GROWING PLANTS IN THE DUBAI DESERT

Aquaponics & Hydroponics with Mary Anne de Haan – Founder of Mary Anne’s Fresh Produce 

Who are you? Tell us about your career? What brought you to Dubai?
I used to work for a company that helped turn technical research innovations into commercial products back in the Netherlands when my husband got the opportunity to move to the Dubai office and we were both up for an adventure.

Why did you decide to open a farm in the middle of the desert?
I´ve always had an interest in agriculture (and I looove food) as it is a place where water use, energy use and the production of beautiful tasty things meet. How you choose to grow your food can have major impacts either to the negative or the positive depending on which methods you use. When we moved here, I was intrigued by the fact that over 90% of the food consumed here is imported. This comes with a major CO2 footprint and affects the quality and freshness of the food. However, because of the climate sustainable or organic growing methods that might work well in Europe or other places might not necessarily be sustainable (water usage) or feasible here. When I learned about hydroponics and aquaponics in particular, I figured that would be a perfect way to sustainably grow in the UAE desert.

What sort of plants and ingredients do you grow?
I grow a variety of specialty products for chefs and bar tenders including microgreens (very young version of plants), decorative edible leaves and flowers.

Who do you sell your ingredients to?
Restaurants and bars across Dubai. I am very fortunate to work with a growing number of talented chefs and bartenders who love sourcing locally grown specialty ingredients.

Any advice or tips you would like to share about growing ingredients in your bar?
Take the time to read up on the different ways of growing and educate yourself about some of the science behind it as it will help you solve any problems you encounter. One thing to watch out for in bars is to make sure you have enough light. Normal light bulbs only send out a specific set of wavelengths while plants need a much broader spectrum to grown and survive so make sure to get lights designed specifically for growing plants. Or if you have a big window sill where a lot of natural light comes in you could try growing there.

Could you scale down an aquaponic or hydroponic system and put it in your bar?
Absolutely! There are even plug and play home size systems in the market to be found. It is a great experience to see the plants grown from tiny seeds into beautiful tasty products and a lot of fun to learn about the process.

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