Are self-sustaining eco-communities the future?

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There is no longer any doubt left that finding more sustainable ways to live are crucial to ensure the continued survival of our planet. And that is exactly what the ReGen Village project aims to achieve. It will consist of several eco-villages, which will be built to be completely self-sustaining from the ground up. The first of these villages will be developed in Almere, Holland.

While there are a number of communities around the world, which are already partially self-sustaining, such as offering organic food production for the population, or being powered exclusively by solar energy. However, the ReGen Village goes a step further in that they aim to become completely self-sustaining. The people behind it have outlined five “pillars” on which the community will be built. These are: the building of energy-positive homes, mixed renewable energy and storage, water and waste recycling, doorstep high-yield organic food production, and empowerment of local communities. The name ReGen comes from the word “regenerative,” and stands for their intention of creating a community in which all the outputs of one system will be used as the inputs of another.

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ReGen Villages will be built in collaboration with the Danish architectural firm EFFEKT and each will cover an area of about 166,300 sq ft (15,450 sq m). The villages will primarily be financed by wealth funds that are looking to minimize their fossil fuel investments and instead transfer their money into impact and knowledge-based investments. This money will be used to first purchase suitable areas of land, and then build the villages.

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The pilot community in Almere will consist of 100 homes and development will start in late 2016. The green technologies incorporated into the villages will be renewable energy generation, energy storage, vertical farming aquaponics and aeroponics, as well as water management and waste-to-resource systems. All the food will also be grown and produced organically, while they also aim to maintain a high biodiversity in the surrounding area of each village.

They also plan to build other such villages in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Germany. It’s certainly a great idea and it will be interesting to see how well the pilot ReGen Village will perform once it is built and populated. That should also help answer the question of whether communities such as these are the first wave of the future.

San Francisco Restaurant is Sustainable to the Core

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The Perennial, a restaurant that recently opened in San Francisco, truly is sustainable through and through. It’s the brainchild of husband and wife Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz and boast of it’s own aquaponic greenhouse, uses only responsibly-reared meat, and was decorated using recycled materials. The latter is only the tip of the iceberg as far as sustainable design goes though, and the restaurant is currently seeking a LEED Platinum certification.

The energy efficiency of the restaurant was achieved in collaboration with the Food Service Technology Center. They use an intelligent cooker hood, which is capable of monitoring the air and turning itself off and on as needed. They also installed a combo oven, which can produce steam heat, dry heat, or a combination of the two, and is apparently 30 percent more efficient than standard ovens. The pots they use also heat up faster than conventional pots.

The flooring in the kitchen is made entirely of recycled materials, which doesn’t have to be hosed down the way regular kitchen mats do. The owners also claim that the chefs use more than just the prime cuts of meat when preparing the dishes, which results in less waste.

Instead of several, the Perennial only has one large refrigerator, which is, according to the designers, a much more efficient approach to keeping the food fresh. All the wine and cocktails are served on-tap, which greatly reduces the need for packaging, and cuts down on the energy usage and waste. The spirits they serve are locally and sustainably produced.

Some of the dishes on the menu are also made using Kernza, which is a new perennial grain thought to counteract climate change due to its root-based carbon sequestration, pest resistance, and high yield. All the meat and dairy, on the other hand, are obtained from ranches where the animals graze on so-called “compost-treated rangeland” that is special because it promotes the growth of longer-rooted perennial grasses, which sequester carbon beneath the soil.

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The interior design of the dining area is also environmentally-friendly, and was created using reclaimed lumber, a recycled and recyclable rug, and recycled tiles, while the plaster used was made from marble-processing waste, and recycled glazing. LED lighting is installed throughout, which further minimizes energy usage. The menus are made from recycled paper, and, once they are worn out, the paper is used to feed the worms at the aquaponic greenhouse.

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The restaurant’s greenhouse is located in Oakland and measures 2 ,000-sq ft (186-sq m). Here they produce vegetables served at the restaurant. In addition to the menus, the food scraps from the restaurant’s kitchen are also fed to worms and larvae here, while the worms are then fed to the fish in the aquaponics system.

The main aim of opening this restaurant was demonstrating to the industry just how easy it is to apply sustainable practices to everyday operations and thereby combat climate change. The restaurant also donates a part of its revenue to the non-profit ZeroFoodprint project, which teaches restaurants how to reduce their carbon footprints.

The Perennial opened its doors on January 20th, 2016.

Tiny Aquaponics System

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More and more people are gravitating toward growing their own organic vegetables and fruits, and with various indoor systems designed for the purposed this is getting easier. However, aquaponic, hydroponic and other such setups require quite a bit of space, so they are not an option for a lot of city dwellers and those living small. But now, the Australian design firm Avooq has come up with a solution. They have designed a 3D printed aquaponics system, which is small enough even for tiny apartments and houses.

