If you’ve been following along on our blog, you’ll know that I spent six amazing weeks in Egypt working at our manufacturing facility this past winter. I am truly blessed to be in partnership with inspiring people who center sustainability in their work, as well as in their daily lives.
Being away for two long years prior to this visit due to the pandemic was extremely difficult. I had been following the Greening the Desert project from afar and was extremely excited when Helmy and Konstanze Abouleish (the owners of the farm) invited me to take the five-hour drive with them from Cairo to Wahat for a personal tour.
For first-time readers, the Wahat Farm is located in the white desert of the Bahareya Oasis in Northern Egypt. The vision of the Wahat Farm project was to reclaim barren land in the middle of the desert, turning it into fertile soil and a thriving community with sustainable farming. This vision has become a reality: the Wahat farm has been up and running for the past five years!
For context, this is what a field looked like before planting took place.
After driving through miles and miles of dry desert sand, we started to approach Wahat. It was utterly breathtaking to see the sea of beige give way to lush greenery. There are so many things I could share about this visit, but for now I will focus on how the farm operates entirely using renewable energy powered by solar panels.
The first stop on this trip was the main house where we were going to sleep. It was located at the top of a mountain which overlooks the farm. Standing on the outside patio at the main house, you can view the perimeter of the farm from all sides. From the back, you can see the highest point of the oasis— a particularly beautiful sight as the sun sets.
Located outside the main house are the solar panels that power clean energy throughout the property. Helmy and Konstanze, along with engineers Mohamed Eweis and Abdallah, explained how energy consumption is regulated throughout the different seasons. For instance, adjustments need to be made during winter months to account for the fact that it can get extremely cold as desert winds blow through the oasis. To heat the house during this time, they have installed coils under the tiles which heat up the floors and provide consistent warmth.
Inside the house, everything is powered by solar energy.
Unspoken Egyptian hospitality rules dictate that there must be tea— so Konstanze prepared some tea for us to enjoy together. After a short rest, we were off to take a tour of the fields. As we began the drive down the mountain, Helmy told me that we were going to stop by a new well to see water emerge for the first time. They had just finished installing the solar panels that would be powering the well’s water pump.
When we arrived, I saw a lot of people running in and out of a small cement room and hovering over the new well that they have been working on for weeks.
We all stood around the well as the engineers made some last-minute adjustments…. and out came the water! Everyone was excited and sounded the Zaghrouta— a loud high pitched vocal sound commonly used in the Middle East during festive occasions. Of course, I had to join in as the Zaghrouta and applause filled the air.
The water from this well is now being funneled to the farm’s reservoir, where it is being used to irrigate the fields and provide clean water to people living in the burgeoning Wahat community. According to Konstanze, this farm has about 1,500 years worth of water stored beneath the land, equivalent to the amount of water that the Nile river brings in yearly. That’s a lot of water!
Our next stop was to see the pivot irrigation system. All the pivots are fully driven by renewable energy and are capable of irrigating up to 540 acres per field.
Groups of solar panels are located next to each field. It takes 21 solar panels per field to pump the water and operate the pivot. Helmy explained that when they installed the first set of solar panels they were not mobile. This was not going to be efficient, since they could only collect energy from the sun for part of the day. Therefore, for subsequent groupings, once the solar panels are received they are sent to the vocational training center where changes are made to the post so that the panels can be rotated. Each section of solar panels are rotated 3 times a day to face the sun for maximum efficiency.
Due to the harsh desert winds, each solar panel needs to be cleaned weekly in the winter and every three weeks in the summer. After viewing the solar panels, we continued to walk around the farm to take in some additional sites. Below are pictures I took on the remainder of my tour:
This is the pivot in action:
Toward the end of the tour, I walked among the fields of hibiscus— a gorgeous bright red plant which is used in making some organic teas.
I also stopped to pick some mint from the mint fields for my after-dinner tea.
After a long day out on the farm, we headed back to the main cafeteria to eat a delicious dinner prepared by Chef Mohsen using fresh vegetables from the fields.
During dinner, I couldn’t help but reflect on everything I saw that day. The Wahat farm and its clean energy system is an exemplary project that should be shared and learned from. It’s proof that with an innovative spirit and perseverance, anything can be achieved.
The story of the Wahat Farm is one of amazing people doing extraordinary things.
It was great to experience it first hand— walking the fields and witnessing how this community has come together was an experience I will always remember. I can’t wait to visit again.