Atamai Village: A Resilient Community

atamai-village
The first stage of Atamai Village has several energy efficient homes which are now establishing their gardens. Photo by Hemon Day

Resilience means the ability to adapt and respond positively to challenge and change. Small villages have been the most enduring form of human settlement across continents and across centuries and presumably will continue to be so in a future filled with uncertainty around issues such as climate change, rising energy prices, food supply and job security.

The founders of Atamai Village in New Zealand have responded to meet such challenges collectively, by focusing their energies on developing a resilient community – a sustainable ecovillage. Atamai Village is a modern example of a traditional village, with new approaches and technologies designed to adapt as required.

Atamai Village is purpose built to provide the best possible response to living well under the various challenges to the global economic system that are already in evidence. The permaculture-based settlement was founded in 2006, and is now home to about twenty households. On completion it will include about fifty households, as well as extensive common lands. In addition to private purchase, a co-housing option is being developed for greater affordability.

The key features for resilience at Atamai Village are that:

  • the founders have chosen a temperate region, with a diverse agricultural base, so that villagers can produce most of their own food and energy, even in a changing climate
  • all homes are equipped with solar power – passive and active – and use other locally available energy sources such as wood
  • The settlement design reduces transport needs, plus villagers pool transport where possible to reduce carbon impacts and costs.

Anyone looking for a smarter alternative for their family and future is invited to find out if their family would like to be part of this adventure. There is a questionnaire on the website to evaluate whether the project is the right match for your requirements.

Ideal Climate

The founders have selected a location for Atamai Eco Village which they believe has the greatest likelihood of remaining stable and pleasant in the face of anticipated climate change.

Atamai Village is located in the Tasman region, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. The region is known for its apple growing as well as grapes, olives, nuts, stone fruit and more. With light winter frosts, enough to enhance the flavour of apples, it is also warm enough in the summer to grow melons, figs and avocados. With good rainfall (1000 millimetres annually), it also boasts the most hours of sunshine in the country!

The village is in a very picturesque valley, and its moderate elevation puts it above rising sea level and flood areas, while providing good wind protection. Being on a large island in the southern hemisphere, with mountains nearby to catch rain, it is well situated for relative climate stability in the coming decades.

atamai-village
Clockwise: The Atamai community orchard produces a wide range of organic; seasonal fruit for villagers’ needs; Photovoltaic solar power is the energy of choice for electricity at Atamai Village; Joanna Santa-Barbara produces a great array of home baked goodies in her wood fired oven; Patsy Blackstock supplies most of the family’s vegetables from her garden.
atamai-village
atamai-village
atamai-village

Renewable Energy

The plan for Atamai Village includes being prepared to provide for the community’s own energy needs, to not only reduce costs and carbon footprint, but also to reduce vulnerability to shortages, supply interruptions and rising global energy prices.

Heating and cooling are big energy consumers in most settings, but at Atamai Village the design principles used throughout mean that most heating and cooling is achieved through passive solar design.

Water heating in most dwellings is easily achieved by a combination of direct solar heating and wood-fired backup, using wood from the village’s own woodlots.

Cooking is done on wood or gas stoves, in some dwellings with the use of methane from a domestic bio-digester linked to the septic system. This traditional system has now been fully adapted for the very modern home.

Transport needs have been reduced by providing many of the goods and services that families need from within the village. Bicycle and walking tracks make self-propelled transport easy and appealing, keeping residents healthy in the process. Villagers pool transport where possible to reduce carbon impacts, fossil fuel reliance and costs.

Electricity is required for electronic equipment and lighting, but not much more. With reduced electricity needs, households are able to meet most through active solar photovoltaic installations. These vary between self-contained and grid-tied systems. Some are on individual dwellings, and some are planned to be shared within a small hamlet.

Local Foods

The village aims to produce most of its food within the village and to minimize imports to only those products that can’t be produced there. Local food:

  • is generally fresher, cheaper, more nutritious and tastier
  • reduces food miles, greatly reduces the carbon footprint and reduces dependence on national and international supply chains – villagers will still have their own food supply even if larger systems experience difficulties.

All village lands are kept to organic standards: the food is chemical free and rich in nutrients. Many villagers are engaged in preserving, drying and other low-energy storage methods, so that they can eat their own crops all year round. The village has its own farm and vineyard which provide a great range of produce, and also offer local livelihoods.

Local Livelihoods

Working locally has many advantages for workers, the environment and the local community. A strong community consciousness, with practical skills serving community interests, likely to provide a more stable income than the global economy, which is prone to the large and sudden fluctuations of international trade.

Working within the village, or working from home, means no commuting. Highspeed internet makes working from home a feasible option for many villagers. This allows more time to spend with families, and to do useful work in the home and garden.

By working in their own village or the local area, residents feel like part of something they can all value. It has been shown that people get greater satisfaction from their work when they feel they are making a contribution to something valued by them and their community.

Developing a wide range of skills within a community also better equips residents to deal with the challenges that may come, such as shortages of energy and resources, or economic instability.

atamai-village
atamai-village
Clockwise: Water flowing through the village catchment is captured for both practical and recreational purposes; Atamai foods displayed at our Open Day; Children at Atamai have direct contact with many animals and other farm produce; Atamai Wines uses permaculture practices, integrating the vinyard with the village farm.
atamai-village
atamai-village

A Village Economy

Developing a village economy raises some issues of adjustment which are unfamiliar in our modern, compartmentalised world. It can be both refreshing and challenging to contemplate going back to a more locally based model of trade.

A village economy provides livelihoods for those selling goods and services to others: a benefit for the providers and buyers. A village economy is likely to benefit many families.

Providers presumably want to provide good value, which benefits the entire community. Local providers will be proud of their goods and services, and will want to see them enjoyed by others in the community. This can be a source of satisfaction which few providers have the opportunity to enjoy.

Knowing that providers are members of the community, and presumably motivated to provide good value, consumers get the benefit. A direct relationship between provider and consumer offers an opportunity to influence what and how goods and services are provided.

The relationships that exist between providers and consumers – and many villagers are likely to be both – provides an exceptional feedback opportunity which could become the basis for developing exceptional quality goods and services that can be marketed successfully beyond the village. Such success will build community and contribute to the overall prosperity of the village: quality goods and services; good trade leading to stability and potential for business expansion; happier villagers.

The village policy is to:

  1. whenever possible, obtain goods and services from a village provider
  2. be willing to pay full prices for quality local goods and services
  3. provide feedback to the relevant village provider if we are not happy with their goods or services, and to give them an opportunity to improve
  4. work with providers to help them improve by clarifying what we think would be better than what they are offering
  5. only go ‘external’ if the above steps have failed.

This type of self-regulating quality assurance seeks to create a resilient community. It is a natural evolution for people who live and trade together long-term, and no doubt existed in traditional villages.

To re-establish communities of this type today, we need to re-learn and apply these skills and levels of trust and reciprocity. This is as important to resilience as the physical infrastructure.

For more info visit www.atamaivillage.org 

Author

Leave a Reply

Shopping Cart

No products in the cart.