This is the Desert Garden Project and it’s giving Syrian families displaced by war the opportunity to grow herbs and vegetables in the desert. By repurposing discarded mattresses and using their foam as an alternative to the soil in hydroponic farms, these refugees – many who are skilled farmers, are able to have a sense of purpose again.
Spearheaded by Tony Ryan, a University of Sheffield chemist, the project is transforming the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, the world’s largest camp for people displaced by the Syrian Civil War. Ryan visited one of the camp’s warehouses where used, discarded mattresses were piled up. That’s when he had his “aha moment.”
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Nutrients and water are pumped into the mattress foam and provide artificial support for the plants. Unlike the soil in Zaatari, the foam is absorbent and constantly available for the plant. This is monumental considering a majority of the 80,000 refugees in this camp came from the Dara’a region in Syria, a region known for its fertile soil and agriculture.