Meet Mounir Makar, the man behind the most creative and innovative produce you can find in Egypt, and the owner of the 1980’s family established and owned Makar Farms. “My father had a very strong interest in defying nature,” says Makar, which is what makes their farms so special.
Steering away from traditional farming, Makar Farms introduced hydroponic systems in 1996, allowing them to invert seasons and grow winter crops, such as broccoli and lettuce, during the summer. All growing is done in a controlled and protected environment that is free from pesticides and chemicals.
Having mainly catered to hotels, Makar needed to shift his consumer base to a more local market after 2011, when the tourism and hotel industry started to deteriorate. “The consumer also applies the principle ‘what we know is better than what we don’t know’, so when you come with something new, you might not really have a positive reaction at first,” Mounir says, which is what did indeed happen. “However there is an evolution that has happened in the past four years, there’s a new generation of people who are curious. On the contrary, they look for what is new and they no longer look for what they know, but they want to systematically discover what they don’t know. So there has to be a matching between what we do and this attitude.”
Aside from producing winter crops, such as kale, endive, broccoli, asparagus and all kinds of lettuce throughout the year, Makar also puts an emphasis on creating completely new mixed varieties of these each year. They’ve grown such hybrids as red asparagus, Romanesque (coral shaped) broccoli in varied colors, yellow, striped and flower shaped zucchini, and green, yellow and black tomatoes. This innovation process has been ongoing for nearly 30 years, which is also a policy that they live by in the farm. “Last year we did a very big effort with edible flowers [and] this year we intend to introduce more edible flowers in the market list,” Makar says.
The ideas for mixing and creating new varieties come to him by staying informed, looking around and traveling. But mainly it’s his passion that drives him to do so through “lov[ing] what is impossible”.
With over 100 employees, 30 percent of which are women, the owner proudly shares that the people living at the Makar Farm have themselves built the greenhouses. The reason behind this is for employees to be a part of the process and contribute to such a new way of cultivating produce, one that they have never worked with before. Initially, many were hesitant with the new idea of a hydroponic system.
While the business of catering to hotels was easier, Makar recently started working with the younger generation who are opening up more original restaurants. He passionately adds, “they come in with an extremely creative, imaginative and artistic approach to [the] restaurant business, and this is fantastic. One could not think five years ago that these projects would start the way they are, and with this amount of talent and imagination. Its really fantastic and this is what’s keeping us going.”
Not only have restaurant owners and the health conscious developed an interest for the numerous one-of-a-kind produce, but supermarkets that used to reject new and unusual produce have as well. With the growing demand for new and interesting vegetable creations, Makar Farms is successfully promoting ways to transform their produce into delicious dishes with the help of their private chef Diana, who has created over 100 recipes specifically for farm grown products. Ultimately, perseverance and a willingness to innovate and experiment in a dynamic market has been what’s helped Makar Farms stay on top.