The Cambodian Children’s Fund is spearheading a vibrant transformation, converting an abandoned landfill in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district into a bustling vegetable garden, reaping nearly a ton of varied vegetables yearly.
Scott Neeson, the Fund’s founder, was deeply moved on his walk through a grim landfill in Russey village, Stung Meanchey commune, with Sok Ly, a young local boy, roughly a year and a half ago.
“About 18 months ago, I realised it was time to act on my ideas,” Neeson commented. “If I recognise that my thinking may be flawed and that I have the ability to make a difference, it becomes my responsibility to address and resolve those issues. I have prepared the land here - with the assistance of some villagers and our knowledgeable plant and land experts.”
Neeson’s dedication has seen the land undergo an astonishing metamorphosis. What was once a refuse site now blossoms as a community vegetable garden, offering solace and cultivation opportunities to locals. Small earthen-pot sheds are being built to accommodate individual crops. Villagers are encouraged to grow any crops they fancy, to eat or to sell.
“Many villagers who migrated from rural areas to settle here, and elderly family members now have the opportunity to embrace a more natural lifestyle - working with their hands in their own sheds to cultivate crops directly in the soil,” Neeson reflected.
Interestingly, local children, previously engrossed in smartphones and TikTok, are now drawn to the gardening experience.
Fraser Brown, the agricultural and sustainable development coordinator at Cambodian Children’s Fund, revealed to The Post that the site was initially a vacant landfill strewn with rubbish, frequently set ablaze.
“The landfill spans over 600 square meters. We have utilised approximately 350 square meters for cultivation,” Brown said.
“In May 2021, we excavated the contaminated soil, and by September of the same year, we reaped our first harvest. We further expanded our cultivation area and cleared around 230 square meters by December 2022,” he added.
Brown disclosed that in 2022 alone, they harvested over 830kg of crops to cater to the demands of local customers, foreigners, and city restaurants. Part of the harvest is sold to community members and distributed to less fortunate families linked with the CCF.
The vegetable garden thrives on the landfill, housing about 20 different crops and over 60 species of plants, most edible or with medicinal properties. Maintained by caregivers, agricultural experts, and volunteers, around 20 individuals collaborate with over 50 neighbouring families.
“We also have between 150 to 200 students from around the area who come to help decorate and harvest the gardens in their free time from school,” Brown furthered.
He said that he was proud to be a part of this project that provides green spaces and organic products for children and community members to enjoy in this otherwise gloomy environment.
“I hope this project serves as an exemplary model for young Cambodians interested in agriculture, showcasing the possibility of generating a sustainable income for their livelihoods. Similar projects can be implemented around Phnom Penh and major cities or towns in Cambodia,” he added.