The Agri-Village of Vicofertile: Case Study n.3

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The Agri-Village of Vicofertile_Case Study_n°3 

Made by Dario Ruggiero (Founder and Coordinator of the web-site, with the collaboration of Giovanni Leoni (ownwr of the farm Leoni and creator of the concept of Agri-village) - May 2015
How to build and nurture really sustainable communities? This is the question, Giovanni Leoni, owner of the farm Leoni (based on Parma, Italy), is trying to answer with his innovative socio-agricultural project: the agri-village. But before delving into the description of the project, let me start with a statement expressed by ‘Charles Eisenstein,[1] in ‘Resurgence & Ecologist, may/June 2014 No.284,’ (an article that I strongly recommend all those people who are looking for an answer to the economic, social and ecological crisis we are experiencing today):
Climate Change is a double-edged sword
Charles’s article is very original: it does reject the mainstream strategy against Climate Change, that is, cutting CO2 emissions at all costs. Charles says that blindly following this approach could not only eventually be ineffective, but could even worsen the environmental crisis. That is because actions that are considered to be effective in reducing CO2 emissions in the short term (e.g., dams, biofuels etc…), in the long term can impoverish our ecosystems. That is why Charles promotes a more holistic approach to Climate Change, an approach that gives primary emphasis to the health of human and natural systems. In fact, the real problem today is not Climate Change in itself! It is the ‘super Ecological Footprint.’ Climate Change is just one of the symptoms of a broken relationship between the human species and the environment, the natural world. Human activity on the Earth has become ecologically unsustainable and ever more people (even businessmen) think that we are over-exploiting our planet: all this has been proven by the studies conducted by the Global Footprint Network, which argues that today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets Earth to sustain our life (to use materials, build infrastructures and dismiss waste). In other words, we are simply absorbing more sources than those the Earth can annually regenerate. The super-Ecological Footprint leads to short-, medium- and long-term effects, which, soon or later, will hit every corner of the world: extreme weather events, environmental and social disasters, increasing waste, soil quality impoverishment, pollution, chronic diseases, and so on and so forth... So, what can we do to reduce the Humans’ Ecological Footprint? Many proposals have been made on different fields, but let me say that agriculture plays a key (perhaps the most important) role in that perspective. In fact, the current dominant agricultural model shows big inefficiencies in the use of resources in all its phases (from sowing to consumption); moving from an intensive, industrial and globalized model (with huge costs of transport) to an organic small-scale farming with direct-to-consumer sales is an essential and not-more-deferrable step to make the global agricultural system environmentally sustainable. Giovanni Leoni, an experienced farmer of Parma, is working hard on this subject. What he is proposing about? He want to create ‘a real zero-miles agriculture,’ through the establishment of some agricultural villages/districts (what he calls agri-villages) which surround the urban centers. According to Giovanni, these agri-districts are designed in order to improve three dimensions of life: the ecological, economic and social dimensions. Imagine you… waking up in an efficient house, not-far from the urban center, surrounded by greenery, living in a community of people who share their professional experiences and culture; imagine you… eating healthy, seasonal and cheap food. Technology (the web) and the rational use of the Internet of things (IOT) will be key factors in making these greener district sustainable in ‘social’ terms.  
In short, we are going to see the birth of something extremely new, something which combines innovation and tradition to create an eco-sustainable society. Someone could say: ‘Yes, it’s admirable, but we already have something like that – the eco-village.’ That’s not true! The reason why the eco-villages haven’t succeeded so far in changing the entire society, says Giovanni Leoni, is because they are ‘isolated from the context.’ Differently, the agri-village remains connected to the ‘system,’ to the ‘entire society,’ and tries to change it. The agri-village promotes (and supports) a zero-Ecological Footprint lifestyle, and helps the neighboring districts to do so. Moreover, it is a way to develop new technologies for new smart and eco-sustainable districts/communities; new models  that can be ‘exported’ throughout the world. The agri-village does protect the environment and brings long-term economic development: this is why I consider it a pro-Long-Term Economy-initiative.
Dario Ruggiero,
(Founder and Owner of the web-site
On the left Giovanni Leoni (owner of the Leoni farm, and director of the project ‘Agri-village of Vicofertile” -; on the right Dario Ruggiero (Author of the web-site
Thanks go to Giovanni Leoni for his kind and constant collaboration for the realization of this Case Study.
The Agri-Village of Vicofertile: a Snapshot
The story
The Agri-village in Details: Houses, Food and Energy
Food and Agricultural Model in the Agri-village
The ‘On Demand Agriculture’
The Agri-village: a Village with a ‘Low Ecological Footprint’
The ‘Basic Services’ in the Agri-village
Living in the Agri-village
The Future Prospects of the Agri-village of Vicofertile

The Agri-Village of Vicofertile: a Snapshot
What Is an Agrivillage
An agri-village is a peripheral, agricultural urban-district that is ‘sustainable:’ ecologically, socially and economically. These are three aspects of life that are extremely interconnected: it makes no sense to talk about ecological sustainability when there are no economic and social sustainability. Communities cannot survive in the long run if one of these three dimensions is ignored. Now what we wonder is: do already exist like-agrivillages structures worldwide? The answer is No! We can find some structures which take care more of the economic aspect and others which focus more on the social or/and the ecological aspects; however, it is very difficult to find districts and communities which take into account all these three dimensions of life.
My ultimate goal is to create a set of agri-districts adjacent to urban centers, which will absorb part of the population, lower the cost of living, supply local food and minimize the Ecological Footprint
Giovanni Leoni,
(Creator of the concept of Agri-village)
The concept of agri-village was coined by Giovanni Leoni, an experienced-farmer based on Emilia Romagna (Italy). With the agri-villages, Giovanni Leoni want to transform the current industrial and globalized agricultural model into a ‘zero-miles agriculture’ one. To do so, these should be a multitude of agri-villages adjacent to urban centers, that will:
1) Host (absorb) part of the population: the agri-village are attractive structures for people; they will offer a healthier and higher-quality lifestyle compared to the common urban lifestyle;
2) Lower the cost of life: the cost of living in the agri-village will be much lower. Houses will cost less,  the energy bill will be lower, and the food will be cheaper;
3) Supply local and seasonal food: the inhabitants of the agri-village and those of the neighboring districts will be able to buy, at a lower price, the food produced by the agri-village’s farm;
4) Minimize the Ecological Footprint: all the structures and activities of the agri-village are designed as of to have a very low environmental footprint.  
These agri-villages will be ‘peripheral districts’ of the near urban center: reaching the urban center will be very easy. They will host from 200 to 500 people (from 50 to 100-120 families of 4 components on average) living in extremely efficient and cheap houses, and eating local and seasonal products; these people will have access to all the basic services (a school for their children, medical support, care for the elderly and so on) provided according the best quality standard and the most innovative way. The sense of community (the importance of socializing and doing things together) and the sense of continual connection (inside and outside the agri-village, thanks to the use of new technologies) will be other key and specific characteristics of the agri-villages. The agri-villages will be no isolated structures and people will be able to continue their own professions and activities without problems. Giovanni Leoni has already drawn up a project for the establishment of an agri-village in the district of Vicofertile (Parma). However, he is also considering the possibility to establish an agri-village in other municipalities. 
Get the highest ecological,
social and economic sustainability…
Goals of the Agri-village - Source: Interview with Giovanni Leoni (August 2014)
…while remaining constantly connected
to the adjacent urban center
The relations between the agri-village and the adjacent urban center –
Source: Interview with Giovanni Leoni (August 2014)
The Agri-village of Vicofertile
Vicofertile (Parma – Italy) is the district where Giovanni Leoni’s farm is localized. It is there where Giovanni carried out the first studies and analysis to create an agri-village. Giovanni wants to make his farm a modern agricultural village: the agri-village of Vicofertile. The project is still in its planning phase (although it is at an advance stage) and its implementation requires the release of some permits.
