A number of recent articles (e.g. http://bit.ly/29uuxQk and http://bit.ly/2asxNk6) have highlighted the efforts of Californian company ReGen to develop a demonstrator village of 100 self-sufficient homes in the Netherlands. ReGen then plans to build more villages in Sweden, Norway, Germany and Denmark.
ReGen’s self-sufficiency model estimates that a family of three would need 639m2 to live in and provide for all of its water, energy, food and waste processing needs. Given that according to a 2012 survey the average UK home is around 92m2, comparatively 639m2 sounds like quite a lot of space. However, it includes 120m2 of living space, and can be arranged vertically to reduce the footprint. ReGen also estimate that the same family of three would need 8,100m2 of land to support themselves using conventional agriculture, making their system nearly 13 times more space efficient.
Of course the interesting aspect for us is that the ReGen model includes 300m2 of Aquaponics to produce fish and plant crops, and a Black Soldier Fly based waste processing system. Black Soldier Fly grubs are incredibly efficient at eating organic waste, such as waste food and kitchen scraps. When the grubs have had their fill, what remains is a well-mixed low-odour soil enhancer that can be composted or further processed to produce biogas. Most importantly however, the grubs themselves provide a high protein food source for the fish in the aquaponics system. This means that levels of environmentally damaging fishmeal used to produce commercial fish food can be reduced and even eliminated, creating a ‘closed-loop’ system where waste is turned into food and energy. Very neat.
This approach is seen as a way to produce more resilient communities that have some protection from climate change with less environmental impact, and to provide a higher quality of life. ReGen’s goal is to increase political will to make their self-sufficient development model mainstream in the developed and developing world. Of course this is the tricky bit, particularly the UK. Brexit, our entrenched housebuilding industry, and high land prices are all obstacles.
However, we don’t have to compete with housebuilders for prime development land. Sinus Lynge of EFFEKT architects who helped develop the ReGen model talks about the fact that giving up space to food in inner city areas is “unthinkable”, but is it really? There are currently some great UK examples of urban farming and aquaponics, such as Growing Underground and GrowUp, that are blazing the trail to demonstrate the scalability and affordability of such urban farms. What we need is more of them, and fast. Of particular importance is demonstrating the viability of urban aquaponics schemes that have been ‘retrofitted’ into disused or underutilised buildings, on the roofs of occupied buildings, or even underground. Developing such opportunistic urban niches is the way to sway local and national political will, and arguably a more effective way of connecting with more people than the semi-rural villages depicted in ReGen’s images. Perhaps then the next list of proposed ReGen villages might also include city-based projects in the UK.