Sustainable development: focus on rural areas and food localisation


This rural to urban migration is unsustainable, we all know it. It raises a huge number of socio economic issues, which impact our quality of life in so many ways. Two biggest I see are health and finances. Those two are some of the pillars of our wellbeing but they are all connected.
For me, if a person is healthy and has financial stability, it starts growing and thinking of others. Society as the last pillar would be us, being useful and contributing to the community much more, forging stronger relationships.

A lot of people voiced their concerns about life in rural areas. Lack of infrastructure, not enough entertainment or cultural activities, much less intense social life, for many it is lack of job opportunities etc…this really shows the difficulty in bringing younger people in.
When I see abandoned lands and ruins, I see an opportunity to create something different. It’s like a second chance, as every village could become a town, and later some kind of a city…OR NOT. Why not create new models for future?
When I see small villages, with mainly older population and limited young population, I see potential for learning and growth.
There is abundance in our deserted or low populated countryside but it all revolves around human potential. In current state, it is also our biggest obstacle.
The issue I see nowadays is that the villages we imagine today are the villages we see when we go on vacation and the villages we see in the movies (rednecks in the only village cafe, drinking themselves to death, looking to beat somebody up, few teenagers dreaming of promises in big cities…you literally hear the loneliness in the winds outside and smell the cow manure).
@irene_1 touched that point here

Those a great points and I will expand on them further.

Here is the standard village model today (the prevalent one):


The issue here is, it’s hard to attract young people as they have legitimate concerns, which I put as basic prerequisite of infrastructure, health and activities. Human potential is everything.
No human potential, no use of available resources, no core village economy and no potential of growing and diversifying it.
In this very moment there are tens of thousands of rural entrepreneurs all over Europe, trying to start or expand their activities, and they cannot even find somebody to work with. On the other hand, we have so many unemployed people in big cities.
I tried to build a solution for that, didn’t work out but not because it wasn’t needed :slight_smile:. It deserves a separate post, which I will create as promised @MariaEuler
There is absolutely no reason why the above model should be the one to follow or limit ourselves to. There are infinite possibilities available now, here are just some of them

That is why I will go back to Irene’s way of thinking, as I have been in that same boat for years… switching between Brussels and Croatian rural areas. That kind of lifestyle is quite compatible too, if you are not planning serious projects in the countryside which require a lot of attention.
I have a company in Brussels. My illustrators are from Poland and Russia, graphic designers are from Poland and Serbia, narrator from UK, animator UK + me, manufacturing Germany for most of it, some parts Poland and Lithuania, prototypes or demanding custom parts production is in China. Some prototypes and custom pieces are made in Brussels too. Product reviewers/content creators are all over the world. Shirts illustrator is in Serbia, manufacturer is in UK, flyers are made in Holland, banners in Belgium, stall walls for fairs made in Italy. My testers are in Belgium, Serbia and Croatia.
I have never met most of them, some I met once or twice (only testers I meet regularly).
This is just one small company. Do you see now why today we can do so much more from the rural areas as well? My company could just as well be anywhere.

There will always be people enjoying work in nature and with nature, me being one of them. They can produce higher quality food which we would pay much less if we lived in the neighborhood.
What rural areas need are people who see there is no limit to what they can do. People who can bring different perspectives, experiences, knowledge and skills the rural regions so badly need.
Imagine the innovation if you would have all these people living in villages or small towns, talking and working with the farmers and local craftsmen and mixing their experiences to find new solutions for old problems…or relearn old solutions for new problems? :wink:

What I encounter today are just few people like that in villages, or none at all. People with great insight and vision, but they literally have nobody to talk to. I share some of my ideas with them, to help them or often just hear their ideas on the subject, and end up staying so much more. They don’t want to let me leave and always thank me so much for such a great conversation, which they cannot usually have. That shows us the states of villages and why they greatly need migration of young professionals from the cities.

Even if we started with a small coworking/coliving settlement and none of us specifically wanted to be a farmer, there are so many solutions:

  1. Well we would have to be really isolated not to have access to food we could simply buy :slight_smile:
  2. We could easily have shared gardens, there are so many examples of that. Even better, create shared permaculture gardens, which are mostly self sustainable ecosystems requiring much less effort. We could have everything we need with each of us having to contribute few hours of work in it per week.
  3. We could make an open call for people to join us, specifically people who would enjoy doing something like that. They would have a guaranteed market next door :slight_smile: . It’s a fact people come and stay when they feel the right environment for prospering, just like any other organism on this planet.

