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Turkish Organics Not Just for Export Anymore

Turkish women making gozleme at a farmers market.

Turkish women making gozleme at a farmers market.

“I failed as an anarchist so I decided to become an organic olive farmer instead,” jibed the playful Feridun İnanlı. Vehbi Ersöz, another farmer and İnanlı’s friend, remarked when asked why he turned to organics, “Because I am stupid!” He elaborated, though, and described the hardships: “We tried the impossible many years ago to get organic farming going, we had no markets, no government subsidies, we still don’t have subsidies. And we passed through very difficult times. … The future of organics depends on us still, but I am hopeful that we can succeed.”

More and more Turks seek out organic and sustainably farmed foods for the sake of their family’s health and the health of the planet. The Buğday Assn. for Supporting Ecological Living began in the 1990s as a small restaurant and store that provided local and organic produce. It’s now one of several national organizations leading the way in popularizing organic farmers and markets. Buğday, which means “wheat” in Turkish, aims to expand and improve national organic legislation, promote eco- and agro-tourism via TaTuTa, and support the multiple aspects of sustainable livelihood for all.

“We began this market in 2006,” said the charming Oya Ayman, a founding member. “Our customers who visit the Buğday Organic Market in Feriköy Şişli, for example, are mostly young middle class and educated families. They come for health reasons, they want to make sure their children eat organic foods … and they are willing to share the burden of some extra costs.”

Historically, Turkish farmers produced organic agricultural products until the end of the 1950s, when the rapid and intensive use of fertilizers and pesticides began. European importers began requesting organic produce from farmers in the 1980s. Near the coastal city of Izmir, farmers produced some of the first organic crops because of the ease of access to its active port. Individual farmers agreed to apply organic agricultural practices based on European organic standards. Turkish organic farms now number 35,565, up from 1,705 in 1994, and they produce 212 organic products, compared with 26 in 1994, according to 2009 figures. The products are categorized into nine groups: dried fruits; edible nuts; spices and herbs; fresh/processed fruits and vegetables; lentils; cereals; industrial crops; oil seeds; and other raw/processed products.

Turkish organics producing profits

The revenue from organic produce increased by 26% from 2001 to 2004. Fruit and vegetable expenditures represent the largest segment of the total organic food market, at 36.7%, based on 2006 figures from Turkish Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. To meet the growing demand, there are seven weekly organic farmers markets in Istanbul at present and four others outside of Istanbul, in Ankara, Izmir, Eskişehir and one opening soon in Konya.

“I drive 40 kilometers every Sunday to come to this organic market in Şişli, and if I don’t come, I don’t feel good, something is missing. … I bring my child, I get direct contact with the farmers, I really come for the people and the community,” said Yeşim, a regular at Şişli Farmers Market in Istanbul.

So if you visit Istanbul, make sure you journey north of Taksim Square to the Osmanbey metro stop any Saturday throughout the year. Ask for the Ekolojik Halk Pazari (Ecological People’s Market), grab some sweet tea or a dark Turkish coffee and a steaming stuffed gözleme (see video below) and revel in the tastes, sounds, smells and community you will certainly find there. Most important, get ready to laugh, and watch out for any recovering anarchists!

Top photo: Women make fresh gözleme at a Turkish farmers market. Credit: Sarah Khan

Zester Daily contributor Sarah Khan writes about food, culture, climate and sustainability. For her second Fulbright, she is presently traveling in South and Central Asia for a year (2014-15) to tell the stories of female farmers as they contend with a rapidly degraded agricultural landscape, gender inequality, poverty and climate change. She will document their challenges and victories in multiple media. To follow her journey, visit her website.

  • Nina Antonetti 8·10·12

    I wish I had stayed one more day so I could have experienced this in person, but the video is a wonderful alternative. The flavors wafted through my laptop. That’s some Sarah Khan magic!

  • Angela 8·10·12

    What a sensorial experience; the sights, smells and taste of the Turkish farmer’s market.

  • Jose 8·13·12

    Nice job Sara! Keep up the good work. Loved the video too!