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Environment - Alessandro Ronca

The PER Experience, an Eco-Park for Food Farming Self-Suffiency

Alessandro Ronca

The world monetary system and the logic of profit push human beings to concentrate in cities where they buy everything they need with money.
The city, in fact, produces nothing of all those commodities presumably required by its inhabitants for survival. Food, clean water, the various forms of energy  are always “imported” in the city while the waste products are “exported” right where food and water come from, or in any case as far as possible .... As if not smelling them means they have gotten rid of their negative implications!

According to the studies at the University of North Carolina and University of Georgia on May 23, 2007, for the first time in human history, the population in the cities have exceeded from what has been established in the countryside. Such was a historic day and it is expected that as early as 2030, 60% of the world population will move in the urban areas. The phenomenon is not only a circumstance of  “color”, given that the cities and the rural areas are closely related, this must be carefully monitored in the near future.

Cities develop and transform the products coming from the rural areas that serve both the city and countryside dwellers.
If, assuming the absurd, the cities and the countryside decide to self-sustain individually, only a few would bet on the survival of the former.
The city to date is still designed according to ancient criteria and norms which have been the same for hundreds of years and have not taken into adequate consideration the huge increase in industrialization, consumerism, traffic, pollution, crime - all factors that make the urban area as inhospitable as  Dantes’ Inferno.

The Italian word citta (city) comes from the Latin word civitas,-is, the same  etymological group of civilitas,-is,  of the noun civis,-is and the adjective civilis,-e, the last referring to everything that concerned to citizens and its various activities in the organizational form of a socio-economically structured city, exactly on the basis of this definition that we coined the actual meaning of the adjective civil, taken from the time when there was a strong moral-ethical importance and behavioral criticism.

I think, personally, that very little has remain of what is civil.

The city model has worked well until (the) settlement was motivated by a land use - exploiting the surrounding areas as long as the river that separated it remained clean or until when there was a better system of communication to and from the city - the concerned experts favored development while the population favored preservation.

Nowadays, violence, anger, brutality, greed, selfishness, crime, aggression and depression seem rampant in the city life. The terror of who we meet,  the “armoring” of habitations (steel security doors, e.g.), the hours “lived” in the traffic inside a seemingly comfortable metallic box, the city's diseases (obesity, respiratory diseases from smog,  fine dusts and the ozone) seem to be the main actors in a horror film.

We think that we need to "re-ruralize" and, fortunately, it looks like a good part of the Italian population thinks about it too,  who has reversed this trend internationally, though the fact remains that this phenomenon is “weird” enough! One wants to live outside the city, but at the same time it indispensable to be well connected from the big center. It is not, therefore, a real escape into the countryside, but to smaller towns where they depend on efficient links with the big city.

As a scholar on renewable energy and sustainable systems, together with other professionals and friends, I tried and I'm (still) searching for one or more alternative solutions to this “techno-social drift.” Arousing the desire and the pleasure to change  are two of the goals that PeR,  Parco dell’Energia Rinnovabile (Renewable Energy Park) wants to propose to its visitors. Designed, built and fully self-financed to date, PeR is a popular tourist educational center, where one experiences a sustainable model in the management of the planet's resources while maintaining a high level of quality of life.

Thus, PER was born
Visiting for the first time, you may easily think of the latest technologies in energy, instead, everything starts from the oldest of human technologies in producing calories - agriculture.

The story of PER started from abandonment
It was in fact the idea of quantitative and intensive farming that depopulated the farms in the area. After being used and exploited for millennia, a  “new hunger” came in the sixties that did more harm than famine, plagues and wars in this mountain. In order to survive, the farmers had to sell “the weight” of their products, not their quality. However, there wasn’t enough water here to “irrigate” the vegetables for industrial agriculture.
So, also the peasants of this land, like most in the planet, were forced to go into town to learn and do other jobs, buy  tasteless and chemically-treated vegetables cultivated by others.
The fields were reclaimed by the brambles and the farmhouse became ruins.

The first step

The first step was to reverse the course and to purchase the ruins and the reconstruction started in 1999.
So, we started this wonderful (and exhausting) adventure.
Before telling you our solutions, let us first clarify a concept:

What has been achieved is our idea of an ecological system, which is one of the many possible. Every place, every climate, every project, every landscape, each intended use, the presence or absence of stones and on-site woods, every other decade in the history of soft technology, has its own priorities. The result is a kind of style of energy efficiency.
Visitors are welcome in our style, we explain everything, but without presuming to teach anything, only to witness.

The only absolute statements that you can hear from us are the following:
Do not imitate anybody, instead, draw inspiration from everyone!
Search for your own style too!

Our four “Hows”

1. Energy Efficiency
We started from the most obvious concept but often overlooked - that a green building must avoid waste of energy.

2. Energy Distribution
Another basic concept is integrated energy distribution. The whole farmhouse is heated with a floor system, daylight goes into the dark rooms through a tube system of lenses and mirrors.
In winter,  warm air comes from a small but efficient (and very cheap) aerial solar system and in summer it cools us for free with geothermal probes beneath the foundations and in some areas more exposed to the south, fresh air circulates naturally coming from a wall outlet that sucks air from the  woods facing north.

3. Water
The third guiding concept is important everywhere - but more so in a place like this with long periods of fine weather and then dry spell -  the optimal use of water. Everything lives thanks to rainwater. The gray waters are recovered from the drainage for reuse and then after biofiltration, are used to water the gardens.

4. Shared-Energy Autonomy
We put the last concept, which many would consider as the first, only after the three concepts: energy production.
Solar collectors on the roof and floor for the production of hot water; and  the integration of heating and thin film solar panels for electricity generation are integrated in the old house’ structure. A panel is  directly inserted in the stone wall in the tower for the direct the production of hot air. Micro wind turbines, vegetable oil generators, biomass boilers - an “integrated” energy system where each element is used with its “physical” peculiarities and in relation to its  most congenial uses and not because they are founded by this or that law.

These are the major solution techniques with which we are developing our project, but which will not be limited to material actions. What we are studying is also to find motivational solutions that encourage people to pursue a “common sociality” and a transformation of conscience. We think that it is inevitable to keep the individualism inherent in each one of us.

To encourage people not to accept things as they are but to deepen, examine, delve with curiosity in order to understand why certain things happen around us, and as Krisnhamurti said, “To understand is to change.”

It is however  possible to share, exchange experiences, participate in discussions, buy collectively, share “intelligence” and services, while living “isolated”. Through physical and virtual networks we’ll  know and understand who lives near us and gain energy in order to “live” life intensely. Self-sufficiency reduces dependence on money and therefore reduces working time useful for family, friends, inner knowledge, the arts, music and relaxation. Above all, we must not forget that industrialization and technology have increased productivity and therefore profits are at least 100 times more and the work of human beings should have been reduced by at least 10 times, on the contrary working hours remain unchanged. This is an unacceptable condition that should lead people to radically detach from the thirst for profit. The culprit is the  “controlled” destruction of resources at the expense of the wonderful balance of nature that, in the long run, results to unhappiness, sacrifice and grief.

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