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About Dubai:Culture of fish, cherry tomatoes

(nivriti@khaleejtimes.com) / 18 May 2013

Golf resort uses aquaponic gardening that uses 90% less water than other gardens

Plants and herbs grown using the aquaponic gardening method at the Jebel Ali resort and hotel. — Supplied photo

What do cherry fish and cherry tomatoes have in common? Nothing, you’d think. Except, at a golf resort in Jebel Ali (that won the Dubai Green Tourism Award last year), you find them together, drink-ing water from the same water tank.“Fish feed the plants. Plants feed the fish”, says Mischa Graafmans, the executive sous chef at Jebel Ali resorts and hotels, explaining the idea behind Aquaponics.

Aquaponics is a way of growing plants — in this case, herbs such as basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano and also, tiny, moth-ball sized, red, suc-culent cherry tomatoes — by feeding them with the waste water from fish. Trials are on for cucumber and mint. It’s organic all the way. You can even set up a version of it at home. No chemicals used. No crop rotation needed. Since cherry fish are local fish, and are used to warm tropical waters, they don’t need temperature control. But the system isn’t very old, only in the eighth month. And the summer will be telling.

Going the organic way

  • Aquaponic gardening is a way to grow organic vegetables, greens, herbs and fruits, while providing the added benefits of fresh fish as a safe, healthy source of protein.
  • No chemicals are used. Aquaponic systems are completely organic and provide for a symbiotic environment.
  • Aquaponics is instrumental in conserving energy and helping control climate change and the impact of overfishing on our oceans by recycling water.
  • They are four to six times more productive and use ninety per cent less water than conventional gardens.
  • Initial investment of fish tank and pipes apart, maintenance costs are minimal
  • Aquaponics was used traditionally but the usage in modern times has come down. Holland uses the aquaponic system to grow lettuce and other garden greens.
  • Abu Dhabi has a large aquaponic centre with over 50,000 fish. But individual organisations in the UAE have yet to buck the trend. In JA Golf resorts, aquaponics is eight months old.

The whole set up is energised by solar panels — all the more sensi-ble, for where in the desert does especially the sun not shine.The resort at the moment, is ex-perimenting with varieties of basil to cultivate with aquaponics. The quickly-approaching heat is a dampener, given as basil is a ‘soft herb’ — unlike the hardier rose-mary and thyme, and may suc-cumb to chronic wilting and sun-burn. But even so, and as yet, even with the soft herb, they’re self-suf-ficient, using their own-grown basil in restaurants, the yield being five kilos a day. They reap 10 kilos of cherry tomatoes a week, which isn’t enough to feed all the mouths on the resort, so it is supplemented with cherry tomatoes bought from outside, but sourced locally.Everything at the resort is done in a bid to cut down CO2 emissions — even the chicken you eat at their restaurants are procured from free range farms in Al Ain, as against being imported.

On a larger scale, Aquaponics is said to mitigate food insecurity, cli-mate change, groundwater pollu-tion and the impact of overfishing in oceans. And since Aquaponics systems are completely organic, they are four to six times more pro-ductive and use 90 per cent less water than conventional gardens.

Fredrik Reinisch, general man-ager of the Jebel Ali Golf Resort is proud of all the other initiatives they have running on the property that are reducing the brand’s car-bon footprint.

A few weeks ago, in their free en-vironmental workshop that occurs quarterly, 10 olive trees were plant-ed in this very same bio garden (that houses the cherry fish and the cherry tomatoes and the whole aquaponics system). After the planting was complete, guests were served ‘a sustainable meal’ — which means the produce was sourced from their backyard — along with free trade coffee.

There’s evidently concentrated thought gone into the minutest de-tails at the resort. And they’re con-stantly striving to be better. Educat-ing kids is big on their agenda. So on Wednesdays, there is an activity for children on the resort – to go visit the bio garden and get a feel of the plants, to plant, to ‘explore flavours’, as Graafmans says, to understand aquaponics and internalise an un-derstanding of where the food on their plate comes from.

Special needs children from schools in Dubai have also visited the site and engaged in activities such as, for one, painting the fence. Schools are welcome to contact the resort and arrange a tour of the bio garden. They’re happy to show the young-sters around. Especially given the state of affairs, where, like Reinisch puts it, “in Dubai you ask a child where cherry tomatoes come from and the child is likely to cite the su-permarket and answer: Spinneys.


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