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The system they created is called Cascaqua, which is short for Cascading Aquaponics System. The entire system is not much bigger than a typical fish bowl, yet it is still a perfectly working closed loop ecologically balanced system, in which the plants and fish exist symbiotically, as they help produce organic food.

The design for the system can be downloaded for free from the company’s website and is currently in the patent-pending stage. The main materials needed to make your own Cascaqua system are basically a set of ABS plastic pieces. These can be 3D printed in about 8 hours. The pieces are then assembled on top of a regular fish bowl, while the system also requires a submersible pump and tube, which you must buy separately.

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Due to it’s size, this system is more suitable to growing herbs and spices, then lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers, though I suppose using a bigger tank and adapting the top pieces to it could give you a bigger garden. I guess cherry tomatoes, garlic and spring onions could still be grown in it though. Either way, it’s a unique little aquaponics system, which would make a great addition to any tiny home or apartment, even if it is just to give you a fresh supply of spices year-round.

Smart Indoor Vegetable Garden

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Growing your own organic veggies when you live in an apartment is merely a dream for many, and one that is difficult to realize even if you have a balcony. Enter The Grove—a growing station small enough to fit into any home, yet large enough to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables. The design is reminiscent of a bookshelf, while the whole system is fully automated.

The Grove features three different layers on which the produce can be grown. The main growing area is located on the top “shelf” and it can be used to grow all sorts of produce, such as tomatoes, peppers, salad, strawberries, herbs, and so on. It measures 305 sq inches and has a depth of 8 inches, which offers plenty of space for the plants and roots. To provide the necessary lighting, the system is equipped with full spectrum, adjustable LED bulbs that are automated and set to very closely approximate sunlight. The middle “shelf” is smaller than the top one, and is intended to be used as a seedling bed, or to grow microgreens such as wheatgrass.

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The bottom “shelf” is comprised of a 25-gallon fish tank, which provides both the fertilizer as well as the water for the garden. This is achieved by turning the fish waste and ammonia into nitrate for the plants, while the plants feed clean water back into the tank.

A smartphone and dedicated app is all that is needed to run the entire system. The owner decides which plants to grow, then chooses them on the app, which proceeds to adjust the settings of the system to optimize the growing conditions for these plants. The app also lets the owner know when it is time to harvest the plants, when fish need to be added to the tank, and so on, though most day-to-day tasks are performed automatically.

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Using both the seedling bed as well the main growing station allows the owner to have an uninterrupted, year-round supply of vegetables. According to the developers of the system, the average yield is the equivalent of two to three bags of salad greens every week, or up to 10 heads of lettuce every three weeks, in addition to the fruits you decide to grow.

The developers are currently raising funds via a Kickstarter campaign to begin production. However, the system will not be cheap. Supporters of the Kickstarter can get it at a discounted price of $2,700, but the final selling price will be around $4,500.

Vertical Gardens for Everyone

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Pod Plants, as this innovative vertical garden is called, was designed and created by Chris Wilkins from Australia. He spent eight years developing it, working closely with Sydney University, and the concept finally got the recognition it deserves when it won the 2014 Australian Innovation Challenge for its unique solution to indoor vertical gardens and green spaces.

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Pod Plants is both beneficial and beautiful. Each unit is freestanding and stabilized by a reservoir of water, which is located in the bottom of each unit. Due to its simplicity of design, it can be place in front of any existing wall, while it can also be used to separate off sections of a larger room. The only requirement for stationing a unit is that it has to be plugged into an electric outlet, while no other hookups, such as pipes, drainage or wall fasteners are needed.

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The outer shell of each unit is made from recycled ABS plastic that is both highly impact resistant and very thin. The units are 7.9 feet (2.4 m) tall and weigh 44 lb (20 kg), so they are easy to transport. The specially designed Pod Plants hyper aeroponics system is used to water the plants. This innovative design takes care of several problems, including bacterial infection of the roots, which is unfortunately quite common in vertical gardens.

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The solution involves having bare roots of the plants hanging inside the unit, and circulating tiny droplets of water through the air of the root zone part of the unit. Apart from stopping the bacterial infection, this solution also means that very little electricity is needed to run the entire Pod Plants system. According to the designer, the system has to move less than a liter of water per hour. To compare, conventional systems need to move several liters per minute. The system also does not rely on pumps, filters or nozzles.

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Pod Plants certainly brings a fresh take on the vertical garden, which I’m sure will have many looking toward this solution. Being virtually freestanding and self sufficient, it could also be a great solution for tiny home dwellers, who wish to grow their own greens, or simply have some plants inside their homes.

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