Considering the current evolution of remote working, much worse living conditions in urban areas and fragility of the system which will be exposed as of next year if this continues, I expect a lot of people will move or want to move to rural areas.
I would look to be in a 30 min range by car to a nearby city, just as the village of my grandparents is from my home town, Zadar.
If you move around Brussels, there are high chances you will be moving for 30 minutes :slight_smile:, so again it is really just a matter of perspective.
I also can travel via Zadar airport to so many places, the world is small today :slight_smile:

Also, as @nadia already said, cultural activities or sports etc depend only of us, the human potential. As the communities like this one would grow, so would opportunities for every kind of activity.

Right now there is a lot of money being funneled towards rural development and innovation. Internet has been recognised long time ago as basic human right and we see the evolution today. It is possible to have a high speed internet in so many more rural areas than 3-4 years ago. There is money, there are opportunities, the biggest obstacles are lack of knowledge, shift in paradigm needed, and sometimes it is the lack of local will.
From what I saw in Croatia, 90% of the local managing authorities will support you if you present the project in the right way and involve the locals from the start. They always look for an angle for them, of course, so compromises have to be made (if nothing else to let them take the credit haha). Mostly they really see the direct benefits for them too, so you will likely first encounter skepticism but then support.

Right now Croatia is going through centralisation, it is one of the main conditions for billions of euros in funding from EU. That means decision making will shift to bigger cities, which will make it a bit harder locally but at the same time offer better support for bigger projects, involving 5-6 municipalities for example.

I believe the keys here are:

  1. Creating core groups or catalysts
  2. Bottom up first, so starting innovative businesses and building up
  3. Planned development through the authorities
    And in exactly that order.

It is hard to justify investing in a scarcely populated village with the authorities, but it can be done. Once you have the basic infrastructure, increase visibility through some public programs involving media, showcase all the positives (and there are so many) and the potential, I know many more people would come. More people = more money and ability to support community beneficial development. By community I mean, choosing an optimal place to build something which will benefit 20 communities in a 15 km radius.
It’s like Copenhagen mayor answered the question on why so many Danes use bicycles in the capital:
“If you build more roads, people will use more cars. If you build more bicycle paths, they will use more bicycles”.
There are communities being created or already functioning like that all over the world. There are many examples of good practices out there, which can be adapted to local needs. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel in many cases.
Now, to a personal example:

I opened a family business in Croatia in January this year. I threw my net as well more than a year ago, the result being forming of a mastering group of 6 individuals. We all have companies, both in Croatia and abroad. We work in different fields but we have one thing in common: passion for countryside and sustainable development.

I already bought lands and old stone houses I need, but I am buying more by January next year. Meaning as of March next year I will be speeding up everything. At the same time, we plan development as a group, meaning we plan our main or side activities to be complementary. Basically we can cooperate on many levels and we will contribute to each other success.

The result of this year’s activities is connecting 3 villages to the water and electricity grid. There are few more in line. That is the result of persistence and patience with local authorities. If they decide to sabotage us, we will skip them and go few levels up. Then they will be pressured from above and things will start happening again…not extremely hard.
I plan on developing family wine making further and experimenting with regenerative farming solutions and implementation of circular economy locally, increasing efficiency.
There is an interesting article on smart farming here but, it focuses only on efficiency and productivity. It will also mostly benefit the biggest players. I don’t believe in that future. I believe in future where a lot of smaller farmers provide good quality produce for a decent price. They can benefit greatly from smart farming as well.
Further I am building a series of homes with few common spaces for fun activities, workshops etc. One maker space for craftsmen as well. I will offer it for rent to people from cities willing to experiment with life in a countryside. I guess they will know after 6 months or a year if they can be happy in such an environment. Ideally, they could spread their knowledge to locals during their stay, whatever that knowledge is. By locals I mean everyone in a 20 km radius as I will make sure the venue is well known very fast :slight_smile: . After that, if they are happy there and want it, I will help them get everything they need to build their own home there.

That is my experiment, and I am sure it will work really well.

Parallel to my project, I will push a regional project (which is the scaled down version of what I already tried building but failed). Its core is promotion of the region (goods and services), network building and bridging the gap between rural and urban areas.
By bridging the gap I mean giving valuable information to urban dwellers, like job opportunities and why their quality of life can improve so much in rural areas.

The biggest obstacle we might need to solve is the disconnection:

  1. Disconnection between the current image of rural areas and reality in which so much more is possible
  2. Disconnection between rural and urban dwellers (both cultural and information wise)
  3. Disconnection between policy makers and reality of people on the field

Finally, I would like to repeat what Nadia said: most of these issues are solved with human potential so we really just need to network, organise and start doing it. You would be surprised how many people are looking into moving to the countryside and they would be surprised how happy they could be there :slight_smile:

I wrote so much already, and I tried to cover the core issues I see, but I am sure I missed things too. I didn’t go into the “system” part of it as it is complex and part of the much longer term goals.
Things I spoke about here can be achieved in 2 years and I will contribute my maximum into making it a powerful example of success.

