Written by: Leen Hayek 

AMMAN – Food security and sustainable development are perhaps two of the most pressing issues of our time, with global population growth rates demanding more natural resources, infrastructure, and most importantly, more food than ever before. 

Growing food however is not as easy as it seems, commercial agriculture takes up land, reduces biodiversity, and often degrades soil quality. More importantly, agriculture (at the commercial scale or otherwise) uses 70% of all freshwater at the global level, according to the World Bank. The latter is a staggering statistic, considering that many populations around the globe struggle with access to clean drinking water.

General image of Future Food/Future City exhibition at Amman Design Week, image courtesy of artmejo.

On the other side of the spectrum, one third of all food produced goes to waste. All while the emergence food deserts is on the rise in many low income communities. 

In this context, finding new methods to produce (and consume) food in a resource efficient way – that is in terms of energy, water and space – is imperative. 

Herein comes Amman Design Week‘s Future Food/Future City exhibit, which is “an open air demonstration of possibility” of all the ways Amman’s public spaces can be transformed and communities can be strengthened through an integrated approach to “green the city”. The exhibit not only tackles the idea of urban agriculture, but also addresses emerging agricultural technologies and examines the entire food supply chain.

New Perspectives by Svenja Binz, Julia Mira Brennauer, Phil-Torben von Lueder exhibited inside a modular system structure by Greening the Camps at Future Food/Future City, courtesy of Greening the Camps and Amman Design Week.

One of the most striking displays at the exhibit is New Perspectives by Svenja Binz, Julia Mira Brennauer, Phil-Torben von Lueder exhibited inside one of Greening the Camps modular system structures. Many blueprint sketches of various existing gardens are showcased in a display. The sketches not only show the various spaces for urban agriculture, but also have rain catchment systems, small vegetable marketplaces, and perhaps my favourite – an open air cinema amongst the greenery in Talbieh Camp. Overall, this was such an enlightening example of the importance of creating green community spaces that provide an outlet or act as a safe haven, but at the same time are productive and financially lucrative for the community.

The Grow Globe by Seba Al Diri, image courtesy of Amman Design Week.

Another interesting display was The Grow Globe, by Seba Al Diri, a piece that is aesthetically appealing in its simplicity. The Grow Globe is a domed hangout and/or work spot where the lowest level of the globe acts as a bench, while the remaining levels and spaces act as planters. This creative space was developed for young people involved in the social innovation incubators at Al Zaatari refugee camp. 

Not only is a greener city more aesthetically pleasing, but it feels safer and more homey. Now take Amman, the bustling capital city of one of the world’s most water scarce countries – what would be a better way to green the city than with plants that produce food. 

Now I know that urban agriculture is not the be-all-end-all for food security; more research needs to be conducted on the topic, and generally speaking food production and consumption patterns need to change. However, urban agriculture is definitely a way to drastically bring life to public spaces, and band communities together. Imagine kids walking home from school stopping by your neighborhood’s community garden and picking a piece of fruit to eat on the way – a garden which you contributed to by bringing over your food waste to the garden’s compost pit, or by spending a couple of hours there with friends weeding or planting saplings – that’s a future for Amman I would love to be a part of.

In terms of agricultural technologies, the exhibit showcased a variety of aquaponics, aeroponics, composting and grey water filtration and re-use, the latter being a personal favorite. 

The Green Hub at Future Food/Future City, image courtesy of artmejo.

Aquaponics is the process of growing plants in a water medium without the use of soil. There are various types of aquaponic systems, in the one presented by The Green Hub, the plant roots hang in the air and are irrigated by misting. Even more interesting is where the water comes from; fish tanks. Water is for irrigation is collected from fish tanks under the plants, the presence of fish provide the nutrients and organic matter in the water needed for the plants to grow. 

Seed to Eat by Collective Studio, image courtesy of artmejo.

Aeroponics on the other hand is a technology I was just introduced to at the exhibit through the  Seed to Eat display by the Collective Studio, a sustainable green design studio. Interestingly, Seed to Eat is an array of parametric tower structures that contain various pods for aeroponic agriculture, that is growing plants in air and watering via a misty environment. The main difference here from aquaponics is the source of water – fish are not needed here.

Both aquaponics and aeroponics drastically reduce water demand in farming by up to 90% and 70% respectively. Reduce, reuse, recycle is the mantra.

Prototype of grey water filter by Greening the Camps, image courtesy of Greening the Camps.

After going from agricultural practices that reduce water consumption, we now delve into re-using water, specifically grey water. 

Grey water is simply all wastewater generated excluding that coming from the toilet. Grey water includes water from the washing machine, kitchen sink, shower, etc. The great thing about grey water is that since it is relatively clean, it can be easily reused for a multitude of purposes within the household (for example to flush toilets and water non edible plants), and with a little processing to water some fruiting plants. The display at the Future Food/Future City exhibit demonstrates how even specific types of plants, like the common reed, within a carefully designed system can act as filtration devices for grey and rainwater alike. 

Sharek Bitbarek at Future Food/Future City, image courtesy of Sharek Bitbarek.

A key step in becoming more resource efficient is by recycling, and I’m not talking about composting. One of the most striking displays to me was Sharek Bitbarek, an amazing digital prototype of a platform for food recycling by Junktion. Sharek Bitbarek aims to revolutionize food waste culture, rather food sharing culture, in Jordan by connecting credible food sources like hotels and restaurants to beneficiaries in need of meals. The beauty here is that an environmentally proactive solution is being provided to resolve a fundamentally humanitarian issue– this is what reflecting on our food culture and present and future consumption patterns is all about.

Future Food/Future City is an exhibit that is at the intersection of engineering, social impact, and art. A collective of curated pragmatic solutions to our society’s more pressing social and environmental issues, from more efficient agricultural practices, to urban agriculture and community spaces, to food sharing networks to share our blessings, this exhibit is a driver for change, painting a picture of greener, more collaborative, and more fruitful public spaces in Amman.

About guest writer Leen Hayek:

Leen is a renewable energy engineer with a passion for science, baking and traveling. She had an interest in urban design and the study of the lived environment and how this plays into community, culture and food culture. She also runs a food Instablog @lemonsanddlimes where she showcases her culinary adventures!

Follow lemonsanddlimes on instagram

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Image courtesy indicated in captions.