Sometimes it's easy to forget how far the environmental movement in the United States and Europe has come in a relatively short time -- from fringe fixation to mainstream concern. Attending the 8th Ecology Istanbul Fair this weekend, I wondered if I was seeing what the beginnings of this process had looked like.
Though this organic trade show, the only one of its kind in Turkey, has been held for more than half a dozen years, it's tiny in comparison to American counterparts like the Green Festival or Natural Products Expo. Some 70+ exhibitors showed off their wares, mostly organic food products, to attendees, who numbered about 7,500 at the 2008 event. A large booth set up by the Black Sea province of Samsun to spotlight its organic producers featured a few live chickens and ducks, but that was about as flashy as things got.
University Programs, Organic Certifiers, And NGOs
There were booths for university programs, organic certifiers, and both international (Greenpeace, Slow Food, WWF) and local (Buğday, Doğa Derneği, EKODER) NGOs, but I noted only one non-Turkish company represented -- Newman's Own Organics.
Many exhibitors seemed to be small-business owners like Arda Burhan Orhan of Natural Ahşap Oyuncak (Natural Wooden Toys), based in the Mediterranean province of Muğla. Previously employed in the tourism and restaurant business -- "nothing to do with wood!" -- Orhan taught himself woodworking and has been making and selling mobiles, pull toys, and other charming children's products for the past two or three years. A friend helps sand them, and "she's the painter," he explained, pointing at his wife and showing me the data sheet for the eco-friendly paint they buy from a German company.
Like other vendors I talked to at the show, Orhan's market is small now -- mostly foreign tourists buy his toys, he says. A representative from Flora Organic, a new-ish clothing company, had a similar story, explaining that it's generally women -- especially those who are pregnant or active in sports -- who have shown interest in her casual-chic duds. "They're not so expensive," she explained, "but there are so many cheap clothes..."
Knowledge Of Natural Products Slowly Growing
Over at the Ökotek natural-cosmetics booth, where I sampled a delicious-smelling pomegranate-and-sesame-seed hand lotion, it was the same -- people who have allergies, pregnant women, and other people particularly concerned about their health are the company's best customers, but knowledge about the benefits of natural products is slowly growing.
Though organic foods have been produced in Turkey for around a decade, they are mostly for export and other types of organic products are still relatively unknown. Perhaps in another ten years' time, there will be a whole new wave of Turkish consumers looking for them on the shelves.
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