Archives for posts with tag: farmers

Imagine the countryside dotted with cattle. Replace the image of cattle with camels. Now picture herds of camels loping across the desert sands, trailed by a white-robed shepherd.

This is the enduring vision I will keep of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Not the skyscrapers that soar high above the Persian Gulf, nor the Emiratis shrouded mysteriously in abayas and kanduras, but this majestic animal icon of their history.

1941590_10201667805282346_1661266698_oFor centuries the Arab tribes roamed the desert, bedouins whose simple life revolved around the camel. The camels carried them across the vast windswept sands, provided milk and yogurt and meat, and eventually gave up their skins and hair and even their bones for tents, clothing and other necessities. A man’s worth was measured in part by the number of camels he owned.

The camels have long since given way to Ferraris and palaces and other lifestyle choices of the rich. But the Emiratis still keep herds of camels, perhaps to remind them of the humble roots that preceded their oil wealth. Even today, they race their camels and take great pride in winning. There is even a camel beauty contest.

I had a brief immersion course in ‘camel’ on my trip to UAE. We stopped by the race track at Al Wathba and watched the camels train. Then on to Al Ain, an oasis surrounded by 3,000 farms and the highest concentration of camels in the world.

As we drove to Al Ain, herds of camels appeared now and then against the beige and rust-colored sand. When we pulled over to the side of the road, the inquisitive animals would come right up to the fence line to ponder us.

They are handsome – white (primarily from Sudan), brown and black (Saudi Arabia). These are one-hump camels, known as dromedary. They can go two weeks without water and they can live for 50 years. Their small heads are dominated by doe-like eyes and comically ridiculous lips and teeth, offset by narrow mid-sections. Their giraffe-like legs taper to plate-sized padded feet.  They make the craziest sounds (audio/video here).

Al Ain still houses a camel souk in the plains below Jebel Hafeet, the brutish limestone mountains that separate Dubai from Oman. The market is divided into more than 100 neat pens, where a thousand camels (and goats, sheep and cattle) are corralled for potential buyers to ogle.

Expensive white SUVs slowly circle the paddocks, often filled with parents and children, selecting the camels or other animals they want to buy. A camel destined for slaughter goes for 3,000 dirham, or about $850. (At the market, camel meat is cheap – less than $3 a pound.) A cow, which will provide milk and birth calves for years, sells for 10,000. And a fortunate leggy animal chosen to work with the highly-prized racing camels can fetch 24,000 dirham.

camel souk

camel souk

We lingered at the camel souk, enthralled by the beautiful beasts, from week-old babies to full-grown animals that top 7 feet high.

On the drive back to the city lights, it was easy to dream of the centuries when man and camel roamed the endless desert, before oil rigs rendered the camel obsolete.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

CRR looked up from the grocery ads and said these fateful words, “(Big grocery conglomerate) has sweet corn, 10 ears for $2.” He had my attention at “sweet corn,” and the amazing price sent me straight to the store.

I know it’s not local, duh, it was trucked here from Florida, violating every locavore rule. But even this liberal arts major can do simple math. Twenty cents for a little taste of heaven?

Sweet corn is one of those foods that takes me back home. My father had acres of sweet corn, harvested in August (!) and savored with butter, salt and pepper at the picnic table, so we could let the juices drip down our chins and forearms with abandon.

As our children grew up, annual vacations to Rehoboth Beach were capped with a stop at one of the scores of farm stands that sold picked-that-day produce, including the amazing Silver Queen corn.  The loamy Delmarva soil was perfect for corn and melons, and we feasted when we arrived home, hot, sunburned and hungry.

Sweet corn

A few optimists have tried to grow sweet corn in our community garden, but it’s a  fool’s errand: too few stalks, a handful of ears, often eaten by the raccoons before they were ripe.

So let’s leave sweet corn to the real farmers. I’ll buy the local corn when it’s in season, and pay a few extra cents an ear for it, gladly, for their effort.

Everyone has their own recipe. We have friends who grill their corn – in the husk, or in tin foil. Some season their corn with Old Bay, or chili pepper. I favor my mother’s simple recipe. Fill a large pot with water, add 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of sugar, bring to a boil. Add the corn, simmer for 10 minutes. Barely season with butter, salt and pepper, and sink your teeth in.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.