
    Would love to get Elena’s contact details if you don’t mind sharing them.
    Cheers,

    Camille

    • March 25, 2012 5:40 pm

      I’ve sent you a mail with Elena’s email. I have been meaning to do a weekly menu. Soon I promise! I know what you mean about needing ideas.

  12. 21centuryurbanhousewife permalink
    March 25, 2012 2:25 pm

    a beautiful post.

  13. March 25, 2012 3:40 pm

    Would you share contact details of Obeid? Would love to see the farm

  14. March 25, 2012 4:09 pm

    Great post Sally – really informative & useful.

    • March 25, 2012 5:37 pm

      Thanks Tricia – it’s great to have a choice here now.

  15. March 25, 2012 5:16 pm

    Wish we could go see the farm too!! Maybe the next year! Lovely post…so nice to see things change for the better around here!

    • March 25, 2012 5:36 pm

      I’ll keep you posted. I think another visit will be arranged when the next season starts.

  16. March 25, 2012 6:41 pm

    Wow what a great find Sally! Will look out for their produce at the B&S market, and would love to visit their farms at some point. Both local and organic is a bonus, but if I could only choose one, I would opt for local over organic. Frankly I don’t want to eat over priced veggies that have been flown half way round the world ending up all mouldy, a la organic supermarket here.

    • March 26, 2012 7:26 am

      I agree with you – it’s great to be able to have both. ‘Local’ fruit from the region is often very exciting. I’m counting the days until the Iranian cherries appear.

  17. March 26, 2012 12:06 am

    Sally – this is what inspires me – more than just recipes. How you have incorporated your experience into everyday cooking and everyday blogging. I have been to B&S market in Marina – I love it. But I am always scared that if I buy for the week, the products won’t last. But you seem to be have had no such problems. Isn’t it?

    • March 26, 2012 7:07 am

      Because the vegetables are picked fresh that morning they last really well. Some things have to be eaten quicker than others (e.g. strawberries) but I find that if you plan what you are going to use and when, it’s no problem.

  18. March 26, 2012 12:19 am

    I love your passionate, eloquent description of the farm…it’s clear that this is where your heart…or stomach…is happiest. I really, truly wish I could come out to the Marina on Sat mornings, just too far for me but I’m sure that once I go, I’ll be hooked.

    Thanks for spreading the awareness Sally…and encouraging for people to support Obeid and Khalaf’s efforts in figuring out how to bring fresh, organic produce to the public here.

    • March 26, 2012 7:24 am

      I’m just a country girl at heart! I truly admire what they are trying to achieve so glad this came across.

  19. glamglutton permalink
    March 26, 2012 1:11 am

    It astounds me how they get such amazing veg from such barren soil. Great post, really interesting. GG

    • March 26, 2012 7:23 am

      You just reminded me that Obaid thinks that the sandy soil is actually better for root vegetables. Thanks for the comment.

  20. March 26, 2012 8:34 am

    Really enjoyed this post sally! All for local organic produce, regardless the requirements due to harsh weathers. It is so much better than all that imported stuff! Farm to table can exist even here, and until the day comes that its realised and people are aware of the benefits, this is all very well worth it…
    As ever a fab post 😉

    • March 26, 2012 9:14 am

      Thank you Dima – It would be fantastic if renewable energy could be factored in too. Really appreciate your comment.

  21. March 26, 2012 9:43 am

    Sally, how astonishing to be growing so much lush produce in such a tough climate! And to be doing it organically too! Amazing stuff, thank you for sharing! (And thanks for the linky too!) 🙂

    • March 26, 2012 11:51 am

      Now you see why I linger over your garden pics Celia!

  22. March 26, 2012 10:31 am

    Great post on the afternoon we spent together. Obaid and Khalaf are so inspiring. Question for you, have you been to the B&S farmer’s mkts on Friday and Saturday in one weekend? Is there usually more available on Fridays?

    • March 26, 2012 11:52 am

      Sorry I haven’t yet. I think the intention is for it to be the same.

