Greening The Camps: Empowering Refugee Communities With Food Production


Hellebaut Vocational training school - One Love; Image sourced from Greening The Camps


In 2017, a collective of young designers, crafters, plant lovers and social activists found themselves in Amman, Jordan. “We had little to no experience in urban farming but our passion for urban design, human settlements, and public and private green spaces drove us forward,” says Evi Hellebaut, Co-founder & designer at Greening the Camps.

The impact of resilient farming on communities motivates Greening the Camps every day, making them aware of the urgency and possibilities that lay within the scope of urban agriculture. 

Hellebaut Vocational training school - One Love; Image sourced from Greening The Camps

The main vision of Greening the Camps is to reconnect the refugee community with their farming heritage, providing a low-tech solution to food insecurity and creating a tiny green oasis amid the harsh reality of the camp. “We focused on engaging the women and youth with small scale interventions and workshops,” Hellebaut explains. 

With funding from their founding team alongside the help of volunteers, they started a pilot project on the roof of “Jadal for knowledge and culture” in downtown Amman. “This experimental garden allowed us to test out the designed installations and gain knowledge of the materials available in the local market”, Hellebaut describes.

After officially registering as a Belgian organisation in the Summer of 2017, they launched a crowdfunding campaign to seek necessary funds. In collaboration with a local grassroots organisation, One Love, they started working in Jerash camp, to build a community rooftop farm. Hellebaut describes,  “What started as an environmental project with the intention of growing your own healthy food and activating unused rooftops for food production, evolved into a participative community project that connects social needs and brings together communities while creating local empowerment and transforming livelihoods keeping in mind all strategies of how to create liveable cities.”

Greening the Camps targets refugee camps and disadvantaged communities, they provide a variety of services such as psychosocial support, legal support, youth support, family support, and vocational training. 

Workshop Right To Play: Non-profit organization empowering children Schools in East Amman, Jordan; Image sourced from Arthur Delarge and Greening The Camps

One location is the community of Jerash camp, locally know as Gaza camp, the recognised Palestinian refugee camp houses over 45,000 refugees. “When analysing the natural environment we noticed that the dense concrete fabric of the refugee camp lacks the necessary fertile landscape. The scarcity of green space in combination with a threatening shortage of water has caused a severe disconnection of the current generation with agriculture,” Hellebaut says. Rooftop gardens address this directly by inserting a green oasis where a family or community can grow its own food provision, find rest and foster their connection with nature. 

When choosing their locations they always meet the family or the people involved to assure a fruitful collaboration. They participate in educational workshops about urban farming and plant care. They work simultaneously on two fronts: building projects in Amman that provide enough income and profit to finance projects in the camps. By working this way, they are able to spread knowledge and awareness throughout different communities, whilst connecting and generating work opportunities. 

Operating in the camp requires thorough planning. We work together with a grassroots organisation ‘One Love’ to help us find families who are able to host a farm. From the start, families are closely involved in the planning and building process. We listen to what they like to grow and often use in the kitchen, but also to any possible concerns about maintenance and water usage. The families participate in educational workshops about urban farming and plant care to ensure that they’re able to continue growing their own food. After the implementation of the farm, our team follows up for about 6 months, visiting often and listening to any feedback. 

The farms in Amman can differ in scale and usage. They range from single herb boxes to big urban farms implemented in a school environment or offices. Depending on the beneficiaries, they offer an aesthetic leisure space that supports urban biodiversity, and act as an educational hub. 

Empowering The Refugee Communities 

Amman design Week & InvestBank: repurposed installations from the expositions as greenhouses and plant beds in the refugee camp; Image sourced from Arthur Delarge

Palestinians have a long tradition of farming but the new generation has lost their connection with it. By involving multiple generations throughout the project’s progress, we experience an interesting dialogue and knowledge transfer. Our projects usually contain three phases to fully engage the communities. 

The first phase is a holistic design that is based on the wishes and needs of the people involved. The second phase is the development and construction of the micro-farm, which includes installing water-saving, collecting and recycling systems, plant beds, native trees, seating, and shading infrastructure. The last phase is extensive training for the beneficiaries to ensure that all the necessary knowledge and skills get passed over for the project to become self-sustaining in the long run. 

Prototype developed during Food & Agritech Maker Residency in collaboration with Amman Design Week. Later implementation made possible by Takween. Image sourced from Arthur Delarge

Agtech Solutions

One challenge we face is access to water. In Amman, there is a weekly supply of water, while the camps only have access to water every two weeks or even once a month. Apart from our designed water-efficient installations, we constantly look for solutions on how to build a rainwater harvesting installation that can gather enough water in Winter to supply a rooftop farm for an entire year. 

Our projects aim to be as holistic as possible, but water is always our main concern. This means that we incorporate rainwater harvesting, grey water filtering, and composting where possible to reduce the input of energies and resources in the system. We try to use reclaimed materials to construct our plant beds. These self-made planters are ‘wicking beds’, one of the most water-efficient agricultural techniques available. (A wicking bed is a type of sub-irrigated growing container, designed with an enclosed reservoir at the bottom. Instead of watering the growing-medium from above, water is added to the reservoir through a pipe at the side of the container. ) 





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