Extending a hand to health

Extending a hand to health

Shilpa Chandran gives you a round-up of some popular winter markets that encourage a healthy lifestyle

By Shilpa Chandran

Published: Fri 11 Mar 2016, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 13 Mar 2016, 1:02 PM

DUBAI'S ROMANCE WITH green living is not new. But, of late, there is a fervour for fresh produce straight from the farmer.
Every weekend, residents flock to these farmer's markets to stock fresh fruits and vegetables, collected on the same day, or a night before. Popular ones include The Farmer's Market on the Terrace, Ripe Food & Craft Market, Blue Planet Green People at JLT, and Dubai Garden Centre.
The market organisers reach out to residents through timely social media updates. Although most stores, café and supermarkets offer organic and pesticide-free food products, these lack the freshness that locally-grown produce provide. The products are mostly imported from different countries around the world, packed and shipped over a few days to reach the UAE, defying the purpose of eating fresh. And, they come at high prices.
The Fruit and Vegetable Market in Ras Al Khor sells produce wholesale and retail. Hundreds of stalls with cartons of packed vegetables and fruits are available every day. These places are only affected by fluctuations in the food industry at large.
Prices vary from market to market, as does packaging. A bunch of lettuce would cost Dhs5 at the Farmer's Market, while a packaged bunch will cost Dhs8 at the farmer's market at the Dubai Garden Centre every Saturday. Fresh beetroot, plucked right off the soil with its leaves, comes at Dhs10 per kg at the Farmer's Market, while Carrefour sells the regular ones at Dhs4.5 a kilo. Herbs come at Dhs 5 for a bunch of two at Farmer's Market, while the supermarkets sell it at Dhs 1 for a bunch. The Farmer's Market while not always cheaper can surprise you with some great bargains.
As well as getting fresh produce, visits to the markets have become a fun day activity, especially these months when the weather is pleasant. Residents enjoy chatting with local farmers and some regulars have become friends. Buying local produce is also a big boost to these farmers and rewarding for all their dedication.
People get to adopt a healthy lifestyle as well as encourage their children to experience the warmth of a day out grocery shopping with the family, which in turn helps instil healthy eating habits at an early age. There are ready-to-eat food stalls to relax at before heading back home with the day's loot.
Alongside fruits and vegetables, the markets also sell fresh herbs, eggs, coffee, oil, honey and edible flowers.
For those interested to go the extra mile for a healthy, happy life in the city can check out these farmer's markets: Ripe Market on Fridays from 9am-5pm at Zabeel Park, Dubai and every Saturday from 4pm-9pm at Mushrif Central Park, Abu Dhabi; Blue Planet Green People at JLT Cluster U on Fridays between 10.30am-2.30pm; Farmer's Market at Dubai Garden Centre from 11am-1pm on Saturdays; Ripe Night Market on Saturdays from 4pm-9pm at Al Barsha Pond Park and Greenheart Organic Farm Market on Saturdays from 4pm-6pm at Comptoir102 on Beach Road Jumeirah.
'Ripe markets have grown to become much loved'
"Since its launch in 2011, the Ripe Markets have grown to become a much loved weekend gathering place. There is definitely more awareness now around eating organic fruit and veggies - people are a lot more conscious about what they consume. They want fresh food, that's been farmed without pesticides, and for it to arrive on their plate with minimum travel time. We support many certified organic farms in the UAE, each of them have unique items that they love to grow, allowing us to have a bigger variety of products to sell. Many of the farms have grown significantly over the last few years to ensure we meet the growing demand for organic veggies. Some of them are also passionate about trying new varieties and work with us to develop specific growing plans for our favourite chefs."
Becky Balderstone, founder of Ripe Market
'We are pleased the initiative has grown so popular'
Farmer's Market on the Terrace is also one of the pioneers in starting the trend of such markets in the UAE. The first season was held in 2010 at the terrace of Baker and Spice restaurant in Souk Al Bahar with six local farmers. Today there 12 farmers who participate at the market with a couple more expected to join shortly.
Mohamad el Chehimi, general manager of Baker and Spice, organiser of the Farmer's Market, said: "In 2009 when we were thinking of starting a restaurant we searched for local farmers. We found one finally and was shocked and impressed at the quality of produce he grew. At the time they were struggling with low demand and sale for the product. We then thought of the idea of organising a market where the farmers could sell their fresh produce and residents can get a chance to purchase fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables. We are very pleased to see that the initiative has grown so popular. The market receives between 3,000-4,000 visitors every Friday. Such initiatives and events create awareness on local farms, support the farmers and also benefits people in accepting a healthy lifestyle."
 "Not only do I get my weekly vegetables, but also meet with friends, and have coffee. It's such a nice community. Visiting the market has many benefits - one you are cutting down the carbon footprint, you are supporting the local farmers and most importantly you are getting great tasting food as it should be. It's cheaper here and of good value. I can do a whole week's shopping here and it will cost me Dhs70-80. High quality and really good prices, direct from the farm."
Radio presenter Suzanne Radford, who lives off Al Wasl Road has been going to the Farmer's Market on the Terrace ever since it started
"The quality of food is so much better and cheaper than regular supermarkets. Especially vegetables like tomatoes, cucumber, cauliflower and broccoli which I feel are better here than those available at the supermarkets which are imported. Here we get to buy stuff directly from the farmers."
Freelance photographer Amelia Johnson, from Downtown Dubai is a weekly patron
"I found the Farmer's Market on the Terrace through Instagram and loved it. The products are very fresh. We have started being more careful about our food habits and markets like these are ideal to help us maintain a healthier lifestyle. Vegetables get the chance to breathe and are taken from soil to stall, overnight or the very same day. It cannot get fresher than this! We have noticed a difference between the products sold at the farmer's markets as compared to the ones available at the supermarkets. Some produce are priced slightly higher, but you get more value for your money. The market also brought back memories of my childhood when I would visit the market with my mother and where everyone was pleasant to each other, and knew each other and would chit-chat while picking up the day's produce. Often, a kind farmer would add some extras into our bag and bid us farewell until the next week, just as they do at the market here."
Banker Anushree Singh, from Oud Metha
"I go to the farmer's market once a week or a fortnight where I get 80% of my grocery requirements, 10% is from my own garden and 10 from the supermarkets. I often go to the market held at JLT by Blue Planet Green People. They used to also have a dairy farmer! I used to buy my milk from him. I have seen that certain food items are priced less here. Also the farmers always add some extra bits, especially if you have bought a lot of things from him. The satisfaction in buying at the farmer's market is that it is fresh, sometimes harvested on the same day or the previous day."
Geetha Subbu, from Jebel Ali
 "The vegetables are crisp and the fresh factor is high. I am always careful while buying corn, but I was pleasantly surprised to have got some great corn from the market. I don't see a big difference in rates as compared to the supermarkets. We got two bunches of beans that cost us just Dhs 5. The market is also a great way to get children to appreciate green vegetables and start them to eat with less fuss as they are also involved in buying them."
Mum Karen Stevant and her five year old girl Emma drove in from the Lakes

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