Emirates Bio Farm’s Yazen Al Kodmani talks about the importance of locally produced food and how he tackles food waste on the farm and in his home.
This Ramadan, we shine the spotlight on real people who are tackling food waste in their personal and professional lives. We hope these stories inspire you to Shop Smarter, Cook Smarter and Eat Smarter so that you too can #SaveOneThird of food from going waste.
Emirates Nature-WWF: Yazen, you come from a family of agricultural specialists and you currently manage operations at the Emirates Bio Farm. Tell us, why is it important to eat local?
Yazen Al Kodmani: Locally produced food is important for many reasons. In terms of nutritional value, the longer food stays in storage, the less nutrient dense it becomes. When you eat fresh locally produced foods, it is the most nutritious food can get.
The second reason is that is helps reduce our carbon footprint. Imported food goes from farmer to wholesaler, exporter, on to a boat or airplane to a wholesaler here, supermarket and then to your home. Whereas if you shop locally, it can be as simple as farm to home.
The third reason is to support food security. When the pandemic started, everyone got scared about food and started stockpiling. People realised anything could happen to the transportation or trade system, and food is really all we need.
"When you support the local food industry and farms in your area, you help build food security. Money you spend inside your community usually comes back around and benefits everyone. It’s more sustainable."
Emirates Nature-WWF: Around 20% of vegetables and fruit consumed in the UAE are now grown locally. What are our choices as shoppers, and what’s coming our way soon?
Yazen: A large variety of crops – most vegetables - are grown here. At the Emirates Bio Farm in Al Ain, we produce organic vegetables including cucumbers, carrots, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, beetroot, capsicums and also organic eggs - there’s a lot.
"We take pride in growing quinoa. It’s drought resilient, salt tolerant and highly nutrient dense. It grows here very well and can eventually replace rice and wheat as a staple crop in this region."
We currently grow quinoa in small quantities for use in our restaurant.
We are trying asparagus, and hopefully will produce fruits like mulberries, figs, lemons and mangoes locally in a few years.
Emirates Nature-WWF: How do you tackle food waste on the farm?
Yazen: As a mass producer and supplier to major retailers, we have to comply with requirements around the shape, size and look of the produce. We are left with a lot of misshapen produce and have set up a few initiatives to keep them from going to waste.
We have a restaurant that is built around food waste. We only cook what we have available and what would normally go to waste. For example, we use carrot tops to make pesto.
"On our website, we have a tick box that says I don’t mind odd-shaped vegetables. When customers tick this for their order, we send over misshapen produce instead of throwing them away"
We make our own jams, pickles and dehydrated herbs. When you’re pickling or making a jam it doesn’t matter what the vegetable looked like originally because you’re cutting it up and preserving it to have a longer shelf life. Everything is grown and packaged locally, it’s organic and reduces food waste.
We also introduced a membership subscription to tackle food waste and make it easier to eat local
"Normally, when you think of a recipe, you go to the supermarket and buy the ingredients. There’s no seasonality in this mindset, and it’s difficult to eat local."
With the subscription, we don’t tell you what’s in the box. We send over what’s available on the farm. When you get the box, you work with the fresh ingredients you’ve received. This way, you help local farmers reduce waste, you benefit from extra savings, and you’re eating nutritious food that’s in season. We also throw in a surprise every week like sugar cane or a jam we’ve made. It’s a win-win and people love it.
Emirates Nature-WWF: What else can people do to tackle food waste in their personal lives?
Yazen: Normally, people don’t look at their waste. You throw it in a closed bin, tie the bag and throw it away. But when you actually stop and look at your trash, you notice how much you are throwing away. It makes you start thinking of new ways to use the produce so that it doesn’t have to go to waste.
"You need to just take that baby step to quantify how much you throw away, and try to divert it."
If you start composting, it opens the door to acting differently. In my house there’s a composting bin, and even my kids know what can be composted now. Every gardening season, we take the compost out and use it on the land.
Emirates Nature-WWF: Do you have any words of advice around reducing food waste during Ramadan?
Yazen: Generosity is such a big component during Ramadan. We are used to making extra food in our homes, to share with the community, the mosque and our neighbours. Because of social distancing requirements, we can’t do that this year. So, we have to be mindful and make portions that are useful for us.
Learn more about the positive impact you make when you Save 1/3 of food from going to waste. Sign up for our Zero to Food Hero challenge and take action today.
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