Farmers’ market a taste of Europe in Siem Reap

Cambodian farming families can sell their produce directly to consumers at the market
Cambodian farming families can sell their produce directly to consumers at the market. Terence Carter

Farmers’ market a taste of Europe in Siem Reap

New Sunday shopping excursion at Asana proving a popular meet-up spot for Temple Town’s expats

Early every Sunday morning since December, not long after the backpackers have staggered home from nearby Pub Street, atmospheric Siem Reap bar Asana has seen a different kind of customer to its usual crowd reclining on the rice-sack cushions beneath the old timber house.

Armed with cane baskets and straw bags filled to the brim with freshly baked bread, locally grown organic produce, jars of creamy palm sugar, and homemade French patés and terrines, European expats who have become regulars at a petite weekend market relax with a coffee and newspaper or catch up with friends.

“I wanted to start this market to recreate the nice feeling of farmers’ markets in France, where people go to socialise and see their neighbours as much as to shop,” owner Guilhem Maitrepierre says at the weekly Organic Farmer’s Market that he and his partner Sophary “Pari’” Unn started at her bar.

The couple began mulling over the idea of holding a farmers’ market at Asana two years ago, motivated by a couple of factors.

“I was talking to Agrisud, and they told me about the difficulty that the organic farmers had in accessing the local markets and how little money they made, as the sellers took most it,” Maitrepierre explained. “I was surprised because, naively, I thought all local markets were farmers’ markets – and then I realised they were not.”

Agrisud International is a French NGO that supports small farming enterprises by encouraging diversification and promoting more eco-friendly agricultural methods, including organic production. The growers that Agrisud works with produce many different kinds of herbs, vegetables and fruits not widely found in Siem Reap, including European-style basil, peppermint and tomatoes, which are sold to hotels and restaurants but don’t necessarily sell well at local markets.

Maitrepierre offered to hold a farmers’ market in the Asana courtyard to give the growers direct access to consumers and help them make more money by cutting out the middlemen; however, plans stalled when he got busy with his construction business.

It was the expansion into Siem Reap of a massive Thai agribusiness that motivated Maitrepierre to finally launch the market. As a parent of a young child, with another on the way, Maitrepierre, who is also establishing his own farm, is dubious about the health and safety conditions of large manufacturers.

Maitrepierre is pleased with the market’s progress so far. There are 10 sellers at the moment, including several Cambodian farming families who work with Agrisud, an organic poultry and egg producer, a baker, pastry-maker, and a producer of homemade Middle Eastern dips. They will soon be joined by small honey hobby-farmers and organic fruit-growers from Mount Kulen.

“Each week we’re getting about 50 customers, and it’s the same people coming,” Maitrepierre observes. “This is great because it means people are forming habits and making the market part of their weekend routine – and this is better than being part of a trend.”

Patrick Lesecq, who owns Tropical Garden restaurant, where he makes his own French charcuterie, including patés, terrines, rillettes, sausages and duck confit, which he makes from organic ducks, said he was delighted with the market.

“It is marvellous for my product,” said Lesecq, who also had a market stall back home in his native France before moving to Cambodia eight years ago. “I am up until 12 o’clock drinking at my restaurant, so it’s difficult to start at 7am! But I am very happy to be here. We all are.”

Asana Farmers’ Market, 7am-noon, every Sunday throughout the year at Asana Bar, on a small lane between Street 7 and Pub Street.

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