The agri-village of Vicofertile will extend over 25 hectares of land; in order to meet the environmental sustainability criterion, according to the University of Parma, this area can host 60 families of 4 people on average, for a total of about 250 inhabitants. The agri-village of Vicofertile will have its own farm (the evolution of the current one). This farm will meet all the food requirement of the agri-village and in summer it is even forecast to have a production surplus; such a surplus will be sold in the local market, mainly to Ethical Purchasing Groups (EPG) and directly to the people going into the structure. The agri-village’s farm will be a ‘modern farm,’ with a diversified production and collateral services (agri-school, educational farm, farmhouse, social farm). The agri-village of Vicofertile will provide high-quality and innovative essential services. The house will be very cheap and efficient, and the entire structure will be energy self-sufficient.
The project of the agri-village of Vicofertile is multidisciplinary, involving the contribution from various Universities:
  • University of Parma:  Degree Theses ‘Studio della dieta ottimale per la popolazione residente in un villaggio Ecosostenibile,’ by Dario Delendati.
  • IUAV 2011: Workshop ‘Coltivare una comunità.’
  • Politechnic of Milan: Degree Theses ‘Studio di una mini centrale ibrida con bassa “impronta ecologica” per l’Agrivillaggio di Parma,’ by Dario Lucibello.
Other degree thesis and studies by the University of Parma and the Politechnic of Milan.
The Story

The agri-village concept has been developed by Giovanni Leoni thanks to his great  experience in the agricultural sector. Born in a family of farmers, Giovanni had access to high levels of education (he got a high-school diploma and begun, though didn’t finish, the studies in law) and has traveled a lot. Travel around the world has deepened Giovanni’s knowledge on the various agricultural models scattered worldwide; he has seen with his own eyes the effects of the ever-more intrusive process of industrialization on the traditional ways of doing agriculture. He says that, already at the beginning of the 2000s, the industrialized agriculture got levels no longer sustainable in environmental, social and economic terms. And, as an environmentally conscious farmer, he couldn’t stand that. He looked for  an agricultural model respectful of the environment and the ability of nature to sustain our life; a model that would minimize the Ecological Footprint, without disconnecting itself from the larger system: Giovanni understood perfectly that acting only on the ecological side was not sufficient; what we need is a structure that is ecologically, economically and socially sustainable. It was then that Giovanni came up with the idea of agri-village, a sort of agricultural district where the quality of life improves in all its dimensions: economy, community, happiness, health etc.... Giovanni started with his own farm in Vicofertile and, today, the project of the agri-village of Vicofertile, thanks to the scientific contribution by diverse professionals and Universities, is ready to become a reality: all the main elements (agriculture, houses, services to individuals etc…) have been well-defined and are ready to be implemented. Moreover, there are other municipalities, like Fornovo (in Emlilia Romagna), that are collaborating with Giovanni Leoni in order to establish a pivotal agri-village in their territory.
The Agri-village in Details: Houses, Food and Energy 
The Houses
To be an ‘eco-sustainable structure,’ Giovanni Leoni and his group of professionals have calculated that an agri-village should host between 200 and 500 people (that is, 50-120 families of 4 people on average). The agri-village of Vicofertile, in particular, will include 60 houses, giving a roof to about 250 inhabitants.
Modular and portable houses
that follow the life-cycle of the family
The houses will be modern and efficient, with a very low environmental impact. They will be ‘modular’ houses, whose size will follow the life-cycle of the family: they can be expanded when the number of family-members grows and restricted when the number de-grows, by simply adding or removing a module. In the agri-village of Vicofertile, there will be one-floor houses with a garden on the roof.  
Minimize the demand for energy and
maximize the use of renewable energy
‘Energy’ is a key factor as of to reduce the Environmental Footprint and lower the cost of living. Agri-villages act on both the supply side (how energy is produced) and the demand side (how much energy is needed) of energy.
On the demand side, in the agri-villages the need of energy will be drastically reduced: the houses will be ‘insulated,’ (that is, very efficient in thermic terms); the agri-village’s farm will minimize the use of external industrial inputs (both mechanical and chemical). The whole community will  nurture the culture of efficiency.
On the supply side, the use of renewable energy will be predominant. The model of energy production (centralized or scattered) will depend on the specific structure of the agri-village. In the agri-village of Vicofertile, the photovoltaic panels installed on the roof of the barn, and the biogas produced locally will meet all the energy requirements of the entire structure.
