This is the remarkable story of a man by the name of Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish, who had a vision to make Egypt sustainable by the year 2057. When he looked across the sandy barren desert land, he dreamt of turning it into fertile agricultural soil and grow a thriving community that lived, worked, learned and went to school together and - felt like family.
When Dr. Abouleish passed away in 2017, the amazing work he started became a reality with his son Helmy Abouleish leading the way. A generation of dedicated people who worked alongside Dr. Abouleish when he first started back in 1977 – community members, workers, and volunteers continue Dr. Abraham’s important work today.
During last year’s cotton harvest, I wrote a blog highlighting one of the “Greening the Deserts” project at the Wahat Farm. I introduced you to our farmers, showed you how pheromone traps were installed, and showed off our new cotton harvest. To really give you a sense of the scope of the project, I’ll take you through a brief photographic overview from the beginning and share how the project continues to evolve.
The vision of the Wahat Farm was to reclaim land in the middle of the desert with the goal of turning it into fertile soil and a thriving community with sustainable desert farming.
5 of them are fully driven by renewable energy with the goal of operating all of them on renewable energy within the next year. Each pivot-irrigation system can water 50 acres of land which in return can grow enough food to feed 670 people and eliminating 330 tons of CO2/yearly = CO2 emissions of 135 Egyptians.
The first harvest of blooming chamomile covered the fields. Here, the crop is attended to by Farmer Abdo Mhamed Mahoud on the right and Farmer Mohamed Abdaalh Ahmed on the left.
All of this happened in the first phase of the sustainable desert farming project.
The Wahat farm continues to thrive and flourish. So many exciting things are happening as it continues to evolve.
The community has grown to 70 families living and working on the farm, as well as 50 workers who commute to the farm daily. Many are on the waiting list as space opens up and the farm continues to grow. All of these families have the same benefits as the umbrella farm in Bilbeis, which includes social and educational programs— the children receive free schooling at the Waldorf school, and they have comprehensive healthcare.
Also, organic meals are served daily at the centrally located cafeteria by Chef Mohamed Shawky— using, of course, fresh vegetables harvested from the farm.
A central part of the Sekem lifestyle is creating a space where everyone can explore creativity and self-expression. To this end, an outdoor theater has been built where school plays take place and Eurythmy can be experienced and showcased. Below you can see a Eurythmy program being performed at night for visitors and workers on the farm. It’s an experience that allows everyone to draw upon profound spiritual insight as well as learn team building.
Artistic activities are also incorporated into the workday on the farm. Here you see engineers, electricians, students, and farm workers all coming together to create art and letting their creativity shine.
Starting a farm and community in the desert from scratch has served as a case study and teaching tool for students at the Heliopolis University (HU) of sustainable development, providing opportunities for experiential learning.
Not only are they able to observe and learn, but they also offer their own insights and ideas. The HU, founded by Dr. Abouleish in 2009 as part of the Community Based Learning project, has established a foundational two-way relationship with the surrounding community; the institution supports the community with its research, and is also able to gain knowledge and expertise from the community and at the same time. The Soil Lab, for example, was developed by HU students and their contribution to the project has been incredible. It’s an experience that these can take with them when they move into the work force.
The story of the Wahat Farm is one about amazing people doing extraordinary things.
A community built on desert land that has transformed not only the land itself, but the people who have come to live there and have built thriving, self-sufficient lives based on conscious usage of precious resources like water, soil, and energy.
Together, they have created a place where children can laugh, play, and develop their artistic talents, and where workers all live and learn in a sustainable community. I haven’t yet had the chance to visit the Wahat Farm in person due to COVID, but as soon as I’m able to travel, this will be the first place in Egypt I will be headed to. I can’t wait to give you an update when I arrive!