A farm needs running. Sidsel Sandberg has run hers for over fifty years, since she bought it with her first husband in 1966. Now she is 75 and her body is telling her that it is time to recruit some help. She can do the morning and evening work in the barn, but everything else is too much. None of her four children want to run the farm as it is today. Sidsel’s situation is not unusual for an older farmer. All over the country, the same thing is happening. It is easy to lease the land, but Sidsel wants the farm to be kept and run as a whole entity. She believes that in times like these, it is sensible to have access to land. Besides, this is her life’s work. Not just anybody can carry this on.
Sidsel’s farm has not just been a regular farm with cattle, hens, geese and vegetables. For the last nineteen years, Sidsel has been doing educational work through a garden and a kitchen for students. Hegli farm has been part of a project called “Levande skule” (Living school) or “Farms as an educational resource”, and was an example of the latter. Throughout the three years of middle school, students worked for a total of four weeks on the farm. They worked for a week at a time during different seasons, and that way they were able to participate in and observe the natural circle of life, and how animals and plants grow.
The students learned about sowing, harvesting, gathering, butchering, preserving and pickling. During the last week of the project, they made a feast for their grandparents. They were responsible for everything from invitations, menus, gathering and preparing food to finally organizing and realizing the feast itself. “In this school, they really learned about life,” says Sidsel. A genuine life. From micro to macro. From earth to table. And most of the students said that they really enjoyed it, both the “bright” kids and those who have trouble sitting at a desk. And everyone in between. On a farm, there are tasks and challenges for all kinds of people, according to Sidsel. The students also learned a lot about cooperation. Working together, as a community. Unfortunately, the “Levande skule” project no longer exists. When Sidsel had to retire, another teacher was hired. She quit after a year, and this time, the school never hired a replacement. So the project was cancelled.
The atmosphere in the wash house makes you forget that time is passing. The cozy kitchen has a sort of ancient vibe. This could be any time, any place. Sidsel tells us that there has been a farm here since the Iron Age, even during the Black Plague. The beautiful main house is from the 1700s, with brown wooden walls and pale green molding. Sidsel is slowly giving up the farm, and over a five-year period she has built a tiny house. We haven’t seen it yet, but she has promised us a visit there. While most Norwegian retirees want increased “comfort” and convenience, Sidsel is moving in the opposite direction. She wants to minimize, be closer to nature and her basic needs.
Sidsel tells us that she has just read Naomi Klein’s book No is Not Enough. She has been deeply inspired by it. Klein says that there is no point in complaining about things changing in ways we don’t want. She says it is time to think strategically about how to make things better.
Everyone at the table agrees. We need to focus not on what we say no to, but what we say yes to. But what are we saying yes to? What is it we want? “That is what we need to know,” says Sidsel. We agree that these new times demand new ways of thinking, and new ways of acting. And as someone points out: there is not just one solution. When the problem is complex, there are many solutions. But fellowship and community are values we believe in. Doing things together. Collective mindsets, collective solutions. Sidsel says one possibility is for the farm to be leased to a group that might want to run it as a versatile organic farm. Maybe someone who is open to exploring new ways of running a farm. And it could be an educational site. Could that be a collective project, we wonder? Where everyone contributes with their individual skills, their time, resources, knowledge and talents. Could we come up with a plan, create a system where no one owns it, but everyone takes care of it? Because who really owns the earth, we ask ourselves. Does she not own herself? Is it not up to us to look after her as best we can, and be grateful for all that she gives us?
Soon it is late, and the cows are waiting. Sidsel has to work in the barn. We sit for a while and make conversation while the embers are smoldering in the fireplace. Who are we? Are we the farmers of the future? And do we know what we want? At the table sits a motley crew of artists, entrepreneurs, designers, cultural workers and academics. A few also have some experience working the fields, and one even identifies as a farmer (sometimes). We all have something in common: we love the Earth. And we realize we need to wake up. Now, not later. Because a turnaround is sorely needed.
As we sit there, we do not know if any of us are the farmers of the future. We only know that the farmers of the future are people who want to take care of her. The Earth, that is. And that’s what we want. And we want to create something together, as a community.
The community idea
The idea of living and working together in a modern community structure had been growing among us at the table, and our extended circles, over time. For many of us, it started as various individual impulses. Firstly, how little sense it made to live alone, each on our own little island. Secondly, how much we learn from living in close proximity, from having to deal with each other in good and bad times, not just in the familiar social situations, but being there through the ups and downs of life. We started to realize just how much faster we develop when we have access to good mirrors, and how much we learn about ourselves from the reflections in other people. (As the Velvet Underground sang: I‘ll be your mirror/ reflect what you are in case you don’t know/ I’ll be the wind, the rain and the sunset/ The light on your door to show that you’re home/) Another important aspect was that we started to realize how much we had when we shared everything. We were suddenly very well off, and had access to houses, cabins, apartments, boats, cars, dogs and children. In the mountains, in the cities, by the sea, in the forest. In several countries, on several continents.
