I’m beginning the writing of this blog post at Alm Østre farm, a biodynamic farm in Stange, 115 km (71 mi.) north of Oslo. We are here as part of our agroecology course for one of our two main project caseworks (this is our farm case, my food case in the one in Trondheim, and they are with different groups.) It’s actually our second time at this farm, the first time was the week of August 22nd, but I didn’t write about it because I was too overwhelmed with having just moved to a new country and starting grad school.
During our August trip, the whole class stayed at another neighboring biodynamic farm called Fokhol farm, which, despite our attempts at getting around it, is basically pronounced “Fuck-all farm”—but it’s actually a great place! Fokhol is a bit bigger and has a proper guesthouse, not mention a designated a dining room reigned by a German cook who really, really knew what she was doing. The food there was incredible (and free!) From the first bite, I had been looking forward to returning for our second farm visit, but alas, we are not staying at Fokhol, but at Alm. It has been great staying here as well. It is perhaps the most beautiful farm I’ve ever been to.
Some hiccups in travel
We took the train up from Oslo on Monday morning, and I was so engrossed in planning my trip to the fjords that I missed our stop, and had to watch my group on the platform look around confusedly as the train pulled away. It was at this moment that I also learned my phone was out of credit. Luckily, I could get off ten minutes later at the next stop and catch a train going the other way, but the whole thing forced my group take half an hour to sit down and have a coffee and relax, so really it was kind of a nice thing of me to do, for their sakes. When we finally did reunite, we decided to try to hitchhike instead of walking the hour to the farm. The other three in my group have svelte backpackers bags and could’ve done the walk, but I do not have such a backpack, so I had to stuff everything, including my big camera and my pillow and duvet and sheets (I also don’t have a sleeping bag), into my enormous four-wheeled rolly suitcase, which I have begun affectionately referring to as the Big Blue Loser. While it’s more comfortable than a backpack, it makes me about 100x less nimble and 100x less cool.
We were having no luck with the hitchhiking until me and the Big Blue Loser were told to hide around a building while two others stood with their thumbs out. This made me feel very deceptive and I didn’t like it all, but I can’t deny that it worked. A beat up old van with an attached trailer soon stopped, and once we were assured a ride, I bounded out from behind the building. Surprise! Luckily, we could kind of all fit. We chitchatted with the driver and his friend, and found out that they were recently in Ås for a tractor competition, with the tractor that was there on the back. They dropped us off at the farm, where one of the farmers greeted us and noted that we had managed to hitch with the town blacksmith.
Getting our hands dirty
We quickly dropped our stuff and went out to find the other farmer to sort our schedule for the three days. He was at the end of one of the fields with the other workers and volunteers, pulling old cow horns out of a hole he had dug. This was actually very exciting to see—it is part of the horn manure practice that is sometimes the only thing people know about biodynamic farming. I’m still fuzzy on most of the details, but it’s a way of linking the circle of life with the whole farm. Cow horns, from the cows at this farm, are filled with manure, then buried for half a year, then dug back up. The manure inside is then tapped out and used as a soil amendment, and the whole process is repeated.
After digging up two big flat boxes of horns, everyone went to the barn to continue the process. I was cold and hadn’t even changed in my farming clothes yet, so went back to change, which turned out to be a very opportune time to leave. When I came back out, half of the people were tapping the horns to get the horn-shaped clods of earth from the center, and the other half of the people were all leaning over a bucket and filling the newly-emptied horns with fresh cow dung. I opted to take the role of photographer, though I did feel a bit guilty about not helping. After the horns were all filled, we put them back in the hole and covered them. As a side note, one thing that keeps making me laugh is that they call the cow barn the “cow shed” which, with everyone’s accented English, sounds exactly like “cow shit.” Indeed!
What a start to the visit! Luckily, it wasn’t all so shitty. We were welcomed into the farm lunch, where everyone eats together, and in the afternoon we harvested yellow beets, which I found so enjoyable that two hours went by before I even checked my watch. In the evening we interviewed a new family that recently moved to the farm. There also happened to be a board meeting for the farm that night, and we pounced on some unsuspecting board members as they were leaving and probably just trying to get home to their families, and somehow convinced them to speak to us for half an hour about the farm.
Harvesting Carrots at Sunrise
This morning, we joined the morning work at 7, and harvested carrots for two hours before coffee or breakfast!!! Those who have ever lived with me know that upon waking in the morning, the very first thing I do is stumble over to my coffee maker and drink a cup. I’m basically worthless for the first twenty minutes of my day until the caffeine takes affect. But! I was very proud of myself today. We all walked over to the carrot field in the grey, pre-dawn light. It was cold out, and the ground was cold and so my fingers were cold as I grabbed the carrot tops and pulled, then brushed the wet dirt clinging to the bright orange carrot before twisting off their tops. But soon, the most glorious sunrise began to unfold. Big, fluffy, greyish-purple clouds were lit up golden, and rays of sunlight washed over the field and lit up the frond-y leaves of the carrot tops.
We didn’t speak much, and time didn’t fly quite like it did with the beets, but I felt grateful to be able to be in such a beautiful place. When we headed back to breakfast at nine, it was nice to feel like I really had earned my coffee and hot porridge. I did some reflecting on Spannocchia while I was out there, too—it was a year ago that I was there, which I still can’t quite believe. I was reminded of how, when you do farming, you begin to revel in such small pleasures. The sunlight that gently warmed us as we worked felt like a gift, as did a patch of carrots that were particularly strong and straight, making them more satisfying to pull.
There’s much more I’d like to share about Alm, but that will hopefully be in the next post!