Where urban meets rural

City folks seeking fresh, high-quality produce straight from the countryside are heading to the Farmers’ Market at Tel Aviv’s Old Port.

Farmers Market 311 (photo credit: Alessandra Da Pra)
Farmers Market 311
(photo credit: Alessandra Da Pra)
As night fell over the Old Port of Tel Aviv, the notes of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” rose high in the sky, aided by the sea breeze.
“Baby, I’ve been here before, I know this room, I’ve walked this floor...” sang a musician while moms with baby carriages, teens on skates, sweaty joggers and amorous couples strolled alongside the Mediterranean Sea.
“What’s that?” asked a puzzled passerby, pointing to some fresh and colorful produce.
“Thai eggplants,” answered Shlomo Abarbanel, concealed behind a stand piled high with the small, round vegetables.
The 59-year-old farmer has been driving the 100 kilometers from Moshav Te’ashur in the Negev to Tel Aviv once a week for the past two years. Along with other farmers from all over Israel, he comes to the Old Port to sell his produce at the biweekly Farmers’ Market.
This is where urban meets rural as local agriculturists bring their fresh, high-quality produce from the countryside directly to city-center folks.
Fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese, herbs, honey, olive oil, cakes, wine, ice cream, coffee and much more can be found on Tuesday nights and Friday mornings at this outdoor market by Hangar 9.
Aside from the more common vegetables, the market offers a variety of produce such as Abarbanel’s Thai eggplants, which spark curiosity in many shoppers. He also grows other exotic plants such as passion fruit, Asian pears and papayas on his farm near Beersheba.
“People are getting used to things they didn’t like or didn’t know before, and papaya is just one example,” he said, cutting a juicy slice from the ripe fruit for a customer to taste. “Papaya usually has a repellent smell, but ours are sweet,” he added.
The Tel Aviv Farmers’ Market was launched in the summer of 2008 by two entrepreneurs, Michal Ansky and Shir Halpern. One a television presenter, the other a chef, both women are food journalists who share a passion for cooking. Both studied at Tel Aviv University and in Europe, Ansky at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy and Halpern at Le Cordon Blue in Paris.
Once back in Israel, the pair decided to put what they had learned, seen and absorbed in Europe into practice and create in their homeland an alternative and more personal shopping experience than the colder, more isolated supermarket environment.
At the Farmers’ Market, folks can enjoy shopping in a casual and intimate outdoor atmosphere, interacting directly with the farmers who grew or made the products.
They have the opportunity to ask questions about the items they want to purchase. Often, the farmers will suggest recipes and give advice on how to grow your own herbs and veggies at home.
“The idea is to buy the most beautiful, freshest and highest-quality produce to make your own food,” said Farmers’ Market manager Yael Gurion, “all within a social environment.” Indeed, the market is a gregarious gathering, with live performances on Tuesday nights when a children’s band and a seniors jazz group alternate onstage.
While the kids are entertained by the music, their parents can relax and shop, sampling goodies from all over the country without stepping outside Tel Aviv – for example, pickles from Netiv Ha’asara, located at the border with the Gaza Strip, as well as halla from the La Paneria bakery chain and Ptora chardonnay wine from Moshav Sde Moshe, a small farming community in the Northern Negev.
“The Farmers’ Market is a good place to get inspiration – and publicity,” said Ptora owner and wine producer Ido Tamir.
Seeing regulars coming back week after week gives him the feeling that the market is thriving. His family farm has been operating for three generations, producing extra virgin olive oil, honey and, more recently, wine.
At the market, folks can purchase a liter of Ptora olive oil for NIS 50, half a kilogram of eucalyptus or sunflowers honey for NIS 22, a bottle of chardonnay for NIS 60 and a kosher blend of Merlot and Cabernet for NIS 80.
Tamir also serves glasses of wine for NIS 10 each to be savored on the spot.
Grab one and head to the corner food stand for a Druse pita with labane and chopped hard-boiled egg (NIS 15), or hot sambusas stuffed with spinach or humous (NIS 5 each).
Tamer Halabe from Daliat al-Carmel has been selling his street eats at the market for over a year – tabouleh (NIS 10), pizza pita, za’atar pita and beef kubbe (NIS 5 each).
With your glass of wine in one hand and a Druse pita in the other, sit by the seashore for an improvised picnic and watch the airplanes roar by overhead.
Not in the mood for alcohol? Grab some fresh carrot, orange or pomegranate juice (NIS 10 to NIS 15) at Felix Tayeb’s juice stand. The 54-year-old man never seems to take a break from squeezing the juice out of one fruit after another for his thirsty customers.
He started his farm some 20 years ago in Karmei Yosef, a village situated between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where he grows grapes and apricots among other things.
Preparing fresh juice for the market’s shoppers is a way to earn some extra income, said his son Shico Tayeb.
Market manager Gurion says the prices of the produce are supposed to be the same as at the supermarket, if not lower. Yet this is not always the case, she admitted.
“The cost might be a little bit higher, but you pay for the quality,” she said.
Avi Mizrahi, 56, works in communications and makes the short drive from Holon once a week to shop for produce at the Farmers’ Market.
He said he prefers the fresh vegetables and fruits he finds there to the often refrigerated produce sold at supermarkets.
“It’s not cheaper here than at the supermarket,” he said toting a fabric shopping bag on his shoulder. “But it’s worth the extra money because the produce is better, fresher and higher quality.”
Forgot your fabric shopping bag at home? They can be purchased for NIS 20 each at the market, which prides itself on being eco-friendly. In addition, it provides retailer farmers with biodegradable plastic bags.
“We encourage customers and farmers to think green,” said Gurion.
Farmers’ Market is member of Slow Food, a global organization based on an eco-gastronomy concept that believes food should be prepared in a way that does not harm the environment and consumers’ health. It also promotes food education and awareness through culinary events in order to preserve local food traditions.
The Old Port of Tel Aviv Farmers’ Market was the first one in Israel, but today they also operate in Ra’anana, Herzliya, Rishon Lezion and Netanya, comprising some 80 producers from all over the country selling their fresh, small-scale and sometimes organic products without the involvement of middlemen.
An indoor Farmers’ Market will open next to the outdoor market at the Old Port this month.
It will feature an ecological store selling items such as cardboard shopping carts, and have a coffee shop and restaurant. The indoor market will offer meat, fish and dairy products alongside sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes and other produce.
Local chefs will be on hand to give cookery demonstrations.
Bon appetit!