Penelope Walsh meets the people who are striving to make our meals more ethical and sustainable
Greenheart Organic Farms
Founder and managing director Elena Kinane
What’s your local food philosophy? At our farms in the UAE, we continuously strive to grow the best organic produce possible in a sustainable, eco-friendly way. We improve our soil with good old-fashioned home-made compost and manure and don’t use chemical fertilisers or pesticides. We mostly grow from heirloom seeds. All our produce is freshly harvested just in time and strictly not stored. Our packaging is also re-usable and biodegradable (we charge a refundable deposit).
Why should we eat locally? It is generally more sustainable than imports, however it is important to establish where the locally grown produce is coming from and how it was grown. Growing hybrid produce in sand without any organic matter with a mix of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and poor water management is clearly not sustainable, nor is it healthy. Buying locally grown produce is important as it supports the UAE economy, however if the growing methods are detrimental to the environment it is not worth it in the end. You should always ask questions about what you are buying!
How are you supporting Dubai’s food heritage? Farming first started in the UAE in the late 1970s. Prior to this, all fresh produce was imported from countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The first farms started growing tomatoes, onions, eggplant and cabbages. Today our farms grow more than 80 different varieties of produce and we are continuously working on improving the quality and varieties of produce we are growing by adjusting our heirloom seeds to suit the local growing conditions.
What challenges have you faced? Finding suitable varieties isn’t always easy and it can take months before we are successful with a trial. Once you have selected suitable seeds you have to figure out how to best grow them. www.greenheartuae.com (056 640 7060).
Founder and manager Becky Balderstone
What’s your local food philosophy? RiPE supports local farmers as well as providing a selling platform for local artisanal food producers in the UAE. It is important for me to know that the food I give my family is as fresh as possible, hasn’t travelled a great distance and can be traced back to the source.
Why should we eat locally? It is better for the environment, reduces your carbon footprint, emissions etc; it tastes far fresher than food that has been picked the week before and then transported by air to your local supermarket. Buying food locally helps support the local farmers and the economy too.
How do you support local producers in Dubai? We buy all of our fruit and vegetables from local farms. For items that are not available in the local market, we then source regionally to keep the food supply as close to the UAE as possible. RiPE also runs farmers’ markets, giving local organic farms the opportunity to grow and businesses and consumers the chance to buy local, organic produce that was never available to them before. www.ripeme.com (04 380 7602).
Founder Joe Kandalaft
What’s your local food philosophy? Our slogan ‘Eat Well. Eat Local’ emphasises eating farm-fresh produce sourced from local growers; eating local food that is part of the regional culture and eating locally in your community. We strive to provide the freshest, most wholesome quality food supplied by local and regional farms. Why should we eat locally? Locally grown food tastes better, lasts longer and is healthier. The ‘eat local’ movement says that farmers who sell direct to local consumers need not give priority to packing, shipping and shelf-life issues and can instead select, grow and harvest crops to ensure peak qualities of freshness, nutrition and taste. An added value of eating local is that it supports the regional farming communities. How do you support local producers in Dubai? Almost 90 percent of the fresh product on offer at Massaad is being sourced from the region. We are making long-term commitments to our regional farmers.
What challenges have you faced making your business a success? We could not believe that more than 95 percent of the chicken supplied and used in the UAE is frozen. After trialling 2.5 tonnes of chicken, we finally found a UAE farm that is able to supply fresh chicken daily. The Walk, JBR, Dubai Marina (04 362 9002).
Chef de Cuisine Daniel Hoefler
What’s your local food philosophy? The Hyatt has a global philosophy of using food that is thoughtfully sourced, good for you, good for our planet, and good for the local community. Traiteur at the Park Hyatt abides by this and offers a variety of healthy and balanced options which are highlighted by fresh, seasonal ingredients, as well as sustainable local fish. Why should we eat locally? It is important to support the local communities and thus we aim to source as many ingredients locally as possible. We want to offer guests healthy dining options and the more local the products, the fresher the ingredients. We also want to be as sustainable as possible and this includes reducing our carbon footprint.
What challenges have you faced? It has not always been easy to source local products for French and European cuisine, however we try to source as much as we can locally. In the beginning it was definitely a challenge to remove the popular but endangered fish from the menu and offer local sustainable fish instead. As some fish were supplied either too large or too small. Fortunately we are now sourcing local fish that are sustainable. Park Hyatt Dubai, Deira (04 317 2222).
Director Omar Kadrie
What’s your local food philosophy? At Urban Bistro, we have developed what we call a ‘progressive food policy’ that seeks to find a balance between local producers/partners, organic food, fairly traded and sustainable items. We have found this to be a journey to constantly improve our offering as we discover new suppliers and refine our menu.
How do you support local producers in Dubai? As a young restaurant, our primary focus over the past year has been on finding key quality local and/or organic partners. Over that time, we have worked with our chefs to revise recipes to include more items as we build on our supplier relationship to ensure our menu continues to increasingly reflect our philosophy. We are currently in talks with an organic farm to launch a small farmers’ market. We are also advocating that our customers drink local water and to encourage them, we offer it free of charge!
What challenges have you faced? Local farms are still in their nascent stage and their products are very much in high demand and often exceed their supply. We have also found it a difficult challenge to manage food costs associated with our ethos while still offering a value proposition to our customers. www.urbanbistro.ae