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Global Ideas

The village that feeds itself

A new kind of sustainable village in the Netherlands will generate not just its own energy but all the food its inhabitants need as well. Construction of the first ReGen Village starts this summer.

The first thing you will notice as you approach the small settlement on the outskirts of Amsterdam, is glass. There will be a lot of it. It will encase all the homes, like a protective cocoon that provides warmth and shelter from the elements. The hamlet's food production units (calling them greenhouses would fall far short) will have a glass shell as well. That's because the ReGen Village strives to make the best possible use of all resources and to be completely self-sufficient, a model for the village of the future.

That autonomy will go far beyond just generating electricity and heat, which has been done successfully in many other settlements. The little community will also feed itself, growing all its food within the confines of the glass walls. But why go through all the trouble?

"Today we spend 40 percent of the surface of our continents producing food," explains Sinus Lynge, co-founder of Danish architectural firm EFFEKT, which designed the village. "Food production is the single largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, the biggest driver of deforestation and responsible for 70 percent of our global freshwater consumption. We ship our food from one end of the world to another just to waste 30 percent of the total production before consumption."

Rendering of a home in the ReGen Village

In the ReGen Village, homes will be sheltered from the elements by an outer glass shell, which blurs the lines between inside and outside. Food can be grown right next to the dinner table

The initial idea for the project came from U.S. entrepreneur and developer James Ehrlich, who founded ReGen Villages B.V. to build the hamlet in Holland and eventually others like it, contracting EFFEKT to design them.

"ReGen Villages is engineering and facilitating the development of off-grid, integrated and resilient neighborhoods that power and feed self-reliant families around the world," says Ehrlich.

That smart integration of all the different aspects of life in the village will be crucial and the system is elaborate. For example, household waste is either composted or turned into biogas for power generation. If it is compostable, it serves as food for soldier flies (among other things). These soldiers flies, in turn, serve as food for fish, the waste from the fish becomes fertilizer for food plants in an aquaponics system. Aquaponics systems combine traditional aquaculture - i.e. growing fish or prawns in tanks - with hydroponics, the cultivation of plants in water. This symbiotic process requires 98 percent less land than conventional farming. And when it's all done, the cycle starts over again with the town's waste.

There are other similar cycles involving livestock, water collection, recycling, storage, and power generation from solar panels and biogas (see info graphic). Living in this village won't mean a Luddite's existence. Residents will still be able to live a comfortable life with all modern amenities. In many ways they will live better lives since they will have access to high-quality, locally-grown food, say the designers.

"ReGen Villages is all about applied technology," says Lynge. "We are simply applying already existing technologies into an integrated community design, providing clean energy, water and food right off your doorstep."

And these efficient methods of growing food have another positive side-effect: Since the town doesn't need extensive farmland to support it, the surrounding forests and fields can be preserved, providing the residents with beautiful natural surroundings.

Sustainable living in the desert?

But for Lynge, this is only the beginning. "We are launching our prototype in Almere, Holland, but the big potential for ReGen lies in developing countries, where billions are moving away from rural communities in search of better living conditions."

Rendering of a Food production unit in the ReGen Village

The village's 'food production units' grow food efficiently and require minimal space

So after tackling the challenges of the cold and wet climate in northern Europe, EFFEKT will be developing another ReGen Village concept based on the same principles of resource efficiency but adapted to hot and dry conditions.

"We tackle the first two hardest climate areas," says Ehrlich. "Then from there we have global scale - rural India, sub-Saharan Africa, where we know that the population is going to increase and also be moving to the middle class. If everybody in India and Africa wants the same kind of suburbs that we've been building so far, the planet's not going to make it."

Construction on the ReGen Village in Holland will start this summer and is scheduled for completion next year. For now, there are no details available about the possible design of the first village in a hot climate or when and where exactly the first one will be built (Saudi-Arabia, Malaysia, India and China are some potential candidates), but chances are, there will be a little less glass.

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