There was a time not too long ago when organic food was regarded as something extraordinary, consuming it an expression of a kind of belief as opposed to everyday staple diet. And with regards to the latter observation quite understandably so: it was not uncommon that organic products were sold with a 50 per cent price add-on.
Yet are you ready for some good news?Look no further than Kusadasi and neighboring environs! Around here organic is the new normal – we shall come back to that comment further below in this article.
All over Turkey and since the beginning of the new Millennium the sector has been steadily growing. Whilst initially a hallmark of the Aegean region it soon conquered other parts of the country; with public awareness on the rise, too, no wonder that by now we find organic farming in all four corners of the nation.
But what actually is organic agriculture and farming? In short, when a farmer decides not to use pesticides and fertilizers or for example growth hormones we talk about ‘going organic’. In most instances this very laudable way of farming is then certified by the authorities. Very often the way animals are raised and treated becomes integral part of that approach as well. Its health benefits are obvious and not just for families with small children but for everyone no matter what age.
Turkish consumers know very well the difference between ‘fresh’ and truly organic products, respectively. In the beginning it was the same situation like everywhere else though – mostly young people, often students and environmentally aware, opted for biologically sound items. But very quickly what was nothing more than a niche market became a nationwide trend. Commentators will recall that in one widely publicized development at the time an entire village in south-eastern Turkey had been declared organic and not just a few of its local resident farmers – such enormous was the local and national interest.
Closer to home we are blessed anyways as agriculture is still a vital income generator. The best way to experience this for ourselves is to visit one of the many vibrant street markets and stalls. Whereas some only take place once a week others are a daily affair. It is part and parcel of Turkish everyday life so to speak. One might suggest that fresh produce markets only happen in the countryside; far from it – if you would travel to the capital Ankara or Istanbul you would find them everywhere. Turkish shoppers love them and not just the products on display. It is full of atmosphere, sellers try to attract buyers by rather loudly promoting their goods; shoppers are invited to try and taste before committing regardless pf product (cheese, olives grapes, melon…). Above all else it is colorful, a way of life. And in the context of last month’s column a perfect start to learn the language as all items not simply feature how much they cost but the name of the item, too.
Still in the context of fresh produce markets: granted, some vegetable, some fruit may look somewhat different from what we are used to when visiting our hypermarket. But the only reason why the apple is less shiny, the only reason why out of a bunch of five tomatoes not one looks the same size-wise – they are not genetically modified, they are not standardized, they are grown and sold as they come along. In other words: what we buy is organic indeed.
And it gets even better: in our region there are some restaurants only relying on organic ingredients and that might very well include cattle from a certified farmer. With one such fantastic entrepreneur did I have the absolute pleasure to meet in person but out of journalistic fairness one should refrain from mentioning any particular establishment in a more general piece like this. However, why not come back to the issue of organic farming by means of a separate interview article with that businessperson towards the autumn?
Now you might wonder whether each and every item sold on a street or weekend market is indeed one hundred percent organic – of course not. Only farmers displaying an official certificate are actually officially certified. But by rule of thumb local produce will be (almost) organic even if that individual farmer has not obtained a certificate. You can see it with your own eyes what is ‘organic’ and what looks more like a glossy magazine cover instead of fresh fruit or vegetables.
Certainly the above referred to hypermarket will have an organic shelve (or two) as well but if you are asked to fork out more please make sure it is truly certified. Staying in the fork picture, many farmers offer exactly that, the so-called farm-to-fork approach. Here you are invited to actually visit a farmer and buy there and then. This cuts out the middlemen and keeps organic food at a reasonable cost. After all it is more expensive to go organic but most of that extra investment is paid to distributors and big supermarkets. Buy for yourself, or indeed frequent a local street market and you will be surprised that the additional mark-up is almost nil.
As a matter of fact many local residents would go so far as to argue that our farmers operate on an organic system as if per default. Try it, taste it and come to your own conclusion.
A final insider tip: if at all possible go towards the end of the day at around four or five o’clock in the afternoon. The produce will still be (kept) fresh but as the sellers slowly pack up they want to dispose off whatever they brought along. Now you can obtain goods at even better prices which in turn makes the seller – as well as the customer – more than happy. No food wasted and no money wasted either, a classic win-win situation.
Enjoy Kusadasi, enjoy your stay and above all else please stay healthy all along the way, too.