As the eco-village of Büyükkonuk prepares for its 17th Traditional Eco-Day Festival on Sunday, October 11, Anne Canalp reports on the pioneers who have become a rural model for sustainable growth.
It’s eight years since a unique venture to promote the traditions and skills employed by women in rural Karpaz was born.
Today, the 2007 vision of Büyükkonuk couple Lois and Ismail Cemal has snowballed into a vibrant twice-yearly “eco-day” that attracts thousands from around the island and has spread across North Cyprus, kick-starting eco-tourism from Dipkarpaz to Bağlıköy and Lefke.
More importantly, it has promoted a new pride and ownership of traditional village life and put cash into local people’s pockets. Mrs Cemal said: “Our aim was always to support local women, so that they could market their culture and skills in their own village, and to share our experience with other associations.”
Today, heading into the 17th eco-day, the Büyükkonuk Eco-tourism Association, currently headed by retired teacher Kiymet Alibey, has more than 60 members and is the backbone of the festival.
Training workshops are a regular feature to maintain EU quality and standards as the drive to promote local produce reaches new heights.
Last weekend women stall-holders attended a day-long workshop with Gülsen Akdoğdu, 33, a food engineer, traditional chef and Education Department-approved catering trainer.
Miss Akdoğdu said: “I have been training the ladies here for years.
“Some subjects like hygiene, quality control of ingredients and products and branding were accepted from the beginning but it has taken time for them to see the importance of standard portions and recipes, price controls, weights and measures, and appropriate packaging.”
As the owner of the capital’s Green Kitchen Projects, a culinary school and traditional restaurant in the Çağlayan district, she has plenty of practical experience.
Nonetheless, she added: “It wasn’t always easy to face a room of 50 women who have cooked all their lives and tell them that they had to change the way they did certain things.”
This year, plastic bags, plates and polystyrene food containers have finally been banned for ever and orders have been placed for EU-approved paper bags, greaseproof paper and cardboard plates. Only pickles will be sold in plastic jars as no alternative could be found. After hammering out agreements on prices and portions, the ladies embarked on a Tuesday class in hospitality and public relations with Meral Akinci, head of the women’s support association Kader and the wife of the TRNC President.
The women also hold weekly meetings at their office, a converted coffee bar.
Mrs Alibey said: “We discuss everything, plan the festivals and buy vegetables from each other. This has always been a grassroots project.”
The women’s regular off-season Sunday market runs from mid-October offering jams, cakes coffee and crafts, and will take orders or reservations for group cookery demonstrations.
Locally, the eco-day has also kickstarted a range of traditional bed and breakfast stopovers
in Büyükkonuk which may be reserved by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other options include the Rozagi Guesthouse and Çelebi Garden Hotel in the nearby village of Mehmetçik.
By Anne Canalp for Cyprus Today