University of Sheffield

Desert Garden appeal

The University of Sheffield is taking science out of the labs and into the real world by using waste mattress foam to grow fresh food in the desert for people displaced by war. With your help we can improve the quality of life for these refugees.
by 208 supporters
Event: Desert Garden Appeal, from 5 December 2019 to 12 December 2019
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Scientists from the University of Sheffield have been working together with families displaced by war, enabling them to grow their own fresh food without soil in the desert. They have been able to re-use the most unlikely material in the process - discarded mattresses. This project will end soon if we don't act now. Will you help secure the future of the Desert Garden project?

March 2021 update

We're thrilled to share that Desert Garden has won a Green Gown award. The judges deemed it a truly impressive and commendable project, and noted its funding from public contributions towards providing an innovative and imaginative circular economy approach. You can read more about the award here .

Thank you for helping raise over £240,000 for Desert Garden so far. By enabling families to grow their own fresh food in the desert without the use of soil, you are making a difference.

As a result of your support, pilot systems are now in place in the Azraq camp, where new types of herbs and vegetables are thriving. With this new system in place, the team have managed to train over 600 new trainees across both camps.

Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the Za'atari and Azraq refugee camps, it has been inspiring to see the project still progress. Both camps are flourishing with all types of herbs, leafy greens and vegetables, grown by existing trainees. New trainees are currently receiving online support and training through social media. And with enough materials available, all the trainees will soon access what they need to grow their own Desert Gardens.

Make a difference today

£10 provides plants and nutrient solution for one family .

£25 buys enough fertiliser to grow 300 kilos of tomatoes.

£100 sets a family up with a full hydroponic system, enabling them to grow plants without using soil.

£500 pays for seeds and fertiliser for 20 families a year.

The problem

There are over 80,000 people displaced by war living in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. These refugees are in limbo with no idea when they will be able to move on or go home, as a result of the ongoing Syrian civil war. The salty, infertile soil is unsuitable for growing plants. Hundreds of used foam mattresses are piling up in the camps, unable to be re-used and destined for landfill.

The solution

Scientists at the University of Sheffield are experts in hydroponics, a method of growing plants without using soil. Recognising a similarity between the high-tech polyurethane foam they use in their lab in Sheffield and Zaatari's discarded mattress foam, they have found an innovative way of enabling the refugees to grow their own fresh food in the camp. To date, over 650 refugees have received the training and materials they need to grow food in this way. Together, they have grown over 100,000 plants and are sharing their knowledge with others in their community. 3,000 more refugees will receive training over the next three years, making the Desert Garden project self-sustaining.

The benefits

By growing fresh herbs, fruit and salad vegetables, the refugees are surrounded by an array of colours and now have access to fresh produce, which they can use in important cultural cooking traditions. Mattresses are being re-used instead of going to landfill, reducing waste. The farmers are able to use their valuable skills, passing these on to other refugees and providing Sheffield scientists with new discoveries. Refugees who are taught these skills are starting to gain a sense of purpose, exhibiting an increase in their mental health and well-being. As a result, a feeling of empowerment is starting to spread throughout the whole community.

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About the charity

University of Sheffield

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Donation summary

Total raised
+ £1,428.66 Gift Aid
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