Can Slovenia create world’s first blockchain-based regenerative food system?

An even brighter green Ljubljana, Slovenia, and its connection to its surrounding countryside may be possible through the combination of Blockchain technology with regenerative food systems.

Slovenia already has the greatest national biodiversity in Europe. How can climate change-buffering resources be better understood, appreciated, valued and protected for the long-term? Highlighting the integrity of the country’s food system by harnessing the emergent capabilities of blockchain technology may be one answer.

Imagine having an app that showed the provenance of food, vouched for authenticity and highlighted regenerative impacts. Slovenia, formerly part of Yugoslavia, provides an excellent candidate for a world-leading carbon sequestering and regenerative national food system, combined with gastronomic experiences that are whole-systems based (including circular economy impacts).

The Ljubljana (“Loo-blah-na”) historic city center is a pedestrian and cycling zone that restricted vehicles starting in 2007, at the behest of longtime Mayor Zoran Janković. That bold and resoundingly successful move and other green initiatives are paying off handsomely for the city, local businesses and increasing numbers of visitors.

Next Move for Slovenia?

Beyond its Green Capital status, Ljubljana–and indeed all Slovenia–has a rare opportunity to be part of an exciting new climate change solution. Blockchain and the Internet of Things could illuminate the Ljubljana food supply chain with transparency. Certifcations could report production methods’ precise carbon-sequestering calculations and biodiversity-supporting impacts at the place of origin, production and elsewhere along the supply chain.

Creating an app showing the provenance of regenerative Slovenian foods would provide competitive advantage for the declining sector of Slovenia’s economy devoted to small-scale grazing and agriculture while supporting Ljubljana’s and the nation’s growing tourism industry, which now adds about five percent to national GDP.

At Ljubljana Town Hall (circa 1484, photo above) I had a lively discussion in late June with city leaders and was in touch with national officials about opportunities for the city’s and nation’s regenerative future, including the use of new technologies such as Blockchain.

Besides discussing a planned green technology redevelopment zone, we explored how to provide more transparency for people interested in buying local food in the city’s restaurants and markets that support ecosystem regeneration. I gave the example of how the burger I had the night before at a café called Pop’s Place was much more than 100% pasture-raised and grass-fed, as advertised on the menu.

Pop’s helpful waiter took a moment amongst buzzing outdoor tables of summer hipsters to describe how the cattle are locally and selectively sourced by the owner through his knowledge of breeds and pastures. Animals that don’t meet the high standards are rejected. Pop’s Place even had its own butcher and, of course, dozens of local or regional beers on the menu.

Beyond Organic

Maybe it was just the setting on the chestnut-shaded banks of the Ljubljanica River, but Pop’s might have served me the best burger I’ve ever experienced. That burger’s unusual integrity could be better highlighted to customers though the services of the blockchain certifying the burger’s (& fries’, side salad’s and IPA’s):

  • silvo-pasture heritage with highly managed grazing
  • intercropping: crops interspersed among grazing areas
  • biodiversity habitat
  • surface water stewardship, etc.

Besides the sheer quantity of precipitation Slovenia receives, Ljubljana’s water maintains its purity because it is largely uncontaminated by agriculture. Most Slovenian farms co-inhabit existing forests without sacrificing environmental integrity, through careful and small-scale grazing combiend witrth selective logging.

Typical Slovenian agricultural practices are higher in carbon-sequestration when compared to industrial agriculture’s unmanaged intensive grazing, feedlots and row-crop production. Even worse is the burning of tropical rainforests for rapidly depleted cattle grazing land. Well-managed Slovenian croplands/pastures are able to hold and effectively filter precipitation, leading to less run-off, which means less pollution and erosion, while hydrating the drier southern parts of Slovenia.

Regenerative land uses such as rotational grazing (Photo right: Cattle grazing in Julian Alps. Photo Credit, Kmetijski inštitut, Slovenia) result in healthier forests, which cover about two-thirds of the nation. These mixed conifer and deciduous forests show little sign of logging, as farmers typically carefully select the abundant timber from their land while keeping forest function wholly intact.

Cattle feedlots are rare to non-existent in Slovenia (we saw no corn grown from the border of Hungary to the Ljubljana, about 140 miles). In the US, livestock is responsible overall for 15-18 percent of carbon emissions. Much of those emissions come from grain feedlots (growing and transporting the grain, using pesticides on grain) and industrial approaches that result in massive lagoons of manure.

Slovenia is a different world, indeed. Traveling two hours by bus (just over an hour by car) up the Sava River valley from Ljubljana to Triglav National Park, I found the region’s centuries-old grazing and food production (meat, milk, cheese, yogurt, meat, fruit and vegetables) cultures to be inspirational. Within Triglav National park are a number of cattle-raising and farming villages. Meanwhile Triglav is nested within the UNESCO Julian Alps Biosphere Reserve, which also includes more tourist-heavy regions (Lake Bled) along with agricultural areas. Just east of the Biosphere Reserve, Slovenia has one of Europe’s oldest full-time shepherd’s villages.

The country’s northwest Bohinj region is a pastiche of attractive grazing areas, with small-scale fruit and vegetable plots woven in semi-wilderness (above photo, potato plot intercropped in grazing pasture, Srdnja Vas, Triglav National Park).

Lake Bohinj, Triglav National Park

Even in the midst of a national park next to the nation’s largest lake, Lake Bohinj (a major source of the Sava, Slovenia’s largest river), the surrounding communities form a working landscape. Full-time herders are on the rebound in the Bohinj region after dropping to a low in the early 2000s. Bohinj dairy products including milk and yogurt can be found in Ljubljana’s mainstream food markets—they are competitively priced and delicious.

Slovenia’s average farm agricultural production area is among the smallest in the European Union, with 17 acres for food and 14 acres of forest.  They often have non-irrigated meadows, taking advantage of plentiful year-round precipitation.

The bounty of natural inputs (water, hay and other forage) give farmers good incentives to take care of their local forests. Slovenian farming operations are usually family-owned and family-run. An impressive 71 percent of Slovenian farms or pastures are run by farmers and/or herders that live and work on their own land—that is, when they are not grazing in common lands. All of these factors result in an astonishing 38 percent of the country’s land harboring natural habitat and endangered species, according to the EU’s Natura 2000 program.

Ljubljana and Slovenia should capitalize on preserving such pristine assets and unique culture through innovative planning and management practices, including new technology-optimized food certification systems.

Already abundant clean water, healthy living for flora, fauna and humans can then become the basis for regenerative agriculture and low-impact tourism—in effect, a national model for the world, especially non-arid regions.

This is second in a two-part series on Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, and the northwest Alps of Slovenia. The first part explored whether Slovenia is Europe’s Costa Rica in terms of biodiversity and resource conservation.

Lake Bohinj photo by Gilad Rom from Los Angeles, United States – Lake Bohinj Uploaded by sporti, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27600906

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Slovenia as Europe’s Costa Rica: EU’s Green Capital Ljubljana and Triglav National Park

Just back from Ljubljana–the capital of Slovenia–where I met with city leaders on future smart green city possibilities while soaking in the beauty of this 2016 European Green Capital. Because of its biodiversity and strong conservation culture Slovenia could be viewed as the Costa Rica of Europe.
Costa Rica became an international model for its early preservation of its rich rainforests, mountains, scenic rivers and other natural resources. The Central American country has only 0.03 percent of the planet’s land area, yet boasts 6 percent of Earth’s biodiversity.
One’s first impression of Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana (“Lu-blann-ya”), a historic city of 300,000 that banned vehicles from its city center, is of breath-takingly poetic Renaissance streets and riverside walks, thanks to the forward-looking vision of Mayor Zoran Janković in 2007. Ljubljana as well as regional car-free districts in Dubrovnik, Croatia and Corfu, Greece, are human rhythmed centuries-old neighborhoods providing simultaneous glimpses into humanity’s fossil-free past and its fossil-free future.
Slovenia, part of the former Yugoslavia, achieved country status in 1992 after Yugoslavia’s break-up into six nations (Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Slovenia). It has about two million people.
At Ljubljana City Hall (originally built in 1484) I met with the Chief City Planner, the CIO, the Public Relations and Tourism directors, as well as the liaisons for the European Union and city international diplomacy. As a green city benchmarking study author and smart city advisor to cities and national governments, I wanted to explore how Ljubljana can leverage its accomplishments.
Even in the city, one gets the vibe of Ljubljana’s direct connection to Slovenia’s pristine heavily forested hills at the foot of the Julian Alps.
Ljubljana’s water supply flows straight from these high mountains and, since it is so pure, it is the only EU capital whose drinking water is untreated with chlorine or other chemicals. In fact, an app for iPhones helps you find 16 public water fountains around town, even art installations incorporating drinking water into sculpture.
Precipitation is plentiful and frequent: 55 inches annually in Ljubljana, averaging between 3 to 6 inches per month, but why is the water so clean?
Look to its small-scale, nature-integrated farms for the answer. Slovenia’s average farm agricultural production area is among the smallest in the EU with 17 productive acres and six heads of livestock. A typical Slovenian farm will have meadow for managed rotational grazing and a small area for crops framed by an additional 14 acres of privately owned woods.
These forests supply oxygen, support biodiversity, help clean and cycle fresh water, and are key to the nation’s ecological integrity. And, by maintaining integrated crop-livestock systems adjacent to existing native forests, Slovenia’s farmers are true stewards of the land. Additional practices like carefully managed rotational grazing, pasture cropping and silvo-pasturing (integrating trees with forage and livestock production) cause less water pollution than industrial farming or unmanaged grazing, and are ultra high-carbon-sequestering versus uncontrolled grazing and industrial row-crop production. (Conversely, cattle feedlots, non-existent in Slovenia, are one the largest life-cycle contributors to climate change).
Slovenians of all ages, visibly relish being out in nature, which explains the country’s motto: “Green. Active. Healthy.”
To explore the regional ecosystem further, we traveled by bus from Ljubljana some 50 miles to Triglav National Park, where centuries-old grazing and food production (meat, milk, cheese, yogurt, fruit and vegetables) cultures exist harmoniously within UNESCO’s Julian Alps Biosphere Reserve.
Each tiny valley town nestled in Triglav’s Bohinj region had dedicated common grazing lands up-mountain in the Alps, often with cooperative production models. Though the cattle were in the highest Alpine meadows for summer, we could see paddocks for grazing in other seasons that were woven into the small valley towns, interspersed with fruit and vegetable production.
In the Days of Horvat, Head Cheesemaster
The Alpine History Museum in Stara Fužina (pronounced “stara fu-cheena”) is a 20-minute walk along an enchanted meadow bike-ped path from the forested shores of Lake Bohinj, a large glacial lake visibly teeming with trout. The Alpine museum interprets the region’s fascinating pastoral lifestyles. Well into the 20th Century, historic eras for a dozen or so Bohinj settlements were recognized by whomever had the role as the town’s Head Cheesemaster, as in “That was during the Days of Horvat…”.
Small-scale, local-centric food production continues to pay national dividends: Slovenia’s biodiversity is palpable. Hiking up 2000 feet in elevation above Mostnica Gorge, one finds Stara Fužina’s lovely seasonal grazing meadows and rustic huts (again, the cows and their shepherds were somewhere even higher up). We saw more varieties of wildflowers (at least 40) and butterflies in this section of Triglav National Park than anywhere outside the extensive national parks of Costa Rica’s tropical jungles.
The pristine natural habitat of Slovenia is of a quality and on a scale that justifies referring to it as Europe’s Costa Rica. Besides its capital having a car-free city center and chemical-free tap water, Ljubljana has also been aiming at Zero Waste.
Not all is perfect in Ljubljana: public transport can be challenging for visitors to find and pay for (tickets are at kiosks, tourist info offices and post offices, but not on board, and non-European bank cards are not accepted). The city’s longtime bicycle sharing program was hard to sign into online as I couldn’t get past an unfriendly interface, so I rented another inexpensive bike at the city information office.
These procedural matters, however, can be sorted. The takeaway is that protection and valuation of Slovenia’s stunning natural landscape can and should be more explicitly linked to activities in Ljubljana, its green capital as well as in other Slovenian cities and towns. By illuminating food supply chain transparency, Slovenia would be well poised as both a market and model for regenerative food systems, the subject of my next post.
This post is the first in a series of two–the second post examines innovative opportunities for blockchain in certifying Slovenia’s and Ljubljana’s regenerative food system.

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