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Karachi Farmers Market

Take a walk through the Karachi Farmers Market with Aurora.
Updated 09 May, 2024 03:55pm

It was one of those idyllic Sunday mornings in Karachi when the air was cooler, more temperate and the week ahead felt less daunting than usual as I made my way to Karachi Farmers Market (KFM). The market first began in 2015 when a farmer from Islamabad, Qasim Tareen, moved to Karachi and sought to create a market similar to the one he had established in Islamabad. He wished for access to superior-quality and farm-fresh produce without the circus of jumping through hoops to procure it. Returning after a hiatus due to the pandemic, KFM continues to serve as a weekly platform, enabling carefully vetted farmers to sell their own produce, eliminating the need for a middleman. 

Upon entering The Lyceum, the current venue of KFM, I was greeted by the scent of freshly ground coffee beans from the café stall serving Raaz coffee, French toast and anda paratha. Anthony Petrolonis, the current organiser, led me through the market while explaining the strict audit process for evaluating produce that claims to be ‘organic’ and the criteria for vendors. “We try to bring as many organic and natural products as we can to the market.”

At nine o’clock in the morning, KFM was in full swing, with children racing each other to the craft corner led by Antara, Petrolonis’ daughter, who distributed colour pencils and friendship bracelet-making supplies, and nimble adults making a beeline for the stalls, securing the crispiest lettuce and the plumpest tomatoes. As a plastic bag-free establishment, market-goers sported an assortment of bags, from traditional rattan to printed canvas totes, filling them to the brim with produce, pickles and sweet treats.

Weaving through the sun-dappled path dotted with stalls, Petrolonis explained that the first stall is always reserved for raising awareness for non-profit and non-government agencies, like the Karachi Relief Trust and NOWPDP. Another stall we stopped by was by Roots for Equity, a social justice group affiliated with the Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek that works towards uplifting farmers. Their stall sold intricately beaded buttons and jewellery, as well as organic rice and atta. Other stalls carried an assortment of produce, from Chinese cabbage to desi garlic and flavoured sharbats to cold-pressed olive oil.

On the hunt for pastries, I stopped by Amena Agha’s stall, a young food scientist who works in her family’s construction business but hopes to start a bakery and secured her signature cinnamon brioche and espresso chocolate chip cookies. I also encountered another young entrepreneur, a boy named Kyil Ehsan, who makes brownies and biscuits at Lo-Kal Bites using monk fruit sugar and almond flour, making them suitable for diabetics and celiacs.

Attendees were able to sample a variety of flavoured cottage cheeses, jams, infused organic honey and seeded crackers. Stall owners ladled out servings of hearty soup, packed slices of semolina rose cake and twisted pretzels as big as one’s face in cardboard boxes, while eager customers lined up for home chef Abid’s Thai food spread, including green coconut curry and fresh spring rolls.

Amid the hustle and bustle of the market, the farmer’s stalls were wiped clean within the first hour and a half, their tables green with lush produce reduced to the white of their tablecloth. The organic produce available to customers at the market is certainly an upgrade from the kind obtained from fly-infested carts all over Karachi, although it would be remiss not to acknowledge that the KFM crowd mostly comprises the urban elite. In fact, I scarcely heard a word of Urdu and nearly all market-goers were in gym or marathon attire, establishing the average market-goer as health-conscious and upper middle class.

The farmers market model is a necessary one in that it supports farmers directly and provides access to healthier produce, but don’t all citizens deserve that same access? Increasing awareness regarding healthier eating habits and the sourcing of produce is likely to boost the need for such markets. Perhaps in the next few years, we may see similar farmers markets cropping up all over Pakistan, preferably community-led and run.