Clean, Seasonal Produce from Farm to Table
By Nahla Samaha
What do you get when you combine a Swiss, Egypt, and a dream together in a bundle? You might not think much can come out of this equation, but when something amazing does, it makes the outcome all the more worthwhile. And that outcome is Desert Lake Farms, producing Sara’s Organic Food and Lara’s Premium Produce. An enlightening conversation Cairo East Magazine had with owner Sara-K Hanning Nour reveals there is much more to organic produce than we think.
Zurich-born and raised Sara-K Hanning Nour comes from a farming family (on her mother’s side). She grew up growing food in a non-professional environment at her childhood home garden. This was the initial spark that ignited her passion for farming. After earning a degree in PPE (politics, philosophy, and economics), Sara married her husband Karim Nour in 2011, just weeks before the January 25 Revolution. Sara settled in Cairo, began a Master’s degree in Organic Agriculture at Cairo University in 2013, and had her daughter Lara, now two years-old.
It started with a piece of land that had been in her husband’s family for over 20 years that wasn’t being put to any agricultural or commercial use. “When I first visited the land I was in awe – there was so much that could be done; there was so much potential,” recalls Sara, “I felt inspired to make a move and began what ended up being the start of a long and exciting journey.”
Sara had always been an advocate of healthy living; she strongly believed in organic and natural farming. With the immeasurable help of her dear family friend Adelsalam El Badry, the journey of transforming the land began. “Finding the right people to join our project was difficult– luckily Abdelsalam with his 40 years of experience in agriculture managed to put together a team of experts in the field with backgrounds in organic farming,” she says.
“Not everyone was convinced with organic at the start, but we agreed to cultivate a small area under strict organic conditions – medicinal herbs and then some vegetables,” explains Sara. “At the same time we were implementing organic farming methods around the farm like growing all sorts of species of trees and plants and making ‘green walls’ to protect us from harsh weather and outside influences.” Sara and her team didn’t stop there; they took in some rescue animals from an animal shelter to produce manure to supplement their own compost, and spent months nurturing the soil.
“Once you get into agriculture you become aware of how much most food is treated, stored and exposed to all sorts of impurities – impurities that you don’t want on your plate,” says Sara. This further fueled her belief in clean eating, and motivated her to plough on.
The farm produces two lines of products: Sara’s Organic Food the other is Lara’s Premium Produce. Sara’s is organic (EU Organic certified) and Lara’s is natural (meaning pesticide and chemical free but not organically certified). Anything from Sara’s is home grown at Desert Lake Farms (Sara’s farm). Lara’s premium produce comes from trusted neighboring farms, but adheres to strict sourcing quality control and random testing to make sure that it is indeed natural and chemical free. In short, the basket is a mix of organic and natural products.
It took almost five years for Sara and her team to reap the rewards of their labor. There is no expediting the rate at which organic plants grow, but it was well worth the >>
wait when their produce became available to consumers. “What stuck in my memory well was our first time selling our successful crop of cucumbers: we brought a couple of kilos to the Nūn Center in Zamalek and tested the market. We received positive feedback and felt the demand for more, which gave us confidence that we may be on the right track,” recalls Sara. Today, Sara’s Organic Food produce is available at the Nūn farmer’s market every Saturday, as well as Gourmet, NGS, and Sunny supermarket, among other outlets.
Beyond the health benefits, farming organic produce has far-reaching merits, “Organic means taking good care of our employees, workers, environment, resources and farm animals. Growing organic food reflects the real cost of food production more accurately. By buying organic you’re supporting a more sustainable, environmental and ethical way of producing food,” explains Sara.
Being one of a handful of organic fruit growers makes Sara’s produce quite popular. With an array of seasonal, organic fruits and vegetables to choose from, Sara provides a Weekly Basket to subscribing customers. “The freshest, healthiest vegetables – they come freshly picked, selected and sorted from the farm to your home, truly farm-to-table. It’s our answer to how to eat good, natural, fresh, and in-season produce, hassle free.” Also available is real raw honey, which is also becoming more and more in demand.
Sara’s parting words were sound advice for those of us actively seeking a cleaner, healthier lifestyle for our families, “When it comes to quality, sustainability, supporting your local economy, and knowing something about the produce you and your family consume, the answer is simple; the closer and in season the better.”
With a Visitor’s Center planning to operate in 2016, the farm will be accessible to guests interested in learning more about their source of food, and about organic farming. Day trips to Desert Lake Farms will provide great opportunities for children to learn, play, and pick their fruits and vegetables!