The agri-villages’ energy system will remain connected to the National Grid. This is a way to further increase the energy-efficiency of the structure. In fact, the surpluses of energy production will be sold to the National grid, while in the case of deficit, energy can be acquired from the National Grid. (for further details on this issue, see the section The Agri-village: a village with a low 'Ecological Footprint')
Reducing the waste of water. That is the basic principle in water management in the agri-villages. In the agri-village of Vicofertile there is a local flap, managed in a way that optimizes every phase of the water cycle (from the extraction to the return to land).
1) extraction phase: in this phase water will be also used to cool the houses, the barn and the farm in summer (in this way water will contribute to energy saving);
2) second phase (use of water):  water (now at room temperature) will be used by the families; the use of eco-detergents with a low environmental impact will grant very low levels of water pollution;
3) third phase (return to land): the polluted water will undergo a phytoremediation process, and then used to irrigate agricultural fields. The irrigation of fields will also make use of the rain-water stored in special facilities. It has been studied that such a management of water will be sustainable and ensure reliance in the long run. 
Food and Agricultural Model in the Agri-village
The Farm and the ‘Zero-miles’ Agriculture
The agri-villages are designed to have their own farm. Such a farm will be able to meet almost the total food requirement of the inhabitants in all the periods of the year.  In summer it is likely to have production surpluses (in the agri-village of Vicofertile a 70% surpluses has been forecast); such surpluses will be sold in the local markets, to the Ethical Purchasing Groups (EPG) and people who directly go in the agri-village in order to buy local and cheaper food.  The ultimate goal is to create a real ‘zero-miles’ agricultural system.
In this way two goals will be reached:
1) The transport of goods will be minimized: this is a precondition for a really ecologically and economically sustainable agriculture. In fact, the transport of fresh (water-rich) products involves very high economic and environmental costs;
2) Compared to the most common eco-villages, the agri-villages will be ‘open structures:’ the agri-village will also provide food for people living in the neighboring districts; people living in the agri-village will be always connected to the rest of the civil community.  
In the agri-village of Vicofertile there is already a farm (the Leoni farm) that by now produce a limited range of products. With the implementation of the project the agricultural production will be increased and diversified in order to meet the food requirement of the agri-village.
Onions in oil - Source: Leoni farm
Parmiggiano Reggiano - Source: Leoni farm
The Diet in the Agri-village
The farm of the agri-village of Vicofertile will produce 80 food items t
hat will meet 80-85% of the food needed for a balanced diet.
The agri-villages will promote a healthy diet: the Agri-village diet. Such a diet, designed in collaboration with the University of Parma, includes less meat and more seasonal fruits and vegetables. To be sure, the inhabitants will not be forced to follow this kind of diet; however, they will be encouraged to do so. How? 1) some products will be not available in the agri-village; 2) the ‘external food’ will be much more expansive than the food produced in the agri-village. The farm of the agri-village of Vicofertile will produce 80 food items that will meet 80-85% of the food needed for a balanced diet.
The External Supply: ‘the Network of Agri-villages’
The farm of the agri-villages cannot produce all the food items necessary for a balanced diet and a minimum percentage of food will be bought out. Giovanni Leoni imagines a future where a network of agri-villages will share their specific products (e.g., the agri-village of Vicofertile will exchange its Parmiggiano Reggiano with the olive-oil produced in an agri-village based in Salento, or the oranges of an agri-village based in Sicily). In the meantime, before such a network will be created, the first Agri-villages will buy out just the food necessary to integrate the diet (people can always buy other sepcific products in the near urban center). 
Towards a Network of Agri-villages? – Source: LTEconomy elaboration on Google Earth
The Cost of  Food and the Grocery Shopping in the Agri-village
The cost of food in the agri-villages will be drastically reduced, due to two main factors:
1) People will consume prevalently ‘local’ food. The cost of food will be net of the high cost of transport.  
2) People can ‘pick up,’ individually or collectively (during organized events), fruit and vegetables.  The cost of harvesting, that makes up 50% of the total cost of food products, will be eliminated.
The shopping of food in the agri-village can be made in three ways:
1) In the grocery store of the agri-village. In that store people will find all the products made by the farm of the agri-village.
