Why Suleyman’s Garden is special and how your yoga retreat supports a rare resource in the face of globalization.
In the last few decades I have observed with increasing sadness the unprecedented destruction of local, small, subsistence agriculture, along with the sustainable family based culture that is part of that way of life. Almost every part of the globe has been affected by this move away from sustainable and small-scale agriculture. Large conglomerate companies with economic leverage lobby governments to allow unfair advantages to large scale operations, while small growers are taxed and entangled in increasing amounts of red tape to discourage them or even legislate against them growing their own seed stocks.
It has been a painful process to observe, particularly for me in the place I grew up – Turkey in the 60’s and 70’s. The quality of the fruit and vegetables then was truly outstanding. In what was largely a pre-industrial, agriculture- based economy there were no processed foods. Only two tinned products were available – sardines from Crete and tomato puree. There was a wealth of un-hybridized produce, different in every village and making the greengrocers’ shops a cornucopia of abundance and flavour. We have never eaten so well and so healthily as we did back in Istanbul in those decades.
Original varieties of grapes, cherries, nuts and grains in Turkey were entirely as nature had evolved them, with all the vigour, variety and taste intact. My father was an enthusiastic collector of original foodstuffs. He once sourced oats from an Anatolian village, settled by people from the Caucuses five hundred years ago. I can still recall forty years later the strong nutty flavor and absolutely delicious, creamy smell of them cooking. I have never tasted oats like it again – and believe me I have tried – from organic jumbo oats to Scots porridge oats…but no, those seed stocks have long since vanished….
So it won’t come as a surprise that when we discovered Suleyman and his garden, I was relieved and happy in equal measure to find he was still cultivating in the time-honoured fashion, using traditional seed stock and with fruit trees grafted and grown since time immemorial. The area where Suleyman’s is situated, Faralya, was pretty much cut off from the world by mountains, huge gorges and the sea until as recently as the 1990’s. I first visited his little farm ten years ago and I was utterly captivated because it immediately reminded me of a vanished Turkey I cherished.
We realized that here was a perfect pocket of traditional farming culture with all its natural and amazing produce. Also intact are the myriad ways of preserving – jam making, tahini ground by watermills, olives and olive oil, sun dried vegetables and hand ground chili powder, and fruit syrups. Suleyman and his family were eating a diet almost identical to the first settlers in the area – nomad shepherds who first came here when the Romans left.
However, by 2012 Suleyman told us that it was increasingly difficult to sell his produce, as supermarkets and big farms muscled in on the markets subsidized by multinationals, governments and tax breaks. He was paid so little for his fruit and vegetables that it didn’t cover the cost of taking them to the market. It was one of the only sources of income left to him. He had tried diversifying into tourism by constructing a few simple cabins, but being so off the beaten track, he didn’t have many visitors (apart from us) and was sliding into debt.
He is truly gifted and devoted as a gardener and agriculturalist. Produce springs up around him like he’s been scattering fairytale magic seeds. It seemed to me that we could help him survive and allow him to go on growing these amazing foodstuffs, if we brought our yoga guests to his farm – essentially we could level the playing field by bring his consumers to him. As we had been successfully running Huzur Vadisi yoga retreats for 20 years, we invited our waiting list of teachers and guests, thus turning his little farm into a yoga centre. As well as a being an amazing experience for our guests, they are ensuring the lifestyle born a thousand years ago can continue, protecting a precious resource.
It took some very hard work over one winter to prepare what we now call Suleyman’s Garden for our first guests. It was an immediate success and we continue to work with Suleyman in creating and improving accommodation and facilities. We’re proud to say we have more than turned his life around, he now has a thriving and sustainable business, and continues to devote himself to growing. The food cooked by his family, often on fires and in home produced olive oil was a huge hit from day one. The soil has been farmed organically for generations, the water is snow-melt, full of minerals and the fruit and vegetables are original old strains. Add a lot of sunshine and Suleyman’s green fingers and you have magic. On a daily basis people tell us the aubergine, tomato, courgette, beans, tahini, apricots, melon, or whatever, are the finest they have ever tasted! An Italian guest said she hadn’t tasted food like it since her Italian childhood.
The daily round of farming is also a wonderful diversion, as something is always coming into season being harvested, ground, dried or boiled in copper vats on an open fire. Goats and sheep are tethered and give milk for yogurt, and provide amusement when Suleyman gives them their regular bath. (Q. Where’s Suleyman? A. He’s washing his sheep.)
If you are looking for five star accommodation and service, then this is not the place for you, but if you love authenticity and treasure our links with the past and a more authentic way of being and eating, then you will love Suleyman’s Garden… you can also know that you are supporting Suleyman and his family in protecting this precious heritage.