What are your thoughts on all this? Experiences you can share? Ways in which you are changing things for better locally?

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I will hopefully (and probably) end up living in a rural place in Nepal within the next few years, and due to that had much of the same thoughts and conclusions that you mention in your post. Thank you very much, it’s a good read, and refreshing to know there are others with a vision for the countryside :sunny:

Now based on that Nepal perspective, here are some more points to help put this vision into a globally applicable context:

  1. Internet. That is the only infrastructure we can’t put in place ourselves in rural areas, or only with real difficulty. Fortunately, Starlink has 800 satellites up already, and should be ready for global use in 2021. Which from one day to the next brings fast Internet to the last village on the planet. The Ka-Band satellites etc. provide a similarly cheap service for Europe already, but in most so-called developing areas satellite Internet is still expensive, and geostationary satellites are quite useless for voice and video links, anyway.

  2. Other infrastructure. In my mind, there is no need for most of the infrastructure that government tends to install, including the water grid, electricity grid, wastewater connection, trash disposal, and (most) roads. With current tech options, this is cheaper and more sustainably solved at the house or neighborhood level. So no worries here … but it means “it takes a village to build a village”:

  3. Commune / community. This is how I imagine rural sustainable development to be possible even in very remote places such as Western Nepal. Essentially, don’t expect people to go there alone or as a single family to “start something”, but as a commune of enough people so that they can be sure to have enough of the “human potential” of their liking around. Also, this will be enough people to allow building ones own infrastructure, as there can be a certain level of specialization (solar, water, Internet etc.). 15–20 people are enough when also allowing for a fluctuation of guests, which can constantly bring in new interesting people for a time. Such as, digital nomads:

  4. Digital nomad lifestyles. I don’t see this as something inherently bad, but as another way to connect the urban and rural areas with benefits for both sides (if done right). Urbanites might not like to stay in rural areas full-time, but easily 2-6 months in a row as digital nomads. Saw a prediction yesterday that in 2021, 36% of the whole workforce will permanently be remote workers in the U.S., as companies discovered that productivity rises with that mode of work. It will be similar in other “developed” areas. If only 5% of these people discover the digital nomad lifestyle for themselves, nice rural places will have a constant influx of people to choose from.

    For example, a friend of mine has a house in Gorkha, a rural municipality in Nepal with maybe 10,000 people, and 40,000 more in all the villages around it. Her place has speedy Internet already, a beautiful view of the Annapurna Himal, and is also the start of the Annapurna Circuit trek. Yet it’s not touristy at all, even neglected in that regard. Perfect spot to have houses for digital nomads, if you ask me.

  5. To deal or not to deal with government. It’s great to hear that your dealings with local government in Croatia are productive. I’m afraid the outcome will not be that in many villages in so-called developing areas. Fortunately, the points mentioned above (own infrastructure, coming as a community etc.) also mean that in practice very little to no dependency on local government is left. Overheard this in Nepal: “Because the government is not dependable, we have these tight family bonds.” That’s people’s security system and mode of getting something done, and I think it can work quite well when extended beyond relatives to intentional communities, and when combined with good human organizing. That last thing is the remaining challenge that I see; which is why (in a different thread) I tried to talk @amelia into doing an ethnographic study of successful commune and community organizing.

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Wow Nepal! Definitely a place I would like to visit for few months :slight_smile:

Very true, there are really good solutions for most places and that’s why I wouldn’t worry much even if it was an isolated area. I consider those as least energy/investment demanding though. If we are to build such a community anywhere, it’s a huge boost to have such infrastructure…for construction and development above all. It also allows for those initial groups to be smaller and less specialised in those fields.
It is especially important if it is young urban enthusiasts who don’t really have the knowledge/haven’t worked on moving to the countryside for few years like me or you who made a self sustainable home in an old truck (if i remember correctly) hehehe.

For your 5th point: well I believe it varies greatly from place to place so we can’t really know until we get there and try getting things done :slight_smile:
That’s why I am not going out of EU at the moment. If I am to start it somewhere, I want it to be a familiar ground, both in terms of laws and culture/mentality :slight_smile:. Also overall it is possible to find many places in EU which cost next to nothing, are in amazing nature and still have easier access to infrastructure.

I follow closely developments with remote working, tendencies and the shift happening now. Building places for remote workers seems to be a no brainer in this conditions.

Yeah I get your point, there are so many hidden gems out there and locals most often have no idea of the touristic value :slight_smile:
There are people in Croatia renting wooden huts in the middle of nowhere…really nowhere near any civilisation. Now they are full until April already (all city people wanting to work from a place looking like a natural park). All locals, that’s the funny part for them. They tell me in amazement how their guests come and just sit on the terrace, being totally speechless…or marveling at the rain (which they find hilarious :rofl:).

