How Expo 2020 Dubai's farm-to-table initiative is promoting food sustainability

The Organic Farm Resort
The Organic Farm Resort

Dubai - A farm2table initiative has come to the mobility pavilion at the expo, as an endeavour to promote freshly-sourced, local and organic produce in the region

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Somya Mehta

Published: Thu 30 Sep 2021, 8:01 PM

Last updated: Thu 30 Sep 2021, 8:28 PM

Residing in a culinary hub that is Dubai, oozing a mouth-watering variety of new cuisines, fusion meals and dining experiences curated especially for the ’gram, it’s easy to get distracted by the eclectic aesthetics and drown out the noise of what lies on the peripheries — of where exactly the Insta-ready plate on your table comes from. And while there’s the chef’s kitchen that we may occasionally peek into — the journey begins much prior to that.

With sustainability becoming a wider social and global movement, farm-to-table concepts have garnered significant popularity in recent years, as a way to promote foods that have travelled much shorter distances to reach your dining tables. Benefits? Locally-produced ingredients that stay fresh for longer and promote domestic — more sustainable — methods of agriculture, at the end of which we’re left with meals that are closer to source, promote seasonal diet and are inclusive of the local biodiversity.

Although the UAE has a long history of cultivating animal, fish and date farms, there has been a recent focus on sourcing high-quality produce, including herbs, fruits and vegetables locally, to promote homegrown agriculture and sustainability in the food sector. Farm2Table, founded by Humaid Saeed Khalifa Humaid Alremethi and Chef Jessica Queitsch, is one such homegrown concept that promotes sustainability in the region, by sourcing premium quality local produce from their family-owned organic farm, located on Al-Ain-Abu Dhabi border.

A ‘born-at-Expo’ initiative, Farm2Table will showcase a wide-range of sustainably-sourced, organic produce at the Alif Cafe, as part of the Mobility Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. With the overarching motto of providing organic foods sourced directly from heritage farms, the cafe at Expo 2020 brings forth a unique menu, which taps into the nostalgia and traditions of authentic Arabic cuisine — with a sustainable spin.

Born out of sheer passion for bringing local artisan farmers to the forefront, the founder-duo believes in a hands-on approach to farming, an ethos that advocates treating crops and livestock with utmost care. “There are so many farmers making enough progress here in the UAE, it’s imperative that we give them a suitable platform,” says Jessica Queitsch, an international chef of Canadian and German descent, who’s collaborating with farms across the UAE , to promote sustainable agriculture in a modern context. “The country has such a beautiful versatility when it comes to local ingredients and is proof that sustainable eating can be a lifestyle for all,” she added.

The Farm2Table dining concept at The Organic Farm Resort
The Farm2Table dining concept at The Organic Farm Resort

The theme of the Expo 2020 Farm2Table concept is based on the Silk Route — at the forefront of food mobility in ancient times — enabling guests to discover different spices and flavours of East to West and how key ingredients like pasta, bread, and rice travelled across the world to influence global cuisines.

As the eatery focuses on fresh produce from the organic, heritage farms, the menu will change frequently, to reflect seasonally-apt dishes of high nutritional value, curated and created by Chef Jessica, as part of an initiative to open up conversations around sustainability, whilst urging guests to mindfully question where the food on their plates comes from.

“Even though Farm2Table promotes locally-sourced foods, the mobility aspect plays a major role in the curation of Alif Cafe at the Expo,” mentions Chef Jessica, who intends to bring local produce to the mainstream F&B narrative in the region through her sustainable eatery . “For instance, the bread you will have at the cafe is made from wheat that is grown here, in the UAE, but the seeds are actually sourced from Algeria. These are seeds that can withstand the UAE heat,” she adds.

Bridging the gap between artisanal, local farms and the wider UAE community, Alif Cafe sources certified organic produce showcasing local flavours and tastes from the Arabic heritage. “We aim to provide the highest-quality ingredients, derived from the wealth of knowledge and ancient wisdom the farmers possess — everything from how they grow their crops to where they source their seeds,” says the Canadian-German chef.

But what constitutes certified organic produce? According to Saeed Al Romaithi, part of the Farm2Table team, organic produce means “absence of vaccinations, medications like antibiotics, artificial chemicals, injectable hormones and genetically modified organisms”. These are also the guidelines that oversee the processes at the Farm2Table initiative.

“Even though it’s not mandatory to regulate aspects like the cleanliness of spaces where farm animals reside, we make it our primary responsibility here,” says Al Romaithi. “It’s very important that we keep it clean because if the space is not clean, then we’ll have to give antibiotics and medication to animals.”

Addressing another pertinent concern, Alremethi, co-founder, Farm2Table, also points out, “It might be the case that whatever we’re using is organic, but the process of procuring it, in itself, isn’t organic, leaving room for adulteration. For instance, strawberries don’t naturally grow in certain regions. So, it can’t be compared to places where it grows naturally.”

As part of the Born-at-Expo concept, Alif Cafe will also host talks for guests around sustainability within the food sector, educating people on where our food comes from, how to grow our own food and the importance of considered eating. A go-to destination at the Expo, for dissecting all things sustainable and agriculture, Chef Jessica will blend in her knowledge of international haute cuisine into the local food sphere — paving the way for a more sustainable future of food in the UAE.

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