Shoppers had a chance last Saturday to meet farmers as they purchased freshly picked fruits and vegetables at a new farmers' market in Zamalek.
The farmers' market, organized by Nūn Center, will run from 11 am to 3 pm every Saturday during the spring. Last week, the market attracted about 200 visitors.
"We want to highlight the importance of eating healthy, locally grown food with minimum pesticides," said Nada Iskander, nutritionist and co-founder of Nūn Center. “We raise awareness to get people out of the supermarket and back in touch with local food.”
Lettuce, artichokes, chard, cauliflower, mint, along with more unusual offerings such as endives, were spread out on tables in the courtyard of the Nūn Center.
As a nutritionist, Iskander said part of the joy of the market is encouraging shoppers to make new recipe choices.
"It's great to give them new ideas, tell them how to try something different, like potatoes paired with rosemary," Iskander said, adding, "There's a real disconnect with plant-based foods."
"When people think of a meal, they think of meat and chicken. But sweet potato and a green salad is a meal on its own," Iskander said.
Three farmers displayed their organic and low-pesticide vegetables and herbs. The market's atmosphere was akin to a farmers' market in the United States — not just cheap vegetables, but crafts and entertainment. Last Saturday, Tamara Yousry, a local musician, performed with an acoustic guitar while people paused from shopping to listen to her songs.
The market also sold freshly cut flowers, Siwa organic honey and salad dressings, and crafts and dried fruit from Aswan. A head of lettuce cost LE2.50, while a bag of sun-dried apple slices was LE35.
Offering up vegetables that are "eccentric for Egypt," the Makar Farm's booth sold red and silver spinach, radishes, lemon grass, sprouts and purple cauliflower.
"It's nice to see people's reactions to products," said Farida Makar, who was manning the table.
Nūn Center is in talks with about 10 small growers who utilize organic or low-pesticide growing methods to join the market.
"We also want to encourage local growers. There's a real trend for urban gardening and small farms, and we want to encourage them to grow organic, healthy vegetables," said Hana Holdijk, a homeopath and co-founder of Nūn Center.
Small growers struggle to find channels to promote their produce. Large supermarket chains often need orders on a scale that small farms are unable to fulfill, and instead rely on buying their produce centrally.
Some of the growers at the farmers' market instead sell their organic produce through home delivery. For Yehia, a farmer who runs a direct delivery business for his 5-year-old farm, El Kitchen, the market is a great opportunity to improve growers' exposure.
"When people see how vegetables look in the [supermarket or tiny stalls], it doesn't look appetizing and you don't want to buy it," said Iskander.
There is increasing concern over the amount of pesticide in food worldwide. A lack of government transparency and little oversight has left Egypt with a poor track record in food safety. Bad pesticide practices caused an outbreak of poisoning in 2005, when watermelons contaminated with pesticides sickened hundreds of people in the Nile Delta and Upper Egypt.
Last summer, European officials identified fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt as the likely source of E. coli outbreaks in Germany and France.
"There's a concern, especially among young mothers, about what is going into their children's mouths. Our clientele at the center are interested in holistic health, and food is a part of that," said Holdijk.
Iskander hopes the market is the beginning of a new focus on healthy, fresh food. In the future, Nūn Center may add an informal dining facility to the market.
"For me, it'd be great to see the farmers' market have a big enough base of people who can influence their surrounding community,” Iskander said.
Nūn Center: 4 Shafik Mansour Street, Zamalek, 0227354658