Sounds a bit like The Middle Ages and knights and all that, and really that´s not too far off…
Thursday morning, November 30, we left for Barritskov, a manor house also on the East Coast of Jutland with 600+ hectares of Biodynamic forage crops and vegetables, and a sizable herd of beef cattle. Barritskov is also the home base of Aarstiderne (Danish for the four seasons), a “box scheme” that imports organic foods from all over the world and delivers any of nine different produce boxes, as well as a variety of specialty boxes (meat, dairy, fish, wine, etc.) to the doors of over 30,000 households in Denmark and now Sweden.
We took a tour with Chris Russel, the long-time renaissance man of the business and an American that has lived and worked in Denmark almost twenty years. He arranged for us to stay in the “gardener’s house,´´ a two-hundred year-old four bedroom home with a thatched roof, that is sometimes used by the president of the company but is in the process of being converted into a guest quarters. We were the first guests to stay here and felt quite lucky to be treated so well.
We met with Chris again on Friday, and had a good conversation about our project and the project there at Barritskov. Chris even videoed an interview of us for the company´s VLOG!
We gave Chris seeds (that he promised to increase) for their experimental garden, and he gave us access to boxes and boxes of Seeds of Change seeds from a 2002 trial garden they did for SOC. We were quite delighted for this gift, which included a few varieties that Seeds of Change doesn´t offer any more and we are excited to bring back. Most of the seeds are not on the EU Common Catalogue, so we took some seeds that we thought people might be interested in further down the line.
Barritskov was a wonderful place and while we were there we had the opportunity to explore the forests and coastline, and also walk to the town nearby. It was a great snapshot of the Danish countryside, and a much better seed contact than we had imagined.
From West Jutlands High School we traveled by bus to the city of Arhus, and then on to The Organic Agricultural College or Den Økologiske Landbrugsskole på Kalø near Rohne. This school, besides being a foreign language “high school”, also offers a three year certificate in Organic Farming, and trains about sixty students per year in organic grain crops, pigs, or cows for dairy or meat. Kristian, the school’s principal, took us on a tour of the campus. The fields of Brassicas as a catch crop, functioning dairy, and marsh sewage treatment plant treating all of the schools wastewater were only some of the great projects the school was involved in. Students attend classes for five months, then have twelve months of on-farm experience, then another six months of class work. They must already have at least one year farming experience before they can be accepted to the school, and the program is, essentially, free. The certificate earned by the end of the program is somewhere between an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree, and a person must have one of these certificates if they want to buy a farm that is more than thirty hectares in Denmark.
We attended two international classes — about half of the student body is from Eastern Europe, mostly Poland, Bulgaria, and Ukraine, with the other half from Denmark. The International classes are all in English. The first class we attended was a lecture in a unit about crop rