Oranges in Finike
Wilco Van Herpen
Citrus is the trademark of Turkey's Mediterranean coast, and Finike is one of the most important orange producers of the country.January and February are busy days for farmers along the Mediterranean coast in Turkey. From İzmir until Hatay, it is time to collect oranges, lemons and mandarins. Characteristic for Turkey, of course, is that in all the different places, the farmers claim the oranges they grow are Turkey’s best oranges. For me, the difficult task is making a choice. Would I go to Seferehisar, visit my friend Tunç, who is the mayor of Seferihisar and knows all about mandarins, go to Hatay or would Finike be the best choice. I decided to go to Finike. It is there where you can find all the different citrus fruits collected in one area.
While on my way to Kaş, I passed Finike a couple of times and never had the urge to stop. While on the main road, Finike does not have that inviting feeling that some Turkish places like Şirince, Beypazarı or Birgi can give you. Those places are from the first until the last moment nostalgic and cozy. Finike used to be a pretty place during the fifties, with a small center and one or two houses built near the sea. Nowadays, six-story-high buildings surround the old city center and a busy main road passes through the town. With a sandy beach that goes from Finike until Kemer, it might have a change to become a potential holiday resort, but there is no infrastructure to entertain or accommodate the tourists whatsoever. Besides, the beach is, in spite of an attempt by the district governor to give it a nice look, is still a beach that needs new serious landscaping.
So far, this is just the negative side of this story; let’s become a bit more positive. Finike has something a lot of places in Turkey do not have; it has mountains that surround the place from three sides. The fourth side, incredibly open, is the seaside. These two facts make Finike have a special climate, and at several places, even a very special microclimate. The whole plane is protected against cold weather and strong winds by the surrounding mountains, while the sea, with the salty wind, leaves its traces in the taste of the citrus fruits that are growing there.
Mete is a young farmer who sees it as his duty to put Finike back on the map again. He started six years ago by reorganizing the land of his parents that, until that time was a citrus garden, but did not give the utmost of what it could give. But reorganizing was not enough for Mete. Since last year, he started selling all his fruit on line (www.portakalbahcem.com) and now everyday two big cargo companies, who have a mobile office on his farm, bring all the fruit straight from the tree to your home. If you order early enough, you will have the fruit the next day. That is something else then buying your fruit from supermarkets, because it will take at least 4 till 5 days before the supermarkets have their fruits in their shops.
But that is not all; Mete has plans with Finike, big plans. Unfortunately it is a bit too early to write about all those plans, but I can tell you, with is energy and creativity a lot will happen in Finike. One thing I can tell you, Mete’s mother is involved in the business as well. She makes the most fantastic marmalades of all the different kinds of fruit that you can find in Mete’s garden. Why do I not want to write about Mete’s plans? Well, let me put it like this: since Mete started with selling his fruit online, a number of other companies also started to sell their fruit online. Sometimes, even with almost the same text as what he wrote, so Mete takes care in what to share and what not.
The farm or “Fruit Garden,” as Mete calls it, is not small. On 500 dönüm you can find fruit trees like orange, kumquat, normal lemon, red lemon, white lemon, pomegranates and sadok. It was his grandfather who started this business, but Mete was the one who made the business flower again. Twice a year, it is nice to visit Finike; the first time is around April, when all the trees are blossoming. The smell in and around Finike is overwhelming. Thousands, most probably hundreds of thousands of orange and lemon trees with their beautiful blossoms spread their sweet smell around the plain of Finike. The second time when it is nice to go there is around the end of January. All the trees are loaded with fruit. Some of the tress can give as much as 300 kilos of fruit per tree.
When I visited Finike I was lucky; the first day when I arrived, it was a perfect sunny day, the second day it rained. During the first day, I helped the people in the garden to pick the oranges. It looked like an easy job so I got a pair of garden gloves and scissors and started removing the oranges from the tree. It took exactly 25 seconds before someone came to me and told me that I had to cut the stem closer to the orange. So I went on picking the oranges and taking care that the stem was completely removed. Soon I found myself in a rhythm and filled one basket after another. Whenever I gave a sign someone would come, take my big basket with oranges and bring it to the tractor. There, all the oranges were collected and once the trailer was filled it would go to the warehouse. About thirty people were chatting, singing but at the same time working like crazy to collect all the oranges. One supervisor was constantly shouting his instructions to the people; “you forgot a couple of oranges there” or, ”work fast but throw the oranges softly in the basket.” One big tree would be “stripped” of its oranges in just a couple of minutes, but they needed the speed because 500 dönüm is not a small area. Men and women, all of them, walked and worked from one tree to another and turned the orange spotted area into a green forest of naked trees.
The next day when I returned to the garden there was mud all over the place. After 5 minutes of walking around in the garden, I was covered in mud from top till toe. But the nice thing was that the oranges could not look fresher than this. Covered with drops of rain, it was as if I was looking at thousands of orange colored diamonds. It was beautiful and I was grateful to the god of the rain because He also was able to show me this.