Sure, an apple a day may keep the doctor away ... but not if that apple has been sprayed with enough pesticide to kill a small country! Luckily, there are increasing outlets where you can but fresh fruit that’s been grown organically. That is to say with no (or perhaps only a little) use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
In the past year or so, there seems to be an increasing demand for organic produce in Pakistan. First there was the success of the Khalis Food Market in Lahore (organised on a monthly basis) and now the first ever Farmer’s Market in Islamabad has been drawing hundreds of visitors each week.
Kuch Khaas, the non-profit centre for arts and dialogue in Islamabad, recently introduced the Farmer’s Market as “a place for local farmers and entrepreneurs to showcase and promote healthy, organic and wholesome food choices”. The market is set up every Saturday in their spacious garden located off Margalla Road and is the ideal place for local farmers to sell their produce. According to Kasim Tareen who, along with Ali Saigol, came up with the concept a few months ago, the Islamabad Farmer’s Market is different from Lahore’s Khalis Food Market in that they don’t sell any advertising space and there are no stalls for prepared food as such. “I wouldn’t compare the two,” says Kasim Tareen who owns the Organic Reri vegetable and fruit delivery service (including free range eggs and citrus fruits), which sources from farms in Islamabad. “We wanted to provide a platform for farmers to directly sell their fruits and vegetables all grown locally within a 200km radius.” There are many farms in suburban Islamabad growing fresh produce, which is sometimes sold in the local markets but it is not marketed properly.
Ali and Kasim took their idea to Kuch Khaas who told them it was a brilliant idea and they organised the first Farmer’s Market in August this year with just a few stalls, including a live cooking stall. By the beginning of December the number of stalls had grown to over a dozen, including Ciao Cheese (owned by Ali that produces the most amazing mozzarella cheese), Simli Farms (which provide fresh organic milk in bottles to your doorstep), Rehana Fazli’s delicious homemade goods like chutneys and jams, Swabi Farms that grows organic honey and other fresh produce, Zarah Nasir’s purely organic jams, herbal teas and marmalades, Zeeny’s goodies which include homemade Panjeeri, muesli and lime cordial, organically grown trout from the Blue Water trout farm in Swat and 100 per cent organically grown citrus from the prize winning Las Colinas farm in Barakahu.
“We are very grateful to Kuch Khaas for providing us with a regular space every week,” says Kasim. There is a small committee that vets the farmers who wish to apply for a stall at the Farmer’s Market. “We do make an effort to keep it organic,” he points out. The market is open to everyone in Islamabad and every Saturday there are hundreds of visitors. Many come with their families to shop and enjoy the festive atmosphere. The Farmer’s Market is doing so well now that Kuch Khaas plans to turn it into a bi-weekly venture. “That would be great, because then I can just buy all my fresh seasonal fruit like oranges and grapefruit and vegetables like salad, coriander, mint, tomatoes, etc. from here instead of going to the Sunday bazaar where the produce is not grown organically,” says out Saima, a housewife who was visiting the Farmer’s Market recently.
There are interesting new additions to the market each week of companies that usually export their goods but now have a place to sell their unique products in Pakistan. Botanic Organo exports organic dried fruit (apricots and walnuts) and herbs from Gilgit-Baltistan. These have been nitrogen flushed so that they remain fresh longer. Then there is Himalaya Rock Salt that exports rock salt lamps and candleholders (great for people who suffer from asthma and allergies). Sunny Miracles is another company that sells solar dried fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, bananas and carrots in neat packages.
One of the more popular stalls is run by columnist Zahrah Nasir, where organic products from her farm in Bhurban, called La La Land, are displayed. She produces unique Eucalyptus oil that clears sinuses and allergies and kills mosquitoes if used in an incense burner. She imported the seeds for the special Eucalyptus tree from Australia a few years ago. “I enjoy the Farmer’s Market very much. The response has been fantastic. I sell out each week!” she says. Unfortunately, since the road up to Bhurban will be closed in the winter due to snowfall, Zahrah will not be back until the spring. Another popular stall, “Leaf it” sells beautiful fresh flower and plant decorations by the artist Anisa Khan.
According to Air Commodore Retired Sajad Haider who owns the Las Colinas farm and has recently started selling his citrus fruit at the Farmer’s Market, “It’s a great opportunity for local farmers to be rewarded for all the hard work they put in to grow organic produce, instead of being exploited by the market forces and the shopkeepers in the city who sell our produce for 10 times more than the price they pay to us”. The Farmer’s Market has been a successful experiment and now it seems like it is here to stay — more local farmers are joining in each week and health conscious consumers, which are also growing in numbers, are more than happy that the middlemen have been sidelined.