In the first five minutes that I spent in the small, newly opened Ripe Farm Shop in Umm Suqeim, Dubai, four different sets of customers bustled excitedly through the door. A mother pointed out different vegetables to her son, one lady said she'd only nipped in for a quick look around but ended up leaving with a box full of fresh ingredients and as they bought a mound of kale, a young couple confessed that they have been driving past the store every few days to check on its progress.
Despite only opening on Sunday, there's already a real buzz abut the place - and you can see why. This isn't a gourmet food store selling expensively priced, imported luxury goods; it is, as the manager Lucy Fitton explains, "A user friendly community shop; somewhere people can pop into and find local, sustainable products. We're deliberately not making things expensive; it's more important that people buy from us regularly."
Ripe launched successfully in 2011, selling organic vegetable boxes at Dubai Garden Centre. Rapid expansion and popular demand has meant that the company now also runs a food and craft market in Abu Dhabi, sells goods at Jones the Grocer in Al Raha Gardens and offers an online ordering and home delivery service in Dubai.
Fitton explains that the Ripe Farm Shop offers the chance to strengthen the company's relationship with its customers and to reward the small suppliers who have been supportive of the initiative from the start. Consequently, alongside the organic, locally grown fresh vegetables - tomatoes, spinach, chillies, carrots, fennel, aubergines, peppers, lettuce, okra, watercress, potatoes, beetroot and more, all displayed greengrocer-style, in brown paper bags - you'll find chutney by Lily Bakes, freshly baked bread from Sunflower Bakery (delivered that morning), mozzarella and ricotta from Italian Dairy Products and gluten free cookies, biscotti, bread and cakes courtesy of Sweet Connection, among other goods.
It may not be the place to do a bulky weekly shop (the store being rather too tiny to fit a trolley in), but as Fitton explains, with the fresh produce changing daily due to farm availability, it's a great place to swing buy to pick up a few bits and pieces every couple of days.
While she also admits that the variety of vegetables on offer is likely to diminish as the heat increases, the shop will remain open throughout the summer and the range of products that they stock will be influenced by customer demand. "The things that people have asked for most so far are organic meat, milk and goat's milk, so we're doing our very best to supply those," she says. "In the next couple of weeks, we'll be launching Meat Mondays, where we'll stay open late and sell organic chicken, courtesy of Prime Gourmet butchers."
As she continues to greet each new customer enthusiastically - this is the kind of place where return visitors will be remembered - Fitton concludes by saying: "We thought we'd start small, find our feet, see what our customers want and then grow from there." It seems a very sensible idea indeed.
• The Ripe Farm Shop is located just off street 8a, Umm Suqeim 2, off Al Manara, Dubai. Present opening hours are Sunday to Thursday 8am-2pm; Monday, 8am-7pm; Saturday, 2pm-5pm (closed Fridays). Cash only at the moment. For more information, call 04 379 0441 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.ripeme.com and www.facebook.com/ripeuae.