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15.12.2007

Consuming organic in Istanbul: Saturdays at the

In an age of daily environmental hazards and the resulting health concerns, more and more consumers consciously choose to eat organic food because it means choosing products free of pesticides, chemicals and other additives, that healthy for people and grown without over-fertilizing the soil or mistreating animals

MARLENE SCHAFERS


The sun is shining on this cold fall Saturday, immersing the ground floor of the car park in Feriköy, Şişli, in its winter light. It lends a welcoming, pleasant atmosphere to this place, which it normally probably does not possess – being close to the old Tekel beer factory, in the midst of car washing and repair shops. It is a bit hard to find one's way when coming here for the first time, although the location is in fact not far from Osmanbey. Upon asking the locals, however, directions are readily available – apparently it is not the first time that the Simitçi at Osmanbey metro station is being asked for the location of the "Ekolojik Pazar."

  Istanbul's one and only organic market takes place every Saturday at the Feriköy Halk Pazarı (Bomonti Caddesi, Lala Şahin Sokak) from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and both producers and consumers take considerable trouble and time to come. Far from being as crowded as the weekly markets in Kadıköy or Beşiktaş, the organic market has in its one-and-a-half-years of existence nevertheless managed to establish its definite base of customers. It is Istanbul's organic community that meets here on Saturdays, not only to shop, but also to socialize, to exchange news, rally support for environmental activities or simply to have a tea from the "Organik Büfe" and enjoy the warmth of the autumn sun. 

But shopping comes first, of course, and here those who give importance to high quality food, neither damaging to the environment nor our bodies, will find a whole array to choose from. Heaps of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products like cheeses and yogurt as well as whole-wheat breads entice consumers to do their weekly shopping here at the organic market. More than that, non-perishable products of a wide range are also sold: thus one can stock up on cold pressed olive oil, staples like rice and bulgur, dried fruits and nuts, honey and jams.

"What's special is that the products sold in this market all have a certificate proving they are organic," said Haluk Bebek from "Tema Vakfı."

As a consumer one is thus assured to receive products that comply with the often-strict rules required to get organic certificates. And with the food's primary producers often personally present at the market stands, consumers have the opportunity to get first-hand, comprehensive information about what's on offer – and more often than not, to have a friendly chat.

The prices are higher than at conventional supermarkets and bazaars, but "we have regular customers who are interested in organic farming and care about healthy food," said Mümtaz, standing behind his heaps of mandarins and apples. "They are willing to pay the extra price."

The demand for organic products in Turkey is growing, especially in Istanbul. This draws organic producers from a considerable distance to the Feriköy market.

"Our farm is in Gökçeada, which means a distance of some 300 kilometers to Istanbul. But we have been selling here since the opening of the market in 2006. We leave on Friday evenings to come here, and return on Saturday evenings," Mümtaz said.

In an age of daily environmental hazards and the resulting health concerns, more and more consumers consciously choose to eat organic food because it means products free of pesticides, chemicals and other additives, healthy for people and grown without over-fertilizing the soil or mistreating animals.

The increasing demand by Turkish consumers is expected to make prices fall in the long-term, since both production levels and competition between producers might go up. It is that, after all, that unites producers, salesmen and producers: the desire for affordable, more widespread and yet high quality food that is produced in harmony with nature.

With this in mind, as a consumer one might want to make the little extra effort towards this conscious choice – and will be rewarded by the pleasure of having a freshly baked gözleme (cheese-filled flaky pancake) along with a glass of Turkish tea – both organic, of course – after one's shopping in the warm autumn sun.