Hyllest elderflower farm

by admin on 15/07/2018

Drawing by by Olga Lobareva, bought from Shutterstock

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Elder or elderberry is a bush  with a rich variety of folklore as is shown here, here, here and here. Elders were considered the habitat of Freyja  in Norse mythology and it was protected by the Elder Mother. Actually, this inspired the great writer H.C. Andersen to write a story called The elder-tree mother. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote a book about Germanic tribes  for whom the elderberry was holy. Moreover, the Greek physician Hippocrates  and the Roman historian Pliny the elder both wrote about elderberry as a herbal medicine.

Quotation from Edda: If you have elder, honey and cabbage, the doctor will be a poor man.

The Latin name Sambucus for elderberry is purportedly derived from a Greek string instrument, which was called sambuca and was made from elder wood.

My first encounter with elderberry was at a farmers’ market in Drammen where we could sample elderflower juice, making me buy a bottle. Ever since I have bought bottles of elderflower juice occasionally since they are quite dear, but the taste is delicious. Next, having found that someone needed money for planting elderberries on a field in Bø in Telemark on the crowdfunding site culturaflokk, I donated so much that I could have a guided visit with the owner Mie Dahlmann Jensen on her farm.

We met at the chuch in Bø from where it was a short drive to a field near Moland farm where 400 elderberry saplings had been planted in 2017. Before, the field had been used for organic growing of oats and grass for 20 years and it was ideal for growing elderberries. During my visit, I could see some of the saplings, some of which had the same height as the surrounding grass due to a drought which have lasted more or less continuously since May 2018. Unfortunately, this makes it more difficult to make the elderberries growing, but Mie remains optimistic.

She told me that roe deer were free to enter the field, but they didn’t like the elders. In addition, there were brown rats nearby, but by planting garlic around the saplings, they stayed away. Really brilliant to fight them with plants and not poison!

Next, we went to Akkerhaugen where Mie has planted 160 elders in cooperation with Rinde farm. Three rows of elders were located among rows of apple trees and all cultivation was organic. Sitting in the sun, drinking elderflower juice and eating strawberries with sour cream was a very nice experience, contributing to making slow pix worthwhile and enjoyable.

The owner of Rinde farm cuts grass around the elderberries and apply fertiliser to them since they require a large amount of nitrogen in order to thrive.

Mie has her first memories from her native Denmark where she hid behind elders when she was playing hide-and-seek with other children. As an adult, she had been to farms where elderflower juice was being produced and after having moved to Norway and working at the local agricultural office, she contacted Innovation Norway and local apple farmers regarding cultivation of elders. Since everyone was positive, she founded her company Hyllest in 2013 and this year is the fifth anniversary. Hyllest is a Norwegian pun on hyll, which means elder, while hyllest means homage. That is, Hyllest is a homage to hyll.

Harvest of elderflowers is done in June and July, always manually and always early in the morning until about 10 in the morning when all dew has evaporated. In addition to domestic elderflowers, Mie also picks elderflowers from wild elders, which have “escaped” from various nurseries and gardens. Having collected elderflowers for up to a month, Mie turns them into juice at Epleblomsten, a local apple press. She has developed her own way of doing it, but she is aided by the workers at Epleblomsten with the production. Fortunately, this occurs so early that no other activity takes place at the apple press such that all attention can be turned to the elder flowers.

After having bottled the elderflower juice, it is distributed to various well-assorted shops and it is sold at farmers’ markets. A nice addition to elderflower juice is beer with a taste of elderflower since a brewery called Eiker ølfabrikk started making beer with elderflower syrup this year.

Finally, it remains to wish Mie good luck with persuading more Norwegians to start drinking elderflower juice, which apparently is little known for now.

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Taraldrud farm

by admin on 15/06/2018

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Last year, I listened to the radio while driving where a journalist was interviewing Ragnar Dahl, who had been breeding Smaalen geese for 30 years as a hobby. The county of Østfold was called Smaalenene until 1918 and, since this type of goose was living in the county of Smaalenene, the goose was called Smaalen goose. It has been bred since the 1600s and they are hardy, good at brooding and taking care of the chickens.

In the old days, a fine could e.g. consist of 2 geese and farmers could pay tax with geese. Ragnar Dahl’s mother got a cow and two geese-down duvets as a dowry in 1936; 6 geese were required to make one good duvet. In addition to duvets, goose feathers were used to make quills. In autumn, farmers walked with the geese to Oslo where they were kept inside pens and fattened up before being slaughtered and sold to wealthy people.

In 1969, there were only 7-9 Smaalen geese and 3 breeders left in the county of Østfold. Then the brother of Ragnar Dahl sent the geese to a foundation near Florø where the geese were bred and tested. 3 years later, they were sent to the breeding centre of Svein Nore at Jæren. Ragnar Dahl bought 10 Smaalen geese from Svein Nore in 1986 and he still has them, 30 years later. He said that Smaalen goose is a part of our cultural heritage, it contributes to a greater genetic diversity and it’s adapted to our climate.

There were about 60,000 geese in Norway in the 1950s and there was a breeding centre for Smaalen geese in Eidsberg. Geese and poultry were a common sight on farms in Norway and children grew up with them. In fact, the geese and poultry were allowed to roam freely, because they didn’t run away. Then, agriculture was mechanised and domestic breeds like Smaalen goose, a local turkey and the Jær hen were no longer wanted due to slower growth, less meat and fewer eggs than more modern races.

Having parked the car in the farmyard of Taraldrud farm, I could hear clearly the honking of a flock of geese nearby. Next, after I had met Camilla and her husband Kjartan, we went inside the combined brewery and dining hall where guests can enjoy food and drinks from the farm.

