Green consciousness in Cairo is easily summed up in a classic game of hot potato: responsibilities are shifted; the burden, passed and forgotten and for the time being we're safe--until it rears its green head again.
Here, the green conventions of
recycling and street cleaning are outsourced to a segment of society who collects
and profits from our trash. And likewise, a fad of green products permeates a
consumer culture favouring artisans who proudly don a green badge—many of whom
we’ve featured or reviewed—and they too profit.
But since the revolution, a new grassroots movement has sprouted from rooftop to rooftop that doesn’t accommodate a passive environmentalism: urban gardening.
“After the revolution succeeded, people were suddenly conscious about their space. There was this sudden click that happened where Egyptians felt that they had their own responsibility and ownership,” says Aurelia Weintz of Nawaya, a local environmentalist group working towards sustainable farming.
In an effort to foster a culture of green thumbs in Cairo, Nawaya, under the auspices of Nahdet El Mahrousa, will host workshops on ‘Easy Urban Kitchen Gardens’. Learning by doing, participants will aid in the creation of an urban kitchen garden at a scheduled rooftop and discover the tenets of an overarching gardening philosophy of permaculture.
“We come and help set up rooftop gardens to those interested. But it’s on the condition that it serves the community by allowing us to host a workshop. We’re not an eco landscaping company,” says Weintz.
Ahead of Nawaya’s first workshop above the offices of Bamyan Media in Garden City, Weintz gave Cairo 360 a crash course on permaculture and a workshop preview.
“Permaculture is a design science which uses nature as its teacher,” Weintz explains as she points at a raised planting bed covered in straw. The straw is used as mulch that covers the soil.
“For example, forests in the winter shed leaves onto the floor, which then keep the soil warm during the winter and in the summer keep water from evaporating. And we’ve mimicked this through mulch,” she says.
During the workshop, participants will retrofit existing barrels into a fully functioning kitchen garden and plant vegetables commonly found in a salad like cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and herbs, while learning about garden design elements, how to compost organic matter for fertilizers and the best watering techniques for an urban, arid environment such as aquaponics and wicking.
“We try to take the existing design and the constraints of the space into consideration. There’s shading that’s not particularly pretty, so we’re planning to plant grape vines in each corner. And during the winter it’ll shed leaves and allow for light, and during the summer it will provide shade for the growing buds,” she says.
Aesthetics and gardening techniques aside, the workshop illuminates a more essential ingredient of what Weintz calls ‘social permaculture’.
“Permaculture is not only the visibile structures but also the invisible, which includes the financial and the community aspect of it. For instance, most people in buildings don’t really talk to each other. So how do you get a community to share the labour and then divide the produce? It’s a big problem,” she says.
Ultimately, urban gardening allows users to grow their own chemical-free food, allay the city’s garbage situation through composting, find ways to recycle existing materials and regain contact with their community and with nature.
“There’s a complete disruption in the food chain as to where food comes from. Where does the tomato come from? From the supermarket! No, it comes from a plant,” says Weintz.
The workshop is scheduled for Tuesday, 18 September, from 4PM to 8PM at the rooftop over Bamyan Media offices at 10 Bargasi St. in Garden City. A booklet in Arabic and English will be provided.