You can hardly believe it but it’s true: a few kilometres from Kusadasi, the popular holiday resort on the west coast of Turkey, there’s an eco leisure park that is unsurpassed in the whole of Europe. Here you find, for example, rare animal breeds, a recently opened olive museum, a large organic restaurant and organic agriculture that is carried on in several large-scale greenhouses for all-year-round vegetable production. Every year, thousands of people – almost exclusively Turkish tourists – come here to have fun riding ponies, visiting the petting zoo, watching bakery demonstrations and eating good food. The agriculture has been certified organic since 2002.
Throughout the year, an attractively decorated farm shop welcomes the visitors to Degirmen. The shop, with about 30 m² of retail space, sells mainly the organic products they grow and make themselves: fruit, vegetables, jams, bread, sausage, wine and environmentally friendly soaps and cleaners. By drying produce, they are able to maintain a supply of, vegetables, fruits and herbs throughout the year. “We make use here of everything we produce,” explains Yildiz,the food engineer and trained organic production controler of the farm. They process more than 100 products themselves on the farm. The own organic trade mark is Yerlim.
Next to the farm shop is a traditional tea room, open all day and with enough space for a good dozen guests inside and as many again outside. Visitors can avail themselves of Turkish coffee and tea, cold drinks and Turkish Pizza.
“In the season between June and the end of August, we get about 10,000 visitors to Degirmen every week,” they say . They created the name Yerlim as their brand that means something like “Local, aboriginal”. Wherever you go, there’s something to see – grain being ground in a water-driven mill or the pide flat bread, that is freshly artisan baked in a traditional wood-burning brick oven.
Visitors love to show their children the animals, some of which they are allowed to touch. They can stroke the camels, donkeys, horses and ponies in their boxes. In the manege you can follow a circular route on horseback or you can ride round in the whole area. Goats and sheep run free in spacious pens, and many different breeds of hens, geese and ducks show children where their eggs come from.
As you move on from looking at the animals, you come to a number of big greenhouses that occupy 1.8 hectares. Here they grow tomatoes, paprika, aubergines, cucumbers and herbs. Our picture shows a small group of cheerful female workers having a break before getting down to work again.
Their produce, especially the tomatoes, are grown all year round and supplied to the specialist whole food trade across the whole country as well as to some hotels. They occasionally have a problem with a particular fly that has to be combated with the copper preparations permitted in organic agriculture.
Apart from the petting zoo, they keep about 200 of a locally adapted breed of sheep and 120 cows that bring an income. Adjacent to the animal keeping facilities is the land given over to olives, fruit and nut trees: apricots, apples, plums, sultanas, figs, almonds and edible chestnuts. In collaboration with the Ege-University in Izmir, they carry out experiments in organic agriculture in the Degirmen-fields.
A large pool with a suspended bridge separates the petting zoo and the agriculture areas from the restaurant. In the restaurant – decorated with lots of old traditional implements and antiques – people come to celebrate big events like weddings. The lower level is where you can sit and eat, and above is a gallery where you can stroll. You can also sit on the spacious terrace, where you have a view over the lake and the rest of Yerlim nestling in green surroundings.
The restaurant serves a big selection of dishes such as lamb, lamb and veal on spits, pilaf rice with meatballs and cooked tomatoes, a variety of noodle dishes with seasonal vegetables or mushroom sauce. There are traditional desserts like fresh cheese and chopped walnuts in pockets with angel-hair pasta, sesame halva with lemon juice, pumpkin with sesame-walnut sauce or homemade ice cream. Most of the products they use come from organic agriculture. You can almost see into the saucepans as the chefs prepare meals – the kitchen is open on two sides and, if you want to, you can watch everything that goes on before your meal arrives at your table.
Degirmen employs a good 50 people, with ten working in agriculture, 30 in the restaurant and the rest in the farm shop, bakery and butchery or looking after the horses. They have their own vet, whose duty is the welfare of the animals on the farm. Most of the milk they produce is supplied to a dairy, although a small volume is sold direct on the farm.
The olive museum Oleatrium, that was opened in 2011, is especially impressive. It shows the history of the use of olive oil in the Mediterranean region over the last 6,000 years and how the cultivation of olive trees spread from Syria step by step via Turkey and Greece westwards to Spain and Morocco. The museum provides a guided tour of around 50 different historical olive oil presses, ranging from simple models that were used in about 4,000 BC to systems that are probably still being used today. Surprisingly, there are hardly any explanations in English on the whole Yerlim site, apart from a few information panels in the olive museum. They are obviously geared to tourists from Turkey itself, and it’s a pity that the potential for international visitors has not been exploited yet.
Who has made all this happen? Who’s behind Degirmen and Yerlim? Hasan and Gürsel Tonbul who have established one of the biggest travel agents Diana Tourism and a hotel chain Paloma Hotels that has hotels in Side, Antalya, Kusadasi and Özdere/Izmir are the founders of the eco fun park and the organic farm.
Atatürk Cad. No: 128 Davutlar / Kusadasi
Tel : +90 256 681 61 30+90 256 681 61 30 (the farm)
Fax : +90 256 681 61 34
Tel : +90 256 681 21 48+90 256 681 21 48 (Degirmen Restaurant)
Fax +90 256 681 21 49
Olive Museum Oleatrium
Open every day except Mondays: 10.00 am – 6 pm
Admission: 10 Turkish lira