In our weekly feature looking at how the UAE’s most interesting people spend their Fridays – the best day of the week, let’s face it – we speak to farmer and businesswoman Elena Kinane. Here, she opens up about how she founded Greenheart Organic Farm, building a farm in a desert, and her love of all things old and historic, except for vegetables, of course – they must always be fresh.
GET YOUR GOAT ON FRIDAYS
I try to spend as much time as possible with my husband and daughter Saoirse, 9, and son Aidan, 7, on weekends; we usually either go to the beach for an early swim in the sea by Kite beach, go cycling at Al Qudra, or visit friends. We also often bake or cook a nice Friday lunch together. Sometimes I have to go to the farm and my family comes with me. They love spending time with the goats, especially when we have kids (baby goats) around.
I grew up in an eco-friendly family; we grew a lot of our produce in my home in Nuremberg such as tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, broccoli, herbs, beetroot, zucchini and potatoes, you name it. We also had fruit trees – peaches, apples, pears, cherries and more. I had to help with the weeding, sowing and other smaller jobs, which was fun but also a bit tiresome on hot summer days. I learnt so much from my great aunt who raised us, as my mother was working. She had two sons who weren’t really into gardening and cooking, so when I came along she was over the moon to have someone to pass all her knowledge to.
I’m a keen reader and nothing relaxes me more than a good book. It’s pretty boring compared to what others get up to in Dubai but I don’t mind admitting that I appreciate simple pleasures in life. This weekend I hope I get a few hours at home, ‘vegging’ on the sofa with my children finishing Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Growing up, I loved a German book written by Kurt Held in the 1950s called Die Rote Zora und ihre Bande, about the lives of a group of orphaned children that lived by themselves in a derelict castle in early 20th century Croatia. I must have read that book about 30 times and knew some passages by heart.
I love all things historical and vintage – I just bought a vintage dress for my sister in law’s wedding from one of my favourite French designers. I think it was a great investment as it’s really well-made and timeless. As far as holidays go, I would love to take my family to Venice and stay in one of the old palazzos and it is one of my dreams to renovate a beautiful period farm house, ideally in the South of France, and fill it with up-cycled eclectic furniture.
I’d love to meet Queen Elizabeth II, she has a wealth of knowledge and first-hand experience over many decades. I lived in England before I moved to Dubai 22 years ago and I’m really into European history, particularly British. I actually studied history in my early adulthood, so I love doing research and reading non-fiction. At one point, I intended to write a historical novel. I’m addicted to BBC’s period movies and series.
HERB (AN) LEGENDS
My mother really helped me to see the light – in our family we don’t use any pharmaceutical medicine, conventional cleaning materials and bodycare products, or processed foods. She inherited this big old book of herbal remedies from previous generations (written in old German – very difficult to read). She would go to specialist herbal shops and get special blends made for specific ailments such as wild thyme tea and raw honey for coughs, and lavender and tea tree oil on cotton buds for earaches. She taught me to always question everything and to make up my own mind and I want to pass that lesson on to my children.
AS YOU SOW, SO SHALL YOU (NOT) REAP
As we grow from heirloom seeds collected at our farm this happens all the time! A few weeks ago, we thought we planted mustard and ended up with pak choi. This happens when the seeds aren’t labelled correctly. Luckily we noticed that this was incorrect before the staff started to harvest.
FARM FRESH FACTS
My parents were quite strict when it came to eating healthy foods and I learned to love eating greens from a young age. My mum always made the most amazing salads. Conventionally grown produce can be exposed to up to 25 different chemicals and sometimes even more, and unfortunately veggies don’t come with labels. When you make the switch to organic produce you might notice the benefits within days – your digestive system works better, you have more energy, allergies and headaches may disappear, your immune system and concentration improves, your skin and hair looks better, your eyes sparkle – the list is endless.
FOOD MUST ALWAYS BE GOOD
I mostly eat in the places that we supply; I’m very fussy when it comes to the quality of food. For a special treat we go to the Four Seasons Hotel in Jumeirah because they use our produce for their Friday brunch and the food is simply divine. I adore traditional French food, especially Provençal cuisine – I love a good old-fashioned daube or ratatouille. I never follow a recipe exactly as stated, which always puts an interesting twist on things.
TOIL AND SOIL
Oh, where do I start with the obstacles of running an organic farm in a desert! There is no textbook on how to farm organically in the UAE desert so we had to adapt a lot of techniques to our environment. One of the biggest challenges is the soil building; we continuously need to make a lot of compost to grow genuine organic produce. Creating our own seed bank was another major hurdle – we started from scratch and it has taken us years to grow most of our produce from our own seeds. We run a ‘just in time’ operation, meaning that everything stays in the field until it’s sold or stocked at our farm shop.
I love the scent of dill. I really like the taste of it and my body craves it all the time, maybe that’s why I love the smell so much. I also love the smell of the air when it rains here in the UAE.
Winning the 2017 Dubai Eye SME award was great formal recognition but the wonderful feedback I receive from our customers on daily basis really puts a smile on my face, and drives me onwards. Initially, I grew produce here only for our own consumption but one thing led to another and we eventually turned our passion into a business. At first there were many setbacks but I was determined to make it a success and now five years on we’re stronger than ever.