Blessed are the hands of a farmer who, through his hard labor and devotion, feeds mankind. Wael is an Egyptian farmer. With no previous experience in farming, Wael decided to leave the corporate world behind and, in February 2017, buy a plot of land that today he proudly calls Wiiwii’s Farm.
Wiiwii’s Farm is an organic farm adorned with olive and lemon trees, vegetable and herb plants, chickens and goats, and the sound of birds that gives tranquility to the mind, far away from Cairo’s busy city life. Situated off Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road, the owner of the farm, Wael Basheer, isolated himself from the metropolis by choice, to start his own farm. The journey, as he explains, was not an easy one. The farm has its roots in love and passion for gardening.
“I always dreamt of having a farm,” Wael says. “Not as a business though, just as a farm. I spent ten years in the corporate world before I decided to quit and start my own farm. When I first saw this place, it was in a bad condition and it was hard work to change it. There were no palm nor fruit trees on this land. The first problem I had to solve was the irrigation system. Afterwards, I replaced the dead trees with new ones. I also had to make a semi-paved road, because every truck that came to help me got stuck.”
We can not recognize the farm when Wael shows us pictures of how it first looked. He changed the face of this landscape through hard labor and devotion.
Wael aims for his farm to feed and sustain him in all his needs by designing a fully closed ecosystem. He tries to achieve this by the off-grid way he runs and lives on his farm. His house, surrounded by trees, is made of bricks, and has domes and a roof that is insulated with mud and grass to keep him cool during blistering Egyptian summers, relieving him of the need of an air conditioner. The roof of the seating area outside is made of palm trees. When he falls short of electricity or gas, he lights up an old, traditional cooker called kanoon. “It’s not just about organic farming. The whole thing, it’s about the environment,” Wael stresses. “It’s a lifestyle.”
The way he runs his farm is based on a zero-waste system. On our way to the greenhouse, we notice a 120-liter container filled with water and a bag of manure. “Mind the smell,” Wael points out rather needlessly. “After the water has absorbed all the nutrients of the manure, I push the water into the irrigation system and I make compost out of the manure. In this way I benefit twice from the manure.” As we enter the greenhouse we see tomatoes, arugula, bell peppers, and a strange vegetable the three of us have never seen before. Wael picks up on our astonishment and tells us that we, lo and behold, are looking at a black bell pepper. He gives each of us one to try and to our surprise it tastes as sweet as the orange and red ones. Outside of the greenhouse, Wael is growing herbs like basil, rosemary, and lemongrass. As we walk further and approach the area where he keeps his animals, the donkeys and goats come running towards us, eager to be petted.
“I leave my chickens out during the early hours of the day and the late afternoons. They are free-range chickens and love to be outside to wander around. I once had a mint garden which I planted right here, but they ate all of it. They are amazing and smart animals. I tried putting them in the greenhouse at the end of the day to eat the insects that are affecting my crops. I quickly got them out of there after I saw that a fox paved his way into the greenhouse and killed some of them.”
Insects are the biggest problem Wael is facing on his farm. Running an organic farm and thus not using any insecticides, he has to be creative and find less harmful alternatives. One of these solutions is a light trap he made to attract and catch insects. The downside of it is that it attracts the “good insects” too, the ones that are beneficial for the crops and the soil. To solve this problem, he built an insect hotel where the good insects lay their eggs, which Wael spreads on his crops afterwards. “It’s sort of a biological control,” Wael adds. Next to this luxurious insect hotel we spot the most beautiful part of the entire farm: an area covered with sunflowers.
“They are a great contribution to the environment,” Wael says, “as they attract a lot of bees. Before sunrise and before sunset a lot of bees are surrounding the sunflowers. But the problem is that the birds eat all of my sunflower seeds, leaving nothing behind for myself!”
Farming is indeed a selfless profession. Besides the fact that his sunflower seeds get eaten by birds, a farmer provides the community with food on their table. A farmer’s life is not all peaches and cream. When we ask Wael what his daily life looks like, he replies:
“I run this farm together with one worker. We feed the animals in the morning, and remove unwanted grass from in between the trees and vegetables. We stop working between nine and four o’clock because of the heat. In the evening I leave my chickens out, sort out the irrigation, and clean the farm. It’s tough, but I love it. You have to love farming or else you will easily quit when you are facing challenges. To see the result of your efforts is the most satisfying part of this activity.”
In the near future, Wael is hoping to let his entire farm run on solar power, increase his staff, and expand his product supply. We leave Wiiwii’s Farm with an increased respect for farmers and their continuous hard work to feed a community. Wiiwii’s Farm is a story about a man who started out with merely a passion for gardening and who ended up creating not only a farm, but a sustainable piece of land.
*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tayyib Society team.
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