Kjartan is half Danish and he was used to eating goose meat at Saint Martin’s day and on Christmas eve when he grew up. He was breeding geese in the 80s and 90s as a hobby and he sold the meat to restaurants. Then, Norway joined the European Economic Area  in 1994, which was followed by new rules for slaughtering domestic animals. Suddenly, an activity which had been done for centuries at home, was required to be done at certified slaugherhouses. This led to that many hobby breeders gave up breeding geese. Next, the swine flu pandemic in 2009 led to that geese had to be kept inside and this made even more hobby breeders give up.

In 2011, the County Governor of Østfold wanted to save the Smaalen goose and Kjartan and Camilla bought 30 Smaalen geese in 2012 and now they have in excess of 300 geese. They have one group of geese, which are allowed to live for several years, while the other group is born in April and slaughtered in September. The weight of adult geese vary from 3.5 kg to 5.5 kg, while the ganders weigh about 7 kg. Each goose lays about 4-5 eggs per week and the eggs are put in brooding machines, while only a few of them are eaten.

The ganders walk together with the geese and in the breeding season, the young ones fight to see which one is strongest, while the oldest and strongest one stay outside the fights.

Sometimes, geese are blown over the pen, but they don’t go away. They are able to fly, but the don’t do it because their parents don’t do it. Anyway, if they are flapping their wings and it’s windy at the same time, it happens that they are gone with the wind, surprising them that they are able to fly. They are also very curious when wild geese fly over them.

At the moment, all handling of the geese is manual, which requires a lot of space. However, Camilla and Kjartan have plans for buliding a barn for 1000 geese with a separate, warm room for the chickens. The chickens are first fed concentrated feeds, next they are fed grass and grain, which are grown at the farm. Unfortunately, spring and early summer have been very dry and the grass has grown poorly. On the contrary, the cold winter has led to that the geese have laid a lot of eggs, which just shows that farmers are totally dependent on the weather.

I asked Camilla and Kjartan if the geese had any diseases, but they told me that only the chickens are vulnerable to cold and damp and they may get a cold. Thus, they have to be kept in a warm and dry place until they have grown enough feathers to avoid freezing. Instead, the adolescents and grown-ups hardly get ill. Instead, there are dangers like fox, mink and badger, all of which may finish off the geese. Besides, the geese may have some mishap, which requires that they are helped by their owners.

The geese of Camilla and Kjartan are outside all year, but they have shelters which they can enter if they want. They need water all year and it’s difficult to provide it when it’s below zero and water starts freezing.

Nowadays, very few eat goose meat in Norway, while they are common in Catholic countries. Anyway, they have been popular in Protestant countries like Denmark, Sweden and northern Germany all the time and now the 3 commercial breeders of Smaalen goose, and Holte farm, which breeds white geese together with various hobby breeders hope that more people will start breeding geese and eating goose meat. In fact, we need to eat goose meat in order to let the producers be able to go on breeding geese. In addition, in case of diseases like swine flu, it will be easier to keep the Smaalen goose safe and sound if it’s being bred in many places such that if one group of geese get ill from swine flu, another group, which lives far away, may be healthy.

I was also shown some of their cured meat products like salami and bacon. In fact, after slaughter, the meat is brought to Felloni spekehus  where it is cured by means of smoking, salting and aging and turned into various cold cuts.

SInce Kjartan made beer as a hobby and some of their customers asked for beer to the meat, he decided to build a brewery and start selling beer. He now produces two types of beer called Slåttekær, meaning someone who is cutting hay, and Fløtær, meaning someone who is releasing timber in rivers. In addition, he’s planning to introduce more types of beer in cooperation with local companies. In fact, Kjartan has a license to both make, sell and serve beer and he and Camilla arrange various events in the dining hall where customers are served food and beer from the farm.

There is a farm shop at Taraldrud farm where customers can buy parts of the geese and cook them themselves together with cured meats and beer. In addition, they sell their products at Mat og mer, Fru Blom and Matfatet Ørje.

After having got an introduction to the activities on the farm, it was time to go outside and have a look at the geese. The live animals, which are allowed to live for several years lived inside one pen, while the other ones lived in an adjacent one. Running water was continuously flowing out of a perforated metal tube such that the geese could drink water and clean their noses, beaks and heads. They apparanetly liked to stick together, always walking because a stranger was nearby. One goose had possibly been blown over the pen because it was very windy. Anyway, Kjartan brought it safely inside the pen where he released it and let it return to the flock.

Afterwards, we walked up to a hill overlooking the farm where Kjartan had cleared it of trees and set up an electrical fence. Inside were three woolen sows and one Mangalitsa sow. The pigs were very good at opening the landscape and tearing up roots. The pigs would be slaughtered in autumn, next goats from a neighbouring farm would be let loose insde the fence in order to clean up more. The aim was to make another field ready for geese by first cleaning it and then planting grass.

Walking a short distance further, we could see an old building in the valley. Kjartan told me that it had been used both as a hydroelectric power plant and a flour mill, but it had been abandoned a long time ago, probably in the 50s. Now, he wanted to restore the flour mill and make a road from the farm to the mill. He also said that he wanted to grow peas since they contain more protein than grain.

Obviously, Camilla and Kjartan are very active and full of ideas on how to expand their farm and have several ways of earning a living. Last but not least, they also have a country house for rent and guests can fish pike in a nearby lake. Of course, they have to accept the honking of the geese, but I got the impression that it hadn’t been a problem for their guests so far.

Finally, it was time to say goodbye after a very interesting and pleasant visit.

NB! Remember to eat Smaalen goose at St Martin’s mess and at Christmas eve.

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