Simultaneously a feeling of running out of time. We can’t wait any longer. We need to change our lifestyles, reduce our consumption, live closer to nature, and in harmony with the Earth. And our bodies are telling us what we know: there is no time to hesitate. The time is now.
Something manifested around the New Year of 2016, when some of us created Imaginarium – a dream symposium. We did not yet know quite what Imaginarium was, but we came together, played, ate, slept and danced. During the time leading up to the symposium, we exchanged dreams, and during the New Year week, the theme started to crystallize into something. What was our dream? We thought about it together and separately, out loud and silently. It was important not to shut anything down or set any restrictions. The sky is not the limit.
We talked about different living situations, about farmyards, tiny house collectives, schools, art and earth. And lots more. We talked about Utopia, whether Utopia is “no-place” as the Greek meaning indicates, an unattainable dream, or whether Utopia is something we can and will create. Or is Utopia the idea we need to have in our minds in order to create?
We talked about how “community is the new Buddha”. It’s all about Being. Together. Now, someone said. Actually, everyone said that. As the poem reads: “The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourself.”
Maybe this New Year’s meeting was an important step towards us sitting together at Hegli this September night, wondering: Are we the new farmers? Is this where we will start the community experiment?
After breakfast on Saturday morning, we all cross the hilly fields to see Sidsel’s place. The tiny house is an old log house that she has moved to a spot about seven minutes from the farm, and out of sight from it. We are first greeted by a huge St. Bernard dog, wriggling happily on its back, inviting human hands to pet its hairy belly.
On a table outside the window of the tiny house are potatoes of all shapes and sizes. This is the first year that Sidsel has grown potatoes here, and she is happy with the result. Soon she will be as good as self-sufficient here. In her little outhouse there live three hens, and next door are three goats.
Most of us have to bend down to get through the door. The room is less than 180 square feet, and here Sidsel has everything she needs. A bed, bookshelves, a fireplace. A big loom takes up almost half the space in the house. “Of course there’s room for a loom,” says Sidsel. There’s always room for a loom.
Weaving was central to Sidsel’s educational work, and there are still seven or eight looms in the old barn on the farm. “The loom gives you so much,” says Sidsel. “Often it is just what we need to feel whole and alive. To weave the threads, create something with rhythm, and see something grow out of our hands.”
On the bookshelves there are books on politics, culture, society and philosophy. Arne Næss and Amartya Sen. Galtung and Nehru. Sidsel has studied anthropology and is very interested in native peoples and other cultures in general. It is through other people’s eyes that we can see ourselves, and get to know ourselves. It may not be a coincidence that Sidsel has had a Pakistani woman for an assistant for many years. “She cooked divine meals,” says Sidsel. “But I never got involved in her cooking. She was queen of the kitchen, and the students learned a lot from her. Several of her kids worked on the farm throughout the years, and two of them are still here.” The Pakistani culture is not the only one that has made its mark on Hegli. Sidsel tells us that people from Spain, Guatemala, Brazil and Hungary have lived on the farm.
Naomi Klein is brought up again. Sidsel never grows tired of talking about her. It’s about what you say yes to, she repeats. Sidsel sits down by the fireplace, and the cat lies down on her lap. “Um, sure,” Sidsel says ambiguously. “I am content here.” Her clear eyes blink under the kerchief she is wearing around her head. “But have you thought about what you want?”
Food Studios Hegli Feast
Back on the farm, guests from Food Studio arrive and get to participate in everything Hegli has to offer. After a bite to eat and a gathering at the table in the wash house, everyone gets to choose their activities. Some go out and harvest vegetables and herbs from the kitchen garden, some make sourdough bread. In the wash house, there is a large old baking oven, and Manuel the baker has been preparing his sourdough for several weeks. In the end, everyone gathers in the weaving workshop and listens to Sidsel tell stories about her life and work.
After an eventful day, a wonderful meal is presented. We have a feast where almost everything we put in our mouths comes from Hegli. An exception is the beer we have with the first course; it is from Bøgedal, a unique microbrewery in Denmark. Gitte from the brewery is there in person to tell us about the beer, which is served with freshly churned butter, made from cream that is about an hour old, and the freshly baked sourdough bread. The main course is a lamb casserole and little meatballs, from sheep that have grazed on the farm, along with roasted vegetables, pumpkin purée and a green salad with flowers and berries. Everything is from the garden at Hegli. The finishing touch to the meal is “veiled peasant girls”, a traditional Norwegian dessert. A sort of layered apple crumble with whipped cream, with freshly picked apples and cream pretty much straight from the cow.
Everyone at the table has warm cheeks and glowing eyes, and a feeling of satiation and contentment fills the room. The meal is concluded with a girl standing up to sing an old folk tune:
Give us this day our daily bread
And all we need until we are dead
At Hegli, we have experienced what the earth can give us. Now we know it is up to us to give back. The future will tell who the new farmers are. But it is all about creating together – there is no doubt about that.
Words by Mira Beckstrøm
Photographs by Sébastian Dahl