It was barely 7am when Serena and I started making our way from our hotel in Sharjah to the heart of Dubai. By the time we arrived, we felt the heat of the noon-day sun bearing down on us (at least by Hong Kong’s standards!). No it did not take us five hours to get from one emirate to the other, but it was simply the passing of 40 minutes had already marked such a large leap in the temperature.
We were full of anticipation - we were of course excited to see the Burj-Khalifa for real - but what really drew us to this commercial part of Dubai was the Farmers Market on the Terrace or @farmersmarketme as its popularly known on Instagram.
When we arrived at 8am, the market was already buzzing with organic vegetable farmers with their colourful produce laid out, local food producers showcasing soaps, summer coolers, preserved dates, and freshly baked bread and pastries.
It was by no accident that we found this gem of the local food movement. We were to spend an exciting week in Sharjah for the Sharjah Children's Reading Festival, and having read much about the great work of Slow Food Dubai and the team behind the non-profit organisation, we were eager to make a connection during this trip. Through the kind introductions of Slow Food Hong Kong, we got to meet with Laura Allias-Maré.
Laura is the Director and Founder of the Slow Food-Dubai Convivium, whose mission as part of the international Slow Food movement is to encourage people to make the connection between their plate and the planet, and adopt more sustainable ways of living. Laura has been promoting the slow food movement through different initiatives such as the Time Oaks urban garden, organising trips and visits to local organic farms and intimate chef's parties and dinners. Also a trained chef and restauranteur from Italy, who best to introduce Slow Food Dubai and local food producers than Laura herself!
When we arrived, she and her fellow Slow Food volunteer Olivia was setting up their stall, where they were displaying potted herbs and vegetables for sale to citydwellers who wanted to grow their own.
Lucky us! We had Laura be our guide at the farmers market and she was indeed very respected all around - every stall she visited, she was recognised and warmly greeted. Our conversation had been peppered with greetings, hugs, friendly chatter between Laura and friends, market visitors and local farmers – it was almost as if I was attending an extended family gathering, and I was with the host of the party.
We were amazed by the beauty and variety of the local produce – beefsteak tomatoes, capsicums in popping reds and yellows, kale, parsley, purslane and much more. It was the second last market day of the season as the farmers were preparing to rest for the summer when temperatures can reach to more than 40 degrees Centigrade.
We were naturally drawn to the Slow Food Dubai stand as it got busier as the morning. Turned out they were having a seedling swap day for the local balcony gardening group which is a regular group of members bringing seedlings they nurtured, excess planting pots, seeds and planting supplies. For someone who makes growing our own food a mission, a group of passionate and motivated home growers sharing tips, supplies and just talking about what they were growing was truly a sight to behold.
As urban farmers here in Hong Kong, watching the juxtaposition of this grassroots movement against the backdrop of the hard core commercial district was both affectionately familiar and yet emotionally empowering. In many ways we identify and support the slow food movement, and we continue to work towards a future where it is no longer ironic or unusual to grow our food in our city, but it is very much part ingrained in our own lifestyle.
Thank you so much Laura and Slow Food Dubai for the very enlightening visit, Farmers Market on the Terrace for the wonderful experience and Slow Food Hong Kong for connecting us all. Till the next time we meet!