Hope everything goes according to your desire, we should keep exchanging ideas/info about our initiatives.

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I’m not surprised, and like @irene_1, I also have thoughts of some kind of contribution in the future… I think the roadblock is getting started - if one could have an opportunity to spend at least some months a year on a rural farm helping out, without dropping work and the salary that pays your rent in the city, or children to take care of, but not starting a new life project altogether, i think that would be a more reasonable target. It’s in line with Matt’s point above too - digital nomadism, not the extractive way.

In the end though, it’s the same economics that seem to be pushing us out of cities whether we like it or not. Maybe it’s because of the culture of house ownership I grew up in, in communist Romania, but I somehow cannot fathom the idea of rent for life in a city, and working just to be able to cover that rent… let alone saving for harsh times. So actually because of economics we might be pushed aside from city life anyways…

@Alessandro this post could be interesting for you too, as I think coliving in a rural community could also make the transition to a well serviced life there easier.
@Vladb for you too : are you one of those who changed urban for rural, before you set up your farm?

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Thinking about the core groups, and the human capital… Have you ever heard of “Cooperative di Comunità” (Community Cooperatives or maybe Communal Cooperatives)? There are several initiatives in Italy ongoing under the Rural Development umbrella framework, LAGs (Local Action Groups) and LEADER (Liaison entre actions de développement de l’économie rurale) approach. The main characteristics: territorial coops experimenting with new models of management, sharing and cooperation between public and private organizations. Principles: no discrimination, democracy, participation, mutual aid, sustainability. If interested, I can provide a free publication - I should have it somewhere - with many examples (ecovillages, incubators, Farm Cultural Parks)…

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Hi Angelo, yes I worked with LAGs for years but in Croatia we are far behind Italy in that sense. I saw already 6 years ago examples of amazing local cooperation in Italy and we are far from that even now…we have some obstacles which Italy doesn’t have though.
Biggest ones are loss of trust due to war and highly politicised society.
There are success stories but very few.

Totally. That’s why I am building exactly that, to remove the initial big roadblock and offer that flexibility to people. Come, stay a month, 3 or 6…whatever…and see what works for you. Establish your terms. My hope is they will see the light :slight_smile:
For me, the countryside life offers so much higher degree of freedom. Owning a home and being able to grow my own food is a big part of personal freedom. By freedom I don’t mean only in the literal sense, I mean also in a sense that you don’t depend so much of the outside factors…so you can have higher integrity of the mind as well.

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Very interested in this Angelo, if you find the publication?

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Here you go http://www.pianetapsr.it/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/IT/IDPagina/2450
It’s in Italian, but I think that the names of the villages and initiatives is understandable

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Save the date!
Hei everyone, since rural rebuilding has become such a common point of resonance in our Food event from a few weeks ago, we will be hosting a follow up session to talk about it in 2 weeks - 23 November at 18:00 CET. Let me know if you’d like to attend by leaving a comment here?

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I imagine that one of the main challenges in moving into a rural location is integration with the local community. My own experience, essentially in a single extended household here, is that we don’t interact much with the local community, and that’s not a problem. However I can well imagine that a larger group, or anything that looks like a commune, could cause issues. I’ve had that in a previous move a long long time ago.

So maybe that’s an issue to raise? What are effective strategies for connecting with the local community; for being appreciated as an asset rather than seen as a threat to the established social order?

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True, it is almost always the initial reaction. From my experience, it takes very little to bridge that gap. I went often into smaller communities where nobody knew me, not to live though, but as part of work. I could easily reach understanding, after the initial distrust. I do understand the customs or local rules though and I am always very open…they quickly understand I try to help, even if they don’t believe my ideas will work :sweat_smile:

Don’t have experience in directly creating a community like that and interacting with locals through it. I do have some experience in bringing communities together, but different nationalities (all locals though). I believe the community - local interaction would be much easier. I would do it through organising some fun events or community-benefiting initiatives. No matter what people think of you, there will always be some recognising the good common good. It takes only establishing a relationship with 2-3 locals and the word should spread fast.

Why do you not interact much with the local community? By you saying it doesn’t matter much, I guess you aren’t making much effort as well? Did you try at first, but it didn’t work so you decided to let it be?

I don’t have that gap with my project as my grandparents are from the community and I have spent so much time there…it is also the Croatian seaside so much more open by default.

Just 1 month ago I came back from there. I spent most evenings enjoying in company of people from Argentine, Italy, Ethiopia, Germany, Scotland etc…and all of the, were working there hehe, so not passing by on vacation.

It is a region with extremely favorable climate for people suffering from asthma or other respiratory issues. I know of 3 families, from England, from continental Croatia and one from Germany who just came on doctor’s recommendation and stayed when they saw their condition improve so much after just 3 weeks.

I hope we will have much bigger international community there soon :slight_smile:

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