When you grow up on a farm surrounded by animals, flowers, trees, fruits and vegetables, you can’t help but develop a passion for farming and organic products. Such is the story of Mohamed Aissaoui, a fifth generation farmer from France who abandoned his engineering career to pursue: farming. For, as he puts it, “the unique perfume of Provence stays in your blood all your life.”
Following his education in Electronics, Telecom and Radio Communication in university, Mohamed joined a large subcontracting company in the South of France, managing customers from different fields: including energy, agriculture, medical, military and automotive etc. This taught him a valuable lesson on how every thing in life is intertwined. This made him pay special attention to the importance of taking care of one’s health, starting with the food we eat. And that’s when he founded MyFarm Dubai, a traditional organic, educational and sustainable farm in the searing Arabian desert.
The UAE’s weather isn’t exactly conducive to agriculture; however, Mohamed believes he can convince people otherwise by simply showing them what’s done at the farm, even if just through social media. Mohamed often says: “We have to build the system, understand the system and use the system.” He explains that whatever we create ourselves is easy to maintain, which is why they decided to create MyFarm’s own system, which respects the environment and uses technologies that are safe for humans and the environment.
Indeed, the self-sustaining farm follows the surrounding ecosystem to create a system where fresh and chemical-free food is grown for animals; waste is sent for composting; compost is then used to organically fertilise the land; the land, in turn nourishes the plants; which finally feeds the animals and then us.
An important advice Aissaoui shares is to follow the ecosystem in the right direction: “Sometimes, it’s better not to touch anything and to let nature take its course.”
An example of this is not to rake leaves around trees; leaves should be left behind as they protect the roots by creating natural shade exactly where needed. With time, they become compost and nourish the trees again. Thus, everything comes a full circle without harmful chemicals or practies.
MyFarm uses several circular systems, which are key to attaining food security goals in the UAE, one of the most important being the seeds. Only heirloom varieties are grown at the farm as those are the ones that give tomatoes, cucumbers and melons a desired natural taste, for instance. The farmers check which varieties are able to grow easily in the desert, then those are sown each season and part of their seeds are set aside for the next season, as this allows them to adapt to the climate. And just as farming seasons differ, so does farming in different countries. Take Dubai vis-a-vis France as an example. While the desert has a totally different climate, it also offers many advantages. For example, the season for tomatoes in France is from March to September, whereas it’s almost the opposite in Dubai.
Consequently in 2020, MyFarm managed to grow tomatoes from September to June.
What also helps is that tomatoes don’t require much water to grow, and since it doesn’t often rain in the UAE, especially during those months, the farmers can control the irrigation, without affecting the environment adversely. In France on the other hand, frequent rain causes tomatoes to crack. With that in mind, Mohamed strongly believes the UAE might one day become a large exporter of organic products. In fact, MyFarm has already supplied its produce to several celebrities around the world.
Demand for local produce
From a local perspective, more Chefs in Dubai have started using locally-grown products and are increasingly inclined to know about them. They are also constantly on the lookout for premium quality and unique ingredients to design their menus. Thanks to this changing mindset, Mohamed has had a chance to host several chefs at his farm, and luckily for him, they’ve taught him a lot about his other passion, cooking with fresh vegetables.
Like chefs, UAE consumers are also increasingly concerned with organic products, recycling and composting. These days many people are coming forward to give Aissaoui’s farm items to recycle, reinforcing his belief that: “We all have to be responsible, but things will change only when we change ourselves.” Naturally, it’s impossible to learn more about this sustainable farming initiative without knowing more about the man. Mohamed, as most would expect, loves the harvest season. “It’s a special moment. And people who are into gardening will understand what I mean!” he says. His produce preferences include wild strawberry, while his favorite soap produced at MyFarm is ‘Frankincense’, which offers natural sunscreen and has an alluring fragrance. There were no winners in the veg and herbs categories for Aissaoui as he loves them all equally.
The growing interest in organic products and healthy eating, coupled with the success MyFarm has achieved in the UAE, make us wonder if there are plans to expand this farming concept across the region. Mohamed whets our appetite with his answer: “Once our system is perfect, we can easily duplicate it everywhere! We are specialised in desert climate, so you could find us around!” We sure hope we do!