Circular economy, bio-economy and innovation by Roland Arnison

The Shearwater Blog


The Dream Farm – food production in a circular economy?

What might food production look like in a more circular economy?

One suggestion is the Dream Farm, a system proposed by Professor George Chan and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and whose most recent incarnation is showcased on the Institute of Science and Society’s webpages (slightly unfortunate acronym in these times, but they claimed it first…): The Dream Farm 2

The Dream Farm is a design approach blossoming from systems-thinking and an understanding of how nutrients and energy can flow in ecology and agriculture. It has roots in traditional Chinese farming practices as well as modern technologies.  It is best explained through a diagram:

circular economy

You don’t need to follow every arrow to see that what is being proposed here. There are multiple activities going on, each intended to make good use of a feedstock available from another part of the farm, each intended to add value and generate an income. The Dream Farm is characterised by optimising flows of bionutrients and energy in a farm, to produce crops, generate energy and perform sewage and waste treatment in an integrated system.

Some elements of the Dream Farm include:

  • Anaerobic digestion to extract energy (biogas used for electricity and heat) from organic wastes, and digestate which provides organic matter and bionutrients.
  • Algae production based on bionutrients and carbon capture, to produce biofuels.
  • Aquaculture including fish production, based on bio-nutrients, heat and waste water cleaning.
  • Livestock and various food and non-food crops, benefitting from internal flows of bionutrients, water and heat.

There is no doubt, this is circular economy gold.  It meets all the principles at the heart of the circular economy ambition – use of renewable energy and resources, waste=food, design based on systems-thinking and biomimicry, a diverse and adaptable range of solutions and hence a degree of financial and environmental resilience.

The Dream Farm is especially appealing when considering its merits when compared with conventional modern agriculture with its dependency on fossil fuels and high energy fertilisers, its environmental degradation, low employment and single product.

Consider a Dream Farm at the heart of a community – providing a range of jobs in a range of connected enterprises, a wide variety of crops and products throughout the year, perhaps some surplus renewable energy, no net wastes and no reliance on unsustainable feedstocks. It may even go beyond merely a reduction in carbon footprint but instead offer a carbon sink overall.

If we move from a mindset of agricultural success being measured in tonnes per hectare, but instead as calories, vitamins, proteins, biodiversity, carbon capture, energy production, clean water production, wastewater recycling, jobs, health and wellbeing per hectare, then the Dream Farm is a clear winner!

Does the Dream Farm exist anywhere? Certainly each of its elements is in use in farms across the world in one form or another and I know of many pioneers developing new food production systems with similar design objectives as the Dream Farm, integrating anaerobic digestion with horticulture, fish farming with vegetable growing (aquaponics) and applying other cunning synergies in both rural and urban settings.  I will introduce these in a future blog. I haven’t yet come across a full working version of the Dream Farm as described by George Chan and Mae-Wan Ho, and I would be delighted if there is one out there.




  • Beautiful work on this blog, thank you, Roland! Do Findhorn in Scotland, Crystal Waters in Australia, or Damanhur in Italy have all these connections in their farming and businesses? I am not sure. I have spent time in each of these wonderful communities to share Earth Art & Architecture (Nader Khalili’s technology; & to learn Permaculture in a hands-on way.

    I have seen they have many of these elements. I would like to see a dream farm that includes all three ethics of Permaculture: Care of the Earth, Care of the People, & Sharing the Surplus of Abundance and Beauty. As exciting as this Dream Farm outline is, it occurs to me it is really common sense, the very thing humanity has been lacking.

    Thank you for bringing this to light and for the work you do to bring it into reality.
    What a sweet reality Nature has for us when we act from our highest intelligence and show we are Nature.

  • Well done to think of sotnmhieg like that