The Power of Girls’ Dreams: The Hana Garden in Arak, Iran

Slow Food has been gradually growing its presence in Iran. Despite the dominance of fast food culture in many urban areas, there has been increasing interest among Iranians in preserving traditional culinary practices and supporting local farmers. An active member of the Slow Food network, Somayeh Bayat leads the Alborz Convivium in Iran and has started her own Slow Food-inspired educational farm. Here she shares her experiences with us.

Iran’s gastronomic traditions are deeply rooted in the country’s rich history and cultural diversity and its cuisine is renowned for its intricate flavors and aromatic dishes, offering locals and visitors alike delightful possibilities for exploration. In recent years, Slow Food has gradually been growing its presence in Iran. The emerging network has not only encouraged Iranians to embrace their rich gastronomic heritage but has also fostered a deeper connection with the land and a sense of responsibility towards the environment. Slow Food’s activities in Iran serve as a reminder of the importance of preserving cultural traditions and promoting a more sustainable and conscious approach to food.

Though their position in Iranian society is undoubtedly complicated, there is no question that women play a significant role in Iranian gastronomic traditions, actively preserving culinary heritage and contributing to its evolution. Iranian women tend to be the custodians of family recipes passed down through generations, ensuring the preservation of traditional dishes and cooking techniques. They continue to play a vital role in shaping and enriching the Iranian gastronomic landscape, not only as chefs but also activists.

The leader of the Alborz Convivium, Somayeh Bayat, is one of these women. An environmental activist, she is working to protect, restore and preserve the local biodiversity, in particular through the country’s emerging Slow Food network.

She shared her story with us: “After graduating in Environmental Management Sciences from JNT University, India, I had a chance to teach in different private and public universities and participated in some environmental projects which were consistent with my education and experiences. At the beginning, it was difficult for me to work with communities as I had no experience in the field of agriculture; moreover, cultural issues mean that being a woman working as a social activist is also a challenge.”

Learning about the philosophy of Slow Food changed her approach and perspective. For Somayeh, attending Terra Madre Salone Del Gusto 2018 proved a turning point. She learned about good, clean and fair food for all and discovered an international network of dedicated women working in the field of agriculture. “I saw that many producers and farmers were women and this became a strength of heart for me. Why I couldn’t I do the same?” That, she remembers, was when “the first spark of local and healthy food production came in to my mind.”

After she returned to Iran, she decided to establish her own farm as a way to extend the Slow Food philosophy and provide a source of income. “I started working on a small plot in my community. Taking into account recent problems with erosion and water shortages, initially 3,500 square meters was prepared with several crops like tomatoes, green beans, corn, garlic, eggplant, potatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, carrots and bell peppers as well as different herbs and plants with powerful medicinal properties, such as thyme, mint, damask rose, dill and saffron. In recent years beekeeping has been added alongside the agricultural activities.”

Her work is underpinned by teamwork, proper organization of resources and the use of organic and homemade fertilizers. Over time, organic and sustainable management has increased the productivity and improved the products significantly, and interest from other small-scale producers has grown around her. “My eight colleagues are local women, agricultural students and convivium members,” she said. Her initial plot has now grown into a center of education for the smallholder community and for schoolchildren.

Somayeh told us more: “I give the community women practical training about crop production and preservation. It’s a long-term training, starting from sowing to harvesting and going all the way up to cooking and eating: from farm to fork.” Other training courses are conducted to educate agricultural students and local farmers on the fundamentals of sustainable agricultural practices, from the initial stages of land preparation to the final harvest of crops. In the future, she hopes to add sheep and hens to her farm, and to start a school garden in the local area, following the Slow Food philosophy.

She has been able to rely on technical support from Slow Food, participating in workshops on the protein transition and education, and whenever Somayeh has a question she can draw on the expertise of the Slow Food geographical coordinator, Professor Abdullah Faiz. She said that staying in regular contact with the Slow Food team via social media and receiving advice on how to effectively plan workshops, submit reports and adhere to Slow Food’s objectives has greatly simplified her educational journey.

“After harvesting, the products are sent to the local markets for sale and the income is being used to support six children who do not have a guardian to get an education,” said Somayeh. “I will support them until they finish university and can stand on their own feet. This is the dream of an Iranian girl, to be able to support her community by producing good, clean and fair food, providing support for everyone and guiding children to the path of education that is their right.”

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