23rd National Olive Festival: Celebrating tradition, solidarity, and support

This year's olive season imbues a new significance, embracing the cherished fruit of Bilad Al-Sham amid challenges and regional struggles

23rd National Olive Festival 001
From left to right: Asma Syed and Chef Moeen AbuZaid (Toronto), Theo van de Laar (Tour Operator from The Netherlands), Chef Maisa Miqdadi (owner Maisa Space), food writer Nico Dingemans (The Netherlands), Dr. Nizar Haddad (NARC), Chef Jonathan Zandbergen (Michelin Chef from the Netherlands), marketeer Mona Al Saleh, Saif Goussous (Romero Group)
AMMAN – This year's National Olive Festival and Rural Products Exhibition are tinged with bittersweet emotions. As the festival marks its 23rd year on November 23, the ten-day event, organized by the National Agricultural Research Center (NARC) in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, honors the cherished fruit of Bilad Al-Sham, steeped in tradition, history, memories, and rituals.اضافة اعلان

The beloved fruit, which is proudly featured on many Jordanians' sufra, sparks deep conversations about the past, present, and future. However, this year's olive harvest festival in Jordan carries a bittersweet undertone because it is impossible to overlook the crops and harvesters in Palestine who, due to this year's circumstances, cannot partake in celebrating the millennia-old traditions and memories associated with the olive. One social media user took to Instagram and said, "It should have been olive season," referring to the ongoing siege of Gaza and the settler violence from the Israeli occupation forces in Palestine, which have resulted in the deaths, injuries, and detention of tens of thousands of Palestinians.

Artisanal grinding of dried Sumac on a traditional basalt stone mill
from left to right: Chef Maisa Miqdadi (owner Maisa Space), Dr. Nizar Haddad (National Agricultural Research Center), Chef Jonathan Zandbergen (Michelin Chef from the Netherlands), and a participant of the Rural Products Exhibition

This year, Director General Dr. Nizar Haddad announced that the festival will forge a partnership with the Jordanian Hashemite Charitable Organization (JHCO). A campaign will be launched to collect cash and in-kind donations for the affected and injured families in Gaza, as reported by the Jordan News Agency, Petra. Additionally, services to ship olive oil abroad at preferential prices will be provided, offering an avenue for supporting Gaza residents by purchasing and dispatching products to them due to their inability to harvest this year.

Dutch Michelin Chef Jonathan Zandbergen learned about the art of olive oil making in Jordan

The festival in Jordan is an important reminder of the country's efforts to protect its local products. With the increasing popularity of buying local and calls for boycotts, it is becoming more important to transcend local boundaries. This shift towards local products not only strengthens identity and solidarity but also has long-term socio-economic benefits.

The Ministry of Agriculture is taking decisive steps to preserve this essential aspect of national identity. Murad Maaytah, from the Ministry of Agriculture, emphasized in an interview with a local news outlet that, for years, the Ministry has restricted the importation of olive oil to protect local products.

Dr. Nizar Haddad, Director General of the National Agricultural Research Center, explains about the oldest area in the world with olive trees to Palestinian-Jordanian Chef Moeen AbuZaid from Toronto, and Michelin Chef Jonathan Zandbergen from The Netherlands

The current crop, which commenced on October 17, is anticipated to yield 250,000 tonnes of olive fruits. Approximately 50,000 tonnes will be utilized for picking purposes, while the remaining 200,000 tonnes will undergo milling, according to Maaytah's statement.

When it comes to preserving local products, many Jordanians are prioritizing locality over exports this year. During the 22nd National Olive Festival and Rural Products Exhibition last year, the culinary tourism project "From Farm to Fork in Jordan" extended invitations to international chefs, food writers from Canada and The Netherlands, and prominent chefs from Jordan.

Interacting with women from rural communities, local olive farmers, millers, beekeepers, and home-based cooks, the chefs delved into the intricacies of the production process of Jordanian Extra Virgin Olive Oil. They learned about grinding sumac, explored different varieties of Za’atar, experienced the richness of Arabic spices, and discovered unique products like hyper-local honey and saffron.

Palestinian-Jordanian Chef Moeen AbuZaid from Toronto and Michelin Chef Jonathan Zandbergen from The Netherlands (re)discovering how to grind sumac in the traditional way

However, this year, “From Farm to Fork in Jordan” has extended invitations to Jordanian chefs, hoteliers, restaurant owners, and tourism professionals. The visit, scheduled for Sunday, November 26, coincides with World Olive Tree Day—a symbolic day for reflecting on peace, wisdom, and harmony. This event stands in solidarity with Gaza and supports local businesses, providing an opportunity to (re)discover culinary heritage.

The festival, as noted by Haddad, will achieve its desired goal of providing a marketing window for the participants to support underprivileged households. It also presents an opportunity for many participants to become educated about local products, and traditional methods, and take home some of the Kingdom’s finest goods.

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