The North of Doha during the winter is usually well-known for setting up Winter camps, evening barbeques and hare-hunting. However, our last trip was about something a little greener. Not too far north from the capital city, we took a turn at the Um Al Amad Interchange to discover Eden Farm. This sanctuary was initially a piece of land to provide a home away from home, a quiet retreat from the fast-paced city, for Dr. Salem Al-Naemi and his family. It was from this foundation, that Eden Farm began to flourish.
Eden spans over 25 acres. From the moment we drove through its welcoming gates, we were overwhelmed with refreshing sights greenery almost everywhere! Nasser Al-Naemi, son of the Managing Director, Dr. Salem, is also an integral part of the family business and was kind enough to take time out of his day to show us around the family farm. The development of the idea of Eden was catalyzed by the need for the local market to provide for its people. At times, supplies of various produce would be difficult to find, or at least of good enough quality. Hence, father and son worked together to develop their farm in order to cater to the demands of the community. Two engineers soon added the art of farming to their résumés- with a twist. In order to maximize on production and to provide adequate supply to meet demands, parts of the farm are run with amazing technology.
As we strolled through the farm, we were amazed at the large variety of vegetables- Indian pumpkin, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, green beans, Sudani beans, chilis, cucumber, yellow, green and red capsicum, lettuce, spinach, eggplant, radish, cherry tomatoes, spring onion… it was like being on a game drive, but instead of sighting wildlife, we were spotting loads and loads of greens! Many of the veggies were kept in greenhouses, or could be farmed out in the open. Seeds for many of the produce were initially brought in from across the globe, including Japan, India and parts of Europe, chosen for their ability to survive best in Qatar’s climate.
Nasser and his team were kind enough to walk us through units where mushrooms were harvested- it is always amazing to see how farming has become such a science, in order to be as efficient as possible! Nasser explained that his mother went to the supermarket one day and was not able to find mushrooms. Realising that this was not only a problem for his family, but also for many other families, the idea of growing mushrooms took roots. As we walked through the units, we saw all the beds of compost and how they were compacted and kept. The mushrooms are all hand-picked in order to keep as much of the product for the customer, as mechanical slicing may lose part of the product. Soil beds can be used for up to 3 flushes (cycles), before replacing the soil bed completely. The first flush can be harvested after 18 days, followed by the second and third flushes, which are harvested in shorter time intervals, about 7 days apart. Relative humidity, carbon dioxide levels and temperature is controlled and the harvesting of mushrooms can be managed, accurate to the day of harvesting! White mushrooms, brown mushrooms and portobello mushrooms are products of Eden farm, going under its own label as “Oryx Mushrooms”. I was impressed by how clean and tidy the facility was, much like the rest of the farm.
Eden also harvests its own supply of honey. With nectar taken from surrounding Sidra trees, the bees can make their honey. The bees on the farm had been brought in from North Africa. It was great to see someone taking an interest in bee-keeping, as the world’s population of bees is being challenged intensely, and many are unaware of how dire this problem is already! There were also kinar, fruits of the tree, hanging, ready to be plucked and eat, just like that! Mashmoom could also be found, a tree with aromatic leaves and deep purple flowers. Traditionally, mashmoom leaves are used by women, young and old, clipped into their hair for the pleasant smell. These leaves can be put in cars, handbags, anywhere in the home even, to exude its great smell!
At some point, we stopped for the late afternoon prayer. Nasser was kind enough to guide us into his family majlis, where hot karak was waiting for us. Qatari hospitality is something that I still find rarely unsurpassed!
We then had a quick look at the livestock on the farm. Eden has a growing unit of Awassi sheep and Sudani goats, both hardy breeds of small stock, able to thrive in Qatar’s climatic conditions.
The tour came to a magnificent end as we watched the sun set, melting away into soft pinks and purples, over the lush pasture beneath it. It was incredibly refreshing to enjoy this time out of the city, taking in all the fresh air around us!
Developing a successful farming business is no easy feat. Coming from South Africa, we are exposed to farming to a degree, aware of the attention farmers have to give to all the finer details, from soil composition, climatic conditions, pests, plant pathologies, and the constant challenge of balancing finances. Indeed, farming is neither easy, nor is it cheap! It takes a great deal of investment in terms of time and money. It also demands a significant amount of patience and perseverance from the farmer. Now, consider farming in the desert, a peninsula, with mostly salt water as a water source and the challenge gets trickier. For this reason, acknowledgement must be accredited to QDB (Qatar Development Bank) for supporting the Al-Naemi family in their farming endeavor. Now, Eden is present in many of the local markets across the State of Qatar, including the Mahaseel market in Katara, selected Al Meera stores and Wholesale Market.
Before we left, Nasser and his team surprised us with a wide variety of their produce. I was so excited to get home and cook and taste these vegetables!
It was inspiring to see how a concept which started in 2004, matured and persevered through the years, becoming what it is today. Dr. Al-Naemi attributes part of the success of the farm to the family and staff that stood by him and Eden throughout all the years, in order to harvest the fruits of Eden’s success. It was also a pleasure to see local people wanting to empower and cater for their community. Eden and Oryx Mushrooms are definitely initiatives I support. I hope you will too! In South Africa, we have a saying that, “local is lekker”, which translates rather poorly to “local is good (or nice)”. “Lekker” is a term for anything to be enjoyed, and after seeing the farm, as well as eating the produce made there, I can say that local is definitely “lekker” in Qatar, too!
Here is what we prepared today, using some of the vegetables gifted to us
Vegetable Stir Fry
2 tablespoon oil
250 gms minced beef or chicken
1 medium onion, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, diced thin
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cups broccoli florets
1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into strips
1 tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 cup water
Salt to taste
Cornflour (to thicken sauce)
Heat oil in wok or large skillet.
Add mince meat and stir fry until brown. Remove to one side.
Add onions and garlic and stir fry for about 2 minutes until lightly brown.
Add vegetables, oyster sauce and soy sauce and stir fry for 5 minutes (adding water, if necessary, to cook the vegetable)
Return the mince to the wok and stir fry for another 2 minutes.
Add cornflour to thicken the sauce.
Serve with rice or noodles
For more information on Eden Farm Market: