It was a sunny Saturday when both of chef Sereen Al-Kurdi and myself promised to exchange visits to local and artisan producers. I remember having our morning coffee at a favorite place of mine: Kava– a specialist coffee house located in the heart of Amman. Our first stop at Mistaka was very inspiring to Sereen as it was her first time to meet Nisreen and to taste her artisan cheese. The next stop was at Botma, a humble organic market where freshly handpicked fruits and vegetables were arranged nicely in recycled containers and wooden boxes. We explored the items available and tasted most for them, form the variety of grapes to root vegetables, herbs and home-processed jams and spreads. Last month I had the chance to visit them again and meet up with Nasser to learn more about Botma.
Nasser stressed on how the human taste is affected by the resources available, creating each region’s own signature food print. “Taste affects us as human beings; it impacts our emotional memories and shapes our behaviors. It also has an impact on the drive for agriculture,” says Nasser. “Nowadays, globalization and monopoly are affecting the agriculture and food manufacturing processes, having an impact on the way we consume food,” he continues. Globalization, according to Nasser, has influenced the social and economic aspects of our society. “It affected our social networking, allocating less time for us to engage with people in a busy and fast paced lifestyle. The invasion of worldwide products in the market at competitive prices has lessened the opportunity for local products to survive. A study recently stated that Jordan imports over than 85% of its needs of food, leaving only a marginal of almost 15% for local products to be available in the market,” he explains.
He recalls that food was- and still is an essential part of his family’s heritage, taking advantage of every occasion to celebrate a feast. Growing up, Nasser developed a passion towards cooking and started to be involved in the preparations of his family gatherings. The interest he gained since his childhood encouraged him to explore more, trying different cuisines and flavors. Traveling around the world added much to his own taste and culinary approach; learning from different cultures and developing recipes inspired by the countries he visited. the turning point was when Nasser discovered that taste can be a strong language, a language that can as well be spoken in Jordan.
Botma was born after thoughtful thinking of starting a food culture and preserve what is left from the Jordanian agriculture and culinary identity. Nasser introduced a model starting from growing produce organically till the final stages of production keeping in mind all of Botma’s value chain components: taste, sustainability, consistency and quality. Agriculture is the base of the model along with the local community that plays a key role in Botma’s sustainability system. “Understanding the environment, the soil, the climate and the nature in Jordan allows for a better understanding of our agricultural approach. We are implementing old school farming techniques and water collection methods and we protect the plants using natural pesticides,” adds Nasser. The model Botma adopts needs research and dedication, as well as making use of the plant in all of its different stages, which allowed for opportunities for development and creativity, not just in the production process, but in the agricultural techniques as well. “We are being smart in utilizing the natural resources to serve our model while understanding how nature can be a whole system without human interference,” he explains. The model has helped him to source his own fertilizers and pesticides from nature itself, the use of geothermal energy as a way to produce and save energy in addition to adjusting the soil’s acidity to match the preferences of berries as an example, allowing the introduction of new varieties of fruits and vegetables to the local market.
With the ongoing engagement of people and the share of learnings, Botma is aiming to create a change by involving the local communities into their model, considering them one of the most important factors in this initiative. “Not only we are supporting them financially by leasing their lands, but we are educating them on the whole process of sustainable farming. We are also reviving all the old handcrafts that those communities used to implement in farming and in food preservation methods.” Working with local women and empowering them as well is a goal Botma is fulfilling. “We have a dedicated team that conducts trainings to enrich their know-how techniques of food preservation. We are leaning from them and combining our knowledge to create improved recipes that are based on the homemade one’s they gained from previous generations.” With this approach, Nasser is aiming to improve the quality of the local products to be able to compete on the shelves of supermarkets and hypermarkets around the country. From that point in Botma’s sustainability model, Botma Agro was born with a main goal to share the knowledge in agriculture, not only among farmers in Jordan, but with others in the Levant area. Its mission is to spread the understanding of the ecosystem along the culture of bio-pesticides, establishing a Seed Bank and documenting the plants that can be grown in the Levant area.
Three other sister initiatives were established under the umbrella of Botma: Botma Excellence, Botma Gourmet and Botma Tourism. Sharing the same vision, the sister companies are working to elevate the standards and to create a new culture each in its own field. Botma Excellence’s mission is o maximise the components of Botma’s value chain by working with different parts of the society including local women, organizations, schools and universities. “We want to spread the concept of school gardens and encourage each individual to plant their own garden whether at home or at work,” explains Nasser. 50 local women are taking part in our training, consultancy, food production and safety programs. “It is a win-win situation; we are learning and documenting traditional recipes providing them with information that will strengthen their knowledge while encouraging them to develop new ideas and out-of-the-box recipes,” he adds. Another goal of Botma’s Excellence is to protect the bio-diversity and wildlife in Jordan by reviving the connection between nature and local communities where Botma is present.
The restaurant management and consultancy initiative Botma Gourmet focuses on quality and taste assurance the guest will experience at the restaurants that Botma will be working closely with. The team of culinary specialists will build their recipes on the local products produced by the farmers and local communities to enhance the culinary journey the guests will experience. Botma Tourism, on the other hand, is an idea the team is still working on hoping it will find its place on the tourism map in the near future.
Nasser’s awareness of the concept of taste has driven a movement to save our culture and heritage by implementing a different approach, connecting people and working closely with all parts of the community together. Starting with our taste, Nasser was able to create a model that he hopes it will be adopted by people and be embraced as a lifestyle in Jordan and in the region as well.
*Pictures courtesy of كروم خلة البطمة