  23. March 26, 2012 12:44 pm

    This was so inspiring – you feel as though you are there on the farm and it’s fantastic to hear of a new generation searching out the best techniques and principles and being committed enough to pursue them. It gives us all hope! Personally, I would always rather buy sun ripened and local than alot of the tasteless and organic stuff the supermarkets air freight in but if local can be organic too that’s fantastic! Elena’s produce is so delicious and she is always experimenting with the right varieties for the soil and climate. Obeid and Khalaf’s farm sounds amazing and well done for pointing out the value of the courgette flowers – it’s so sad they get thrown away when we could all be using them.

    • March 26, 2012 2:46 pm

      I think this is the beauty of the closer connection between the suppliers and the customers.

  24. March 26, 2012 1:43 pm

    You are so blessed! We battle to get home grown locally produced sustainable produce here and we live in farm lands 🙂

    • March 26, 2012 2:45 pm

      That IS frustrating.

    • March 26, 2012 5:25 pm

      This was such an interesting read!! I also prefer locally produced veggies and buy at a farmers Market.

    • March 26, 2012 5:27 pm

      Tandy, Melissa’s deliver veggie boxes (locally produced and organic)! I think the closest to you is the Stellenbosch one!

  25. March 26, 2012 8:01 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing this visit Sally.

    Did they say why desalinated water is not preferred?

    • March 26, 2012 8:22 pm

      There is a lot of negative feeling about desalinated water, that it’s unnatural and potentially harmful – this was Obaid’s view quite vociferously. Unfortunately it’s a fact of life here.

  26. March 26, 2012 10:44 pm

    Interesting post Sally. It’s a bit mad though, we have greenhouses for warming things up and they have them for cooling things down! What did they grow traditionally, other than dates?

    • March 27, 2012 7:32 am

      The date palm is a source of so many things from leaves for making shelter and matting, date syrup, even date flowers. Dubai was a trading port so the cuisine has evolved to use imported spices.

  27. March 26, 2012 11:43 pm

    This paints a very interesting picture of what it means to farm in Dubai. It’s definitely not a cut and dry decision. I had no idea there were so many different aspects to weigh in. Thanks!

    • March 27, 2012 7:32 am

      I think we all face some tough choices when we shop but it is exacerbated when you live in a desert.

  28. March 27, 2012 1:06 am

    This is such a beautiful post and gorgeous photographies too! It made me want to vegetables more 🙂 xo akiko

    Style Imported

  29. Farwin permalink
    March 27, 2012 11:48 pm

    Such a wonderful post,Sally ! Love to visit this farm one day. I shop at Farmer’s Market on Fridays and I can hardly bring myself to eat the imported veggies anymore. I don’t know what we ‘ll do when the growing season is over. Makes me so sad.

    • March 28, 2012 9:09 am

      Me too Farwin. I must always miss you on a Friday morning!

  30. March 28, 2012 8:47 am

    Great post and insight into organic farming in the UAE. I too try to support all the local organic farmers. It’s interesting to see how their crops are grown. If only they would grow more fruit and an organic and free-range poultry farm would be great too! Baby steps…

    • March 28, 2012 9:11 am

      I was given a free range turkey here and have bought free-range organic poultry in UK – it tasted completely different, almost like a game bird. The ones on offer here taste the same as the factory farmed birds so I can’t believe that they are following the best practises. I have even thought of keeping my own hens!

  31. March 28, 2012 7:19 pm

    very informative post Sally; interesting to see how organic farming is sprouting in the region; I would have loved to join you ladies, gimme a shout the next time around.

    • March 28, 2012 10:05 pm

      I will do that. I just tagged along on this trip – think they’ll be another visit next season.

  32. March 29, 2012 1:37 am

    Thanks for your support

  33. March 31, 2012 11:33 am

    Wow, if fresh, local produce can be found in the desert, what’s my excuse? Thanks for the wonderful, informative post, I especially enjoyed your pictures. Stopping by from POtM.

    • March 31, 2012 11:55 am

      Thank you – appreciate the comment and you stopping by.

  34. giftsofserendipity permalink
    March 31, 2012 3:36 pm

    This was not just eye-popping but jaw-dropping!
    To have the initiative, smarts and tenacity to produce such amazing organic veges in such harsh growing conditions must be applauded.
    Thank you so much for sharing the Organiliciouz story, I hope Obaid and Khalaf prosper in this most worthy endeavour.

