Sheikha Al Muhairy is famous for her wealth and wisdom. She is a young entrepreneur who started by building an organic farm on an oasis. The oasis was owned by her family so didn’t have to go through all that trouble to get organically rich land. Now she is 24 and she has already seen this farm grown into a thriving business that can produce as many varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs as many you can possibly thing. The form is organically certified by USDA, EU’s organic certifying body and UAE Organic.
Al Muhairy’s interest in farming stems from her passion for food and its provenance. “When I started shopping for organic [produce] and saw the trends that were happening, I began asking questions about where this food was coming from, and was curious to see where the farms were. I went to look and discovered that there are more than 50 organically certified farms in the UAE.
“My family had land, which was not being utilised properly, so just for the fun of it and to eat, I farmed a field of watermelons. It produced 3.5 tonnes. I was caught off guard – there are only so many melons you can give to your friends. We were growing these huge quantities, which we couldn’t just keep for ourselves, and so the decision was made to sell the produce.
“I always had an involvement with food, and I like to take care of my parents and to see what they are eating, so I am always finding new things for them. It never really started as a business for me. I am a student of marketing and psychology, and I also work in a family business in real estate and construction, so I had nothing to do with agriculture. Even now, I wouldn’t claim to be a farmer, as I don’t actually do the farming. I am more focused on the business development and the marketing.”
Recently a new farm manager has been enrolled. He is an agriculturalist from Philippines. He is the guy who ensures that day-to-day tasks are completed efficiently and in time. This ensures that form’s workers are always doing the right thing so the crops always reap on the perfect time.
Al Muhairy takes pride in the fact that the farm’s organic certification complies with internationally recognised standards, as well as local ones. The farm was certified when it was newly established, and teams of engineers came in from BCS Öko-Garantie GmbH to see how things were being done.
The farm is now in its second growing season, although the cycle is running a little later this year because the weather was hot for so long. Cool houses, currently growing cucumbers, are a recent addition, and bees will shortly be taking up formal residence to encourage pollination. When we visited, the melons had just been harvested, and any green matter remaining will be left to feed the soil and rotated before the next drop is planted.
Fields of corn, aubergine and okra are already well under way; at the same time, a variety of seedlings for leafy vegetables are being propagated under a shaded canopy and are now almost ready to be planted out.
Transparency and education feature in the farm’s ethos, and Al Muhairy actively encourages corporate and school visits. “People can pop in and have a picnic. It’s important because some people are forgetting where, for example, chicken comes from, or corn. It doesn’t just come from a plastic bag and arrive on your shelf,” she says.
The farm also uses chicken manure to feed the soil. “A plant’s life cycle requires increased nutrition at the beginning, and at the mid point, you need to fertilise again, and 60 days before cropping you stop fertilising. You have to be clever; you have know when to seed, when to harvest and when to let them go.”
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