Israelis are no strangers to outdoor markets; every city has a shuk where a vast number of people do their daily shopping. Yet until recently farmers' markets were a foreign concept. Michal Ansky and Shir Halpern changed that three years ago when they started Israel's first farmers' market in Tel Aviv. Today there are six across the country plus a permanent indoor market, and more planned.
"It's a magical story," explains Halpern, "neither of us planned it, we didn't think: 'Oh we're going to create this farmers' market' - it really just happened." Ansky and Halpern met at Tel Aviv University, where they studied food history. The idea of a farmers' market in Tel Aviv came to them over coffee.
Ansky, currently one of the most familiar faces of Israeli food (she is a judge on the Israeli version of MasterChef and hosts two TV cooking shows) grew up in a culinary household. Her mother, Sherry Ansky, is a well-known figure in the Israeli culinary scene with 11 cookbooks under her belt. After a BA in history and MA in communication, Ansky went to Italy to attend the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo.
Halpern's passion for food was sparked in college when she worked at Erez Komarovsky's famed Lehem Erez bread shop and restaurant in Herziliya. "It was pretty remarkable," she recalls." "It was a revolution in terms of bread in Israel. Also it was the first restaurant to really do seasonal, local Israeli food."
Halpern had planned to attend law school, but decided to travel first. A short course at Le Cordon Bleu school in Paris changed her life. "I stayed for a year and a half," Halpern explains. "Erez was me falling in love with food professionally, and Paris was realising it was what I want to do with my life."
Now, Ansky and Halpern are working together to bring the farmer back to markets, and improve the way Israelis eat. Halpern argues that: "The shuk is not a market of producers or farmers," explains Halpern. "It's a market of vendors, people who trade. If you are looking for interesting variety - 15 kinds of cherry tomatoes and four kinds of carrots - you need to come to us."
Ansky adds: "Israel grows amazing things and have a wide range of everything, but it doesn't get to the Israeli customers, it goes to export." Israelis can only get their hands on this export-quality produce "if you know someone who grows them or at the farmers market".
Working off the success of the farmers' markets, Ansky and Halpern opened the Shuk HaNamal, or Port Market, at the revitalised Tel Aviv port. This daily indoor market was inspired by the Boqueria in Barcelona. Israel has rules against selling fish, meat, and many cheeses in open spaces so the indoor market provides vendors with the chance to offer their products. Ansky and Halpern sought sellers of unusual or imported goods that do not compete with the produce on offer at the farmers' market they run at the port on Friday mornings.
Halpern wants to make the Shuk HaNamal "as stable as possible" before moving onto other "food ventures". Ansky, who recently had her first child, is writing what she calls an "eco-gastronomical review" for children - a guide to the seasons and seasonal produce. But her priority remains the markets. "I hope there will be a farmers' market in every city in Israel and everyone will have access to good, clean, fresh food," she says.