    This is truly one of the best reads I’ve had in a long time, thank you for joining in with ‘Post Of The Month’ Club by the beach!

    • March 31, 2012 7:07 pm

      Thanks for such an enthusiastic comment – I was delighted to be introduced to your site, especially word of the week, through POM.

      • giftsofserendipity permalink
        April 4, 2012 3:25 pm

        Likewise Sally.
        I hope you get a chance to pop in each Wednesday to see what our new ‘zhushy’ word will be.

        Happy day!

  35. April 1, 2012 2:11 pm

    Some said I season coming to an end, but this is not true when you single out Alvena Ihvdon actually eat organic product.

  36. April 1, 2012 10:48 pm

    Some people say the season is over for the local organic products but its not true, their are seasonal summer plants and green house organic to choose from.
    organiliciouz has surprises Sally will have the update.

  37. April 3, 2012 5:28 pm

    I am so moved by that man’s commitment to growing vegetables responsibly, even when it is so difficult to do. And learning the language of his workers… What a genuinely good person. I am her from POTM, and really enjoyed reading this fascinating and informative post. I too always do my shopping at the farmer’s markets and source our meat locally, but that is a huge advantage of living in the UK. I respect people like you who still make an effort when it is really inconvenient. So glad fresh, local and organic is an option for you now (at least part of the year!)

    • April 4, 2012 7:31 am

      I try and get to the Stroud farmers’ market when I’m in the UK – it’s a wonderful market.

  38. Gregory Walsh permalink
    April 14, 2012 10:22 pm

    Fantastic post! Thank you so much, I am considering teaching in Dubai next year and was concerned that I would not be able to find organic produce (I follow a macrobiotic diet) or even find an online community interested in healthy eating. Can you buy organic greens/root vegetables in the non-growing season even though they may be from far away? I looked on the Organic Foods & Cafe website and they didn’t have any greens at all.

    • April 15, 2012 12:09 pm

      There is growing choice here but it does get a bit limited outside the growing season. Organic Foods and Cafe import fruit and veg. all year round but it can work out expensive and the choice is not extensive. The major supermarkets are starting to import more and more organic produce – but as it is mainly from the US it doesn’t always look extremely fresh and has a price ticket to match. As I’ve written before it’s not a cut and dried choice as we live in the desert – but we are lucky to have more and more real choices. Good luck with your next career move and thanks for stopping by.

  39. Tony permalink
    April 16, 2012 11:46 pm

    The term organic and non organic when it comes to vegetables is actually quite debatable, I went through some of the so called organic stores a few days back, and found that they are taking the gullible ones for a nice ride. Organic coconuts… you must be kidding me. I even saw many of the lentls, and seeds that came from company’s I am very familiar with in India, repackaged and marked up 100%. If you wan to know the secret spots where to buy organic eggs @ AED 10 per dozen, and clarified butter made from hand milked home reared cows right here in the UAE/Oman, wake up at 6 am on friday morning and follow the Local men from the mosque after the morning prayer. You want free range home grown hens, you’ll get them there. Or email me, I’m definitely not going to post it online. Theres too little to go around. Like Obaid said “I’m a father now”

    • April 17, 2012 8:11 am

      Yes it is not cut and dried and it makes me sad when you see very unhealthy, processed foods labelled organic (as if this will somehow redeem them). Would love to find out more about the butter and eggs (if possible without shadowing a man at 6am! – ha ha).

  40. April 17, 2012 12:02 pm

    park your car at the deira fish market. enter the most crowded aisle, with veggies on both sides, go to the end until the roof is finished, dont turn right into the fish market, turn left when the roof ends, u will see 10 shops selling assorted items, no fish no veggies, ask for gounti anda, same pronunciation as bounty panda, for the clarified butter ask for ghee. dont expect a receipt or lab testing. i ate gaunti anda eggs raw when I was a kid specially during the rainy season. it builds your resistance. The yuk factor is only for the first gulp. I tasted the ones at deira fish market. 100% on the ball. boiled them, yolk was nicely orangish yellow. Wanna eat mulberries off the tree in dubai? solve my website clue. no charge. the tree is 4 meters tall, and the ripe fruit is falling on the pavement, the birds are feasting, and the owner couldn’t care less.

