Creating a Regenerative Culture Through Nourishing Bodies and Minds
A model for providing communities with nutritious food and human connection through regenerative social and ecological interactions.
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small company (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
Our stakeholders include all of the organizations that we raise funds for, the supporters of those organizations that we educate about solar energy, our team of solar exploration guides who connect with the supporters, our solar equipment providers and local installers, our shareholders, and the local community.
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Orange Grove, North Carolina
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
United States of America
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
Orange County, North Carolina
What country is your selected Place located in?
United States of America
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
Our relationship with Orange County began in 1995 when one of our project members began college at UNC-Chapel Hill. The connection deepened when another project member rebuilt a geodesic dome by hand in Hillsborough. And the connection went all the way to the core when we established our first Electric Tribe Regenerative Center and Village in Cedar Grove this year to serve our community and to serve as a model for others to come.
We chose this location not only because of our personal connection to it but because of the unique characteristics of the local community:
Orange County has an above-average poverty rate, yet it is home to many well-educated people due to its location within the research triangle.
Orange County has food desserts, and it also has thriving community-owned natural food store in the county seat.
Orange County has tobacco growers, and it has hemp growers.
Orange County has families whose ancestors settled within miles of where they live prior to the American Revolution creating a meaningful tradition to the past in Hillsborough, and we have a constantly changing population of people from all over the world in Chapel Hill.
Our community is uniquely positioned to solve our problems due to the diversity in all imaginable ways which exist within our community. We have problems to solve here, and we have the people to solve them.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Orange county is a socioeconomically diverse region, with above average ethnic diversity and residents that span across a vast range of economic classes, political preferences, cultural practices, and social tendencies.
Due to the high ethnic diversity in the region, there are many Asian and Latina markets that provide food products that cater to the cultural preferences of many local residents. If one visits a public place or enters a store, they will often hear people conversing in Spanish.
Agriculture is one of the major economic sectors in the county, with about 28% of the county’s land being part of a farm operation for crops, timber, or pasture. There are farmers’ markets regularly
Across the county there are a mix of residents with conservative and progressive ideologies.
Orange county contains a significant number of residents, government officials, and organizations that support and promote environmental conservation and sustainable development, farming practices, and livelihoods. There are regularly events and workshops that one can attend, as well as organizations and groups one can join, that allow locals the opportunity to unite on the common ground of caring about the state of the environment and to gain knowledge, skills, and experiences that can help them understand what they can do to help.
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Orange County has increasingly been plagued by climatic patterns and soil conditions that force traditional farmers to employ intensive agricultural techniques that are detrimental to the health of local ecosystems and the people who reside in the area. Local farmers have been forced to overuse fertilizers due to the acidity and low permeability of the very fine-grained soils, leading to high levels of pollution in the form of agricultural runoff contaminating surrounding watersheds. Orange County frequently experiences drought and has experienced one every year since 2000. The crops that are most successfully grown in acidic soil are highly water-intensive, which has not only led to unsustainable use of water, but also to limited diversity of crops.
Orange county published a “2019 State of the Environment” study in which they report a 4% decrease in the total area of farm operations within the county despite an increase in the overall number of farms, indicating a shift towards more farms operating on smaller amounts of land. They also report that over the past 20 years there have been dramatic increases in pasture as farmers have largely shifted cropland out of production. This provides the benefit of improving water quality due to decreases in soil erosion and the use of fertilizers; however, it indicates that local farmers are changing their business models, possibly due to a decrease in profitability as crop yields increasingly decline.
There has been a fast-growing green movement in the larger triangle area of North Carolina that encompasses the county and the demand for locally-grown and organic produce is increasing at such a rate that it is not being met by the local food production sector. At the same time, lower-income residents who cannot afford the often-high prices of locally-grown produce must often buy food products from supermarket chains that is transported from very far away. Orange County has an above average poverty rate of 14% (US Census Bureau 2017), and many people rely on local food pantries that often do not have the ability to provide nutritious options. Food stamp programs have been renewed but there is a growing county-wide trend to impede residents from getting approved. There are multiple food deserts sprawled across the county where residents are miles from any store that can provide affordable, let alone nutritious, food. There is a need for alternative methods of providing nutrition for low-income individuals and families.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Our goal is to not only produce and use resources like food in an environmentally conscientious manner but to support all members of the community regardless of ethnicity, culture, or economic status. We will use sustainable and efficient technologies, such as closed-loop greenhouse aquaponic systems. As a result, soil and fertilizer are not needed, water consumption is substantially reduced, and most food types can be grown optimally and in high-density allotments. The plants and fish types we grow will be inclusive of diverse diets, allowing all cultures in the community to have freshly grown, local food. Healthy food can be produced in large quantities at a low cost once a greenhouse infrastructure is built, allowing greater access to these foods to low-income families.
Our volunteer program will provide locals with the opportunity to have access to an abundant diversity of nutrient-dense,
This system will be easily scaled to accommodate those who come in the future. We plan to have our first center act as a model and teach others how to make their own community hub. This will allow for the rapid growth of this concept and enabling the demand for and access to fresh, diverse produce to be met.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
What we hope to see within this county, and across many regions of the United States, by 2050 is a total revolutionization of the concept of a well-functioning human society; with a shift from a focus on profitability and individual survival to a focus on the regeneration of resources and thriving human beings who all support each other within sustainable communities.Our vision attempts to unite people within a local region from all cultural, social, educational, economic, spiritual, and ideological backgrounds in the pursuit of a common human goal: to live safe, healthy, and fulfilling lives without the need for competition or individual struggle. In order for this social unification to be possible, individuals must first feel secure that both their basic needs and the freedom to pursue their interests and passions in life are absolutely guaranteed.