2) Directly in the fields. Through the store people will have access to the fields;  thanks to a mobile-app they will know where picking up food and vegetables.
3) Online, on demand. For those who have no time to go to the local store or pick-up directly their food, food can be bought online, on demand, with home delivery. 
Grocery Shopping in the Agri-village – Source: LTEconomy elaboration. Immages sources:
little man (; store (; orchard
The ‘On Demand-Agriculture’
The ‘zero-miles’ agriculture is surely much more sustainable than the current, conventional, industrialized agricultural model. But, according to Giovanni Leoni, we should go even further. We should create an ‘on demand-agriculture.’
Today food production in the advanced countries ‘exceeds’ by far food requirements,
and the ‘waste’ of food is enormous.
The ‘on demand-agriculture’ is an evolution of the zero-miles agriculture. Its goal is to reduce the gap between what is produced and what is consumed. Today food production  in the advanced countries exceed by far the needs of the population and the ‘waste’ of food has reached very high levels.  On demand-agriculture means that the production of food is planned according to the effective demand of food. It is much more efficient (we produce less and spend less to produce) and has a lower environmental impact. It contributes effectively to the reduction of waste and hunger in the world. 
The Agri-village: a Village with a ‘Low Ecological Footprint’
Humans absorb resources and produce waste. By doing this, Humans make a sort of pressure on the planet. The Ecological Footprint is the metric that allows us to calculate such human pressure on the planet. When the Global Footprint Network says that humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 Earths to sustain us, it means that we are absorbing more sources that those the Earth can annually regenerate (The Ecological Footprint is higher than Earth’s bio-capacity). That means that we are over-exploiting Earth’s bio-capacity. We are empting Earth of its resources. We are leaving less resources to the next generations.
To be precise, the Ecological Footprint measures how much land (in terms of global hectares – gha) is needed to sustain the level of consumptions of an individual or a group of individuals. Humans use land to cultivate, build houses and infrastructure, extract raw materials and dispose of waste. By adding up the land needed to meet all these types of activities, we can measure the Ecological Footprint per capita of a well-defined population. The ecological Footprint can be measured at a global level (according to the latest elaborations by the Global Footprint Network, it is 2.8 hectares per inhabitant, which must be compared with an Earth’s bio-capacity of 1.5 hectares per capita), as well as at a national and a local level.
The agri-village is a modern eco-friendly-district. It minimizes the Ecological Footprint in all the human impactful activities: from the agricultural production (where industrial inputs and transport are both strongly reduced), to houses (which are modular and efficient); from the production of energy (mainly made by using renewable sources) to waste (which is minimized). All this is carefully tended, in order to create a sort of ‘circular economy,’ that is, the economic model where the use of resources and the production of waste is minimized.
The Faculty of Engineering of the Polytechnic of Milan has made an interesting study on the creation of a low-Ecological Footprint energy system in the agri-village (“Study of a Mini Hybrid Plant with Low ‘Ecological Footprint’ for the Agri-village of Parma,” by Dario Lucibello). According to the results of this study, the best option is to create a 'mini hybrid plant' based exclusively on the use of renewable energy sources, but that that remains connected to the National Grid. Three energy busses have been selected:1) The electric bus  (for the production and distribution of electric energy); 2) The water bus (for the distribution of water to users); 3) The thermal bus (for the distribution of thermal energy to users). 
More information on the study can be found on the PDF version of the Case Study.
The ‘Basic Services’ in the Agri-village
The Importance of the Web
The agri-village redesigns the human settlement on Earth in the light of new technologies:
move more ‘bits’ and less ‘atoms.’ This is the new paradigm.
A structure like the agri-village would not have been possible without the advent of the web. It allows you to use many services that once were impossible without a physical presence (e.g., education, work, training, communication etc...). The web improves the effectiveness of all the basic (and non-basic) services offered in the agri-village.
The School
Agri-villages include a nursery school and a primary school. They will be small and efficient structures, with costs significantly lower than those of public schools. Educational levels in the school of the agri-villages will be comparable to (if not better) that offered in other schools. The teaching of English and information technology will be a priority. Great importance will be given to the relationship with nature and the earth. This latter is an essential factor to fully develop our physical and mental capacities.
