Dubai is well known all over the world for making a practice of ensuring the satisfaction of everyone’s earthly desires, even when they’re ostensibly inaccessible, demanding, or extraordinary. Anyone who wishes to do so could go skiing indoors at a resort, shop or play amongst sharks or mechanized dinosaurs, or go golfing from the roof of a skyscraper. However, finding fresh produce, like carrots r watermelon could require a great deal of luck in Dubai. So, a few years ago, Yael Mejia, decided to do something about that lack. She is a British ex-pat who recently began Dubai’s First Farmers Market, and she did it beneath the shadow of the tallest building in the world. She started this endeavor with only three vendors and, from that day forward, shoppers in Dubai were able to buy their first locally sourced produce.
Prior to immigrating to Dubai from her home in London, Mejia had made a decision about expanding her artisan food chain shops that were aptly called “Baker and Spice”. There, she had been strictly following the fundamental principles of local food sourcing all the way back to 1995. She had a strong desire for continuing this particular philosophy in Dubai, which would prove to be a massive challenge for her.
Her first step was a tour of the Middle East, where she made connections with local farmers in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria and Iran. The definition of locally sourced produce was spread quite thin and, although there were a number of organic farmers nearby in Abu Dhabi, purchasing produce from them would prove to be quite difficult. She found that buying sub-standard produce worldwide was not good enough because she wanted to be able to offer quality produce from local farms to the people of Dubai at Dubai’s First Farmers Market.
Ms. Mejia persisted and eventually succeeded in cracking the code after two long years. She was able to get connected with a farm in Abu Dhabi that was growing organic herbs, lettuce, zucchini, peppers, eggplant and tomatoes. Once this find paved the way to adding two additional farms to her supplier pool, she managed to have plenty of vendors for Dubai’s First Farmers Market.
A great deal of hype surrounded the opening of Dubai’s First Farmers Market because the local media was fascinated by the novelty of the whole idea. Basically, it meant a sea of artifice that was Dubai with organic produce injected right in the middle of all of it. It was started outside of Mejia’s Baker and Spice cafe on the terrace. This location was extremely close to the tallest building in the world called the Burj Khalifa. The Dubai Fountain stood in the background of Dubai’s First Farmers Market and was a replica of Las Vegas’ Bellagio Fountain. It was considered by many to be a rather gaudy structure at best.
Dubai Farmers Market initially drew a massive crowd of 4,000 and people who attended proved to be quite grateful to Ms. Mejia for bringing them something that had previously been unavailable for the average person in Dubai, namely fresh produce. The crowds in attendance there were then, and remain to this day, to be a continuous mixture of both the locals from Dubai and the many ex-patriots who had moved to Dubai. There was one major group, however, that was conspicuously missing from those who attended the new farmer’s market and that group was chefs.
The reason for this alleged absence of chefs at Dubai’s First Farmers Market was due to the fact that large luxury hotels employ the majority of the prominent chefs in Dubai. Those many hotels generally received all of their produce from major wholesalers. The fact is that the standardization and visual appeal of all produce received from those wholesalers was something that hotel chefs were quite accustomed to. According to Ms. Mejia, these chefs can tend to act like a group of spoiled brats who demand that every vegetable look exactly the same as the others they serve and be of equal size as well. Perhaps Dubai’s esteemed chefs just don’t know what they’re missing by not trying out Dubai’s First Farmers Market.