Nine months ago, Qasim Khawaja, a resident of the Cantonment, started experimenting with cheese recipes at his home. He began selling cream cheese and ricotta in January this year. Encouraged by early success, he added gouda, mascarpone, cottage, cheddar and mozzarella to his products. His Grade A Farms supplies cheese on order.
“Most of the cheese available in supermarkets here is imported from the US or Europe. It is priced really high,” he says, “I started small because I did not know how the market would respond to European cheese produced in Pakistan.”
Khawaja had set up one of the 30 stalls at the Khaalis Food Market, Lahore’s first farmers’ market, at MM Alam Road on Sunday. Within 20 minutes of opening at 3pm, the cream cheese was sold out. Mozarella and mascarpone, priced between Rs200 to Rs250 for 200 grams, were sold out next.
The market featured home-based entrepreneurs, mostly residents of Model Town, Defence and Cantt, who grow vegetables at their homes. There were vendors selling jams, chutneys and spreads, gluten-free breads, muffins and organic teas. A few restaurants had also set up stalls.
The event was organised by Asma Shah and Rizwan, editor of the Flavour magazine.
“Most of the vegetables sold in Lahore’s markets are grown in water contaminated by industrial waste. Many people have begun growing their own produce in their gardens, with little sewage intrusion,” Shah says. There is a gulf between those growing organic food to sell and consumers interested in purchasing safe and healthy fresh produce, she said. “We set up this market to bring them together,” she said.
Sonia Saleem, a nutritionist, had a series of diet plans lined up for sale at her stall. “This is a 10-day junk-cleanse plan. It is a combination of meditation, diet and exercise which help detoxify the body,” said Saleem. The plans sold for Rs1,000 each. “My clients can call me to ask questions at each step,” she said.
Samrah Jabeen has been managing an agri-business project, an initiative funded by the USAID to encourage small farmers to grow organic food. She said she had been training farmers to grow organic food since May 2012. The project’s stall had 16 varieties of vegetable, nuts and honey. Jabeen said farmers across Lahore were being trained in vegetable growing techniques. People had been trained to grow nuts and farm honey in and on the outskirts of Peshawar. Five farmers, including Naseem Akhtar, the trainer in Peshawar, were present at the stall. Akhtar had brought two types of honey and nuts from Swat. Jabeen said it was a non-profit project with the proceeds going to the farmers.
Tanya Elahi, the owner of Simply Bread, was selling a variety of breads, health bars, desserts, drinks, dips and condiments. Elahi said she began cooking gluten-free food, dairy products and sugar on account of her daughter’s food allergies. “I started baking for my family then decided to expand so others too could benefit,” she said. Elahi is based in Defence and has been baking on order.
Aysha Raja, proprietor of The Last Word bookshop, had set up a stall of baked items and recipe books. “I baked the food here using recipes from these books. I tell people to buy the books if they enjoyed the food,” she said.
The iced teas- mint, chamomile, and lavender- made using home-grown produce, sold out quickly.
Farhana, a resident of Model Town, was selling cherry tomatoes. “We did not use pesticides. The tomatoes are pure and nutritious.”
Shah said they would try to arrange the farmers’ market on a weekly or fortnightly basis after Ramazan.
“We will organise a market in Islamabad next month. Many people from Islamabad and Karachi had contacted us but only Necos set up a stall here,” said Shah.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2013.