By 2050 we would like to see a network of Regen centers spread across Orange County that have successfully eliminated the existence of food deserts within the region. It is our goal to provide all local residents the opportunity to ensure their food security through making meaningful contributions to a sustainable community center. Our goal is to create such abundance through efficient biomimicry models that the benefits one can gain from their involvement far exceed the costs of time and effort put into the center. Ultimately we are hoping to create an exponential growth effect, where the success of one Regen center facilitates the thriving of a community in such a way that it diffuses out into the surrounding areas, encouraging others to adopt more regenerative approaches as well. We are also striving to make a very positive environmental impact within the region, not only by conserving valuable resources and eliminating waste byproducts through closed-system agricultural techniques, but also by allowing for the regeneration of farmland by alleviating some of the stress on local farmers of having to make profits.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Our vision lies at the intersection of ecological restoration, regenerative culture, and economic reform. It seeks to unite the people within this county in an all-encompassing quest to restore and integrate farmland and natural ecosystems, provide nutritious and sustainably-grown food to all individuals in the region, and break down the social barriers that have largely been perpetuated by the structural paradigms of a profit-driven economy focused on competition rather than cooperation.
The restoration of farmland and the surrounding ecosystems will go hand-in-hand, and the subsequent effects on all aspects of environmental health will directly benefit the individuals that live in the region. Regenerative agricultural practices will allow for the natural biodiversity of the region to thrive, soil to become more nutrient-dense, and increases in crop yields.
In order to reconcile the decreases in local crop production and the need for locally-grown produce, we think it is important to provide incentives for crop farmers to restore the health of their land while still being able to make profits through farming. One way to achieve this is to encourage local farmers to use a portion of their land to grow crops that naturally restore the land, such as hemp and tree farming.
The other approach we would like to implement is the use of automated aquaponic greenhouses, which have minimal environmental impact and are highly efficient in terms of both high crop yield and a decreased need for manual upkeep. The automated system will measure ambient temperature, humidity, and nutrient levels in the water, and will be completely powered by solar energy.
Our model employs a biomimicry approach, where the waste created by each living organism is used by other living organisms in a fully self-sustaining system. The use of an aquaponics system where fish populations are continuously cycled through the water containers that crops are grown in requires far less water consumption than traditional farming practices, eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers, and produces a higher crop yield for the amount of space being used. Produce grown using this method will have a high nutrient-density and will be completely free of harmful chemicals, providing healthy, non-toxic food to the local community.
Our vision is to build multiple self-sustaining greenhouses across Orange County. Some could be owned and run by local farmers so that profiting from greenhouse-grown crops can allow them to regenerate a portion of their normal crop land through either shifting their crops to plants that restore the land or simply leaving the land unfarmed so that the natural biodiversity can flourish. Others will be open to the community as “Regen centers” that have a community space and a kitchen attached to the greenhouse.
The nutritious, non-toxic food grown in these greenhouses must be economically feasible for anyone in the community to obtain. One approach is to create Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) programs, where locals can pay a low monthly fee in exchange for access to a diverse variety of fresh produce. This income would be used to pay for the very low costs of upkeeping the self-sustaining aquaponics system
as well as to fund paid positions for locals who have the knowledge and skills to effectively maintain the fish populations.
In addition to CSA programs, locals who cannot afford to pay a fee can have access to this food through volunteer programs where individuals can sign up to work in a Regen center for only a couple hours a week in exchange for free produce. The volunteers could choose from a variety of positions that range from those that require no skills or previous experience, such as harvesting, to those that would allow them a unique opportunity to spend time doing something they enjoy while also connecting with the larger community. These positions could include anything from cooking meals in the kitchen to teaching educational courses or hosting presentations and workshops on topics that are conducive with a regenerative cultural model (permaculture, aquaponics, agroforestry, yoga, meditation, solar energy, etc.). Any individual who freely donates any of their time or effort to contribute to the upkeep of resources provided by the center will be allowed to take a certain amount of free produce that is commensurate with the amount of time/effort they have put in.
The Regen centers will also act as a safe, welcoming space where anyone who works/volunteers at the center or anyone from the community in general can come to rest, regenerate, connect, share, learn, exercise, meditate, create art and music, etc. Other organizations and groups in the community will also be encouraged to use the space freely to hold educational and experiential workshops that are relevant to encouraging a regenerative culture within the community.
The Ovanova team has already begun the construction of the first Regen center on a property in Cedar Grove. The construction of the building containing the community room and kitchen is almost complete and the solar panels will then be installed on the roof. Some of the funding we are applying for will be used for building the greenhouse and the initial set-up of the aquaponics system for this first Regen center. We hope that additional funds can then be used to start building a second Regen center at another location within Orange County, preferably in a low-income area where people with the most need for access to cheap/free, nutritious food live.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?
Through meeting Kristin Coates at Opportunity Collaboration