The Medical Service
The agri-villages will provide a medical service. However, what will be promoted in the agri-villages is a ‘preventive medicine’ rather than a ‘curative medicine.’ The goal is not to ‘cure the sick person,’ but ‘avoid that the person become sick.’ In the agri-village some basic healthy habits are strongly promoted: a healthy diet, more movement, and, more in general, healthy lifestyle. As for the movement, in particular, the Agri-village is designed in such a way that the access to the basic services offered in the structure will involve a minimum daily path of 2.5 km, which is considered to be the optimal path for preserving our health.
The Common Areas and the Farmhouse
Agri-villages include some common areas (kitchens, laundry rooms, event space etc...) that can be hired by the residents. The farmhouse is a key element of the agri-village. It will do two function:
1) The classic one: giving accommodation to tourists;
2) The specific one: giving low cost accommodation to the relatives and friends of the people who live in the agri-village. 
 Leoni farmhouse – Source: Leoni farm
the main services offered in the agri-village are as fallow:
• Services for children and the elderly.
• Farmhouse.
• Car and Bike sharing.
• Farmer market.
• Restaurant.
• Conference Facility.
• Educational farm.
• Workshop Multipurpose.
Living in the Agri-village
Labor is at the heart of the agri-village social and economic policy. Today, people, especially the young, are experiencing the bad consequences of a wrong labor and economic model, a model based on the maximization of productivity and the exploitation of people, a model which ‘steals our time but doesn’t give us money.’ In the agri-village there is ‘a new conception of labor:’
1) Work is no longer your main life-purpose: the cost of living in the agri-village will be low; many services will be offered by the community and some other specific services will be accessed through the use of a time-bank.[2] You will no longer have to work 12 hours a day to get a living wage; work will become an enjoyable activity, not an obligation.
2) Specific job opportunities in the agri-village will emerge: There will be job opportunities, especially in the agricultural sector. Moreover, skilled workers will be hired to carry out educational activities on agricultural sustainability, territorial characteristics and food traditions.
3) People will be allowed to continue their own profession: people who will live in the agri-village will be able to either continue to work in the urban center without any problems (as the district is very near to the center) or work in the agri-village through the telecommuting.
4) There will be ‘real’ social safety nets: people in search for a work will be allowed to carry out useful tasks for the common good in the agri-village (services for children and the elderly, exchange of services by using the time-bank, cultivation of their own food etc….). In this way they won’t need any public assistance to live and will not be isolated from the rest of the community, as it often happen in the urban center.  
The community
Today in the urban center ‘the culture of individualism’ is taking over on ‘the culture of community.’ In the agri-village the sense of community emerges in different ways:
1) Sharing of and participation in organized events: in the agri-village people can share their events with other inhabitants. At the same time there will be periodic organized events related to nature and culture.  
2) Sharing talents and skills to increase our own capabilities: now we live in a world made by ‘hyper-specialised people,’ where even the most simple problem requires the intervention of a third person. The time-bank  and learning by doing will give people the opportunity to increase and diversify their skills in order to become more independent.
3) Recovery of the most vulnerable: today the poor, the unemployed, the elderly and sick people are expelled by the system. In the agri-village everyone can share his talents, his skills and his ideas.
The Future Prospects of the Agri-village of Vicofertile
Giovanni Leoni is an experienced and very innovative farmer. Over the past 15 years he has brought together a network of professionals with diversified specializations who have contributed to a project whose implementation can have a very important impact on the development of Italy and the entire planet. The project of the agri-village has benefited from the contribution of several Universities and the constant collaboration between Giovanni Leoni and the Movimento per la Decrescita Felice. Its implementation still needs the release of some permits. In the meantime, Giovanni is also working to find other municipalities where establishing an agri-village.
[1] Charles Eisenstein is the author of The More Beautiful World Our Hearts know is Possible.
[2] In the Agri-village there will be a time-bank. People can offer their services (expressed in hours of work) and receive the services offered by other people.  

This is a short version of tha case study. The full version is available on the PDF version, with much information and other pictures and figures about the Agri-village

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