World Food Day: How growing produce in refugee camps provides sustenance and additional health benefits

This World Food Day, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is focusing on the importance of a healthy diet in ending world hunger.

Here at the Azadi Community Garden in Domiz camp, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, fruit and vegetables are grown by a group of women and their families and distributed to vulnerable families living in the camp. As well as improving access to fresh food and food security,, the produce grown brings wider health benefits. Growing produce together in a community, working the soil and tending to plants – nurtured from seed – engenders belonging and hope, and often provides a connection to residents’ previous lives. The act of gardening itself offers mental stimulation and physical activity, promoting wellbeing and improving mental health.

Nosheen’s food story

Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser ©2018

Nosheen, a Syrian living in Domiz camp and a regular gardener in the Azadi Community Garden, grew up with a strong connection to food and is no stranger to rich flavours. Her father, a beekeeper and honey merchant by trade, instilled in her a love of simple, natural flavours early in her life. Memories of sneaking bites of honeycomb with her brother while it dried in the sun colour her early memories of food as being both something that brought her family together, as well as a means for making a living. 

When Nosheen became a beekeeper herself, receiving a beehive from her father as a wedding gift, she took not only a love of honey with her when she moved to Damascus, but also her mother’s cooking lessons. On slow Saturday mornings, she feeds her own children breakfasts of tea with honey, sun-dried aubergines and flatbreads dipped in fresh olive oil and sprinkled with Za’atar – a spice mix scented with thyme, sesame and sumac. It is a fragrant reminder of home, and the strong roots she comes from.

“My mother would cook the traditional way. That means she used a lot less ingredients then we do today, but she still managed to have more flavor. She taught me how to make Kuttelk, and Maqluba and Kousa Mahshi. All the things I now love. Sometimes she would only show me once and I would have to try on my own the next time. I still can never make it quite like hers, but I keep trying. Your mother’s cooking is always the best!”

Photo by Dirk-Jan Visser ©2018

Make Nosheen’s Kousa Mahshi

Based in the UK and want to receive recipe cards in the post? Please email [email protected].

Help gardeners like Nosheen grow food for their family and friends

The Lemon Tree Trust welcomes one-off and regular donations. 

To make a donation, please go to: lemontreetrust.org/donate

Our core infrastructure costs are fully funded so 100% of your donation directly supports gardening projects and initiatives in refugee communities.

Shopping list

  • $1 / £1 can give a family a packet of vegetable seeds 
  • $5 / £5 can provide a family a basket of nutritious produce 
  • $10 / £10 can buy a chicken for a community garden
  • $25 / £25 can fund a Home Garden Starter Kit for a new family arriving in the camp, containing a Home Garden Manual, seeds, tools, a grow-bag and a children’s gardening activity
  • $100 / £100 can give 5 families a lemon tree providing shade and fruit
  • $500 / £500 could provide 10 schools with a Children’s Garden Starter Kit for classrooms
  • $1,000 / £1,000 could purchase a new poly tunnel for one of our community gardens

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