    • April 18, 2012 8:16 am

      Thanks Tony. I love the Deira fish market but have never ventured to that bit. Really interesting info.

  41. June 7, 2012 9:56 am

    Such an interesting post, Sally. Sounds like exciting changes are springing up in UAE. Amazing what lengths one must go through to grow good food over there, but it’s great to see it being done. Organic and local is very important to me… Food just tastes better if it’s local, and feeding my family organic food gives me such a peace of mind. I feel like I’m giving them an advantage of good health that no one can take away. We are fortunate, here in Colorado, to often have coinciding local+organic choices.

  42. YASHIKA permalink
    June 14, 2012 7:19 pm

    Hi, I am Yashika, I am a teacher for World studies in Dubai.. We have the topic of organic and inorganic farming for our grade 3 kids.. and HOnestly, till date i thought that here in Dubai, we don’t have organic food..
    i would be very grateful if someone can provide me with the address or phone number to the person who manages these farms. I would like to arrange a small EDUCATIONAL VISIT for the kids to help them know more about Organic Food.
    Anticipating your Co operation..

    • June 15, 2012 2:16 pm

      Hi Yashika, Thanks so much for your comment. I will email you with the information that I have. I think it’s a great idea to put children in touch with the food system so they understand the important issues surrounding food production.

      • YASHIKA permalink
        June 16, 2012 7:54 pm

        Thnkyou so much Sally, You have no idea how helpful it would be to make my lesson so interesting by taking kids out on such a visit. It would give them real experience and would help them to know the difference between Organic and Inorganic food and the importance too,Especially how you people are doing it here in UAE..
        I am teaching in Cambridge International School, and on their behalf, i am already thanking you in advance, We will commence our new session in September where I am planning to organise this visit between September and November.
        Thankyou so much again.. :)..

  43. celine permalink
    August 31, 2012 10:32 am

    Thank you so much! This post is very helpfull. Can I have Helena’s contact please?

  44. Grace permalink
    September 13, 2012 7:41 pm

    Hi,

    This is very interesting info about Organic farming in the Desert. My daughter who is in grade 11 has a subject on Organic farming, it would be helpful to know if a visit is allowed to this farm.

    Would appreciate if you could email me Obeids mob no and email address, I can approach the school to organize a field trip if he is willing to accommodate.

    Appreciate your help.

    Thanks.

  45. james permalink
    November 1, 2013 2:50 pm

    i was searching for info about veg gardening in dubai and found this, nice work in the desert wow this is my first year in doing veggie gardening and would like to know more of it in dubai conditions like when and what to plant in dubai.

    is there any forum in dubai about veggie gardening?

  46. Besi permalink
    November 21, 2013 3:55 pm

    Hi,

    Love your website and the info on organic stuff. I have recently started buying organic produce. I would like to know if Elena organic box is still operating. If yes, kindly share details.

    Regards

    • November 21, 2013 3:59 pm

      Elena does veg boxes through Greenheart organic and there is also a shop near Motor City.

  47. Karen Fuller permalink
    March 1, 2014 4:51 pm

    Hi – do you know if it is possible to visit Organiliciouz farm yet? They mention opening it up for visits and a shop a year and a half ago but I cant find any info recently. Thanks

    • March 1, 2014 7:00 pm

      Hi Karen,
      Not sure about Organiliciouz farm visits. One route would be to go to the Farmers Market at Emirates Towers on a Friday morning and ask the farmers direct. Otherwise Greenheart are starting farm visits I believe. Send an email to elena at greenheartuae.com for a registration form. There are 4 different categories of registration: Individual customers, School classes, Corporate & Non-Profit Organisations, and Media. Otherwise I think GoOrganicME might do them but I don’t have details. Hope this helps.

      • Karen Fuller permalink
        March 2, 2014 7:14 pm

        Thanks very much. I have since discovered the Emirates Towers market so will be visiting that soon!

      • March 2, 2014 7:24 pm

        Great – I’m there every Friday morning. It’s the most amazing market and wonderful produce (and saves me money too).

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