• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
Joseph Zotter, Europe’s leading organic chocolate producer, has built an energy self-sufficient animal park. The Edible Zoo, which opened in May, aims to build connections between visitors and food sources and thereby encourage and educate the public to have a more responsible relationship with the environment.
Mr. Zotter’s vision employs sustainable methods of farming while demonstrating an appreciation and conscious enjoyment of food. By inviting visitors to engage with Austrian breeds of livestock, such as Highland cattle, Zotter hopes tourists will learn to have respect for the animals and their handlers.
At a cost of €3.5 million ($5 million), the park utilizes a photovoltaic system with a 6,800-square-foot surface area that consists of nine large solar-tracking panels, each capable of producing 7.5 kilowatts, or more than 100,000 kW total per year.
The power from the photovoltaic installation drives a circulation pump and an exchanger for geothermal extraction of heat. Geothermal pipes are buried throughout the park to provide warm water and heating. “Geothermics is great,” explains Zotter. “You need one-third [of the] power and [receive] two-thirds free.”
Additionally, a biomass heating system is fueled by wood and cacao shells from the Zotter Chocolate Factory located on-site, which in turn uses the heat to roast its beans.
The Mobile Egg, a mobile chicken house that moves from plot to plot, helps to fertilize pastures for the cattle as the chickens scratch for food in the grass. It’s also powered by solar panels.
In addition, Zotter’s livestock stables, called Earth Buildings, are covered with leafy fauna, providing a natural insulation that helps to keep the animals warm in winter and cool in summer.
Annually, 150,000 people visit Zotter’s Chocolate Factory. With the opening of Edible Zoo, the chocolatemaker-turned-farmer hopes to link environmental awareness with inventiveness and fun. From mixing their own chocolate at stations along the trails to feeding and interacting with the 16 species of animals, visitors will be led – Zotter hopes – to appreciate the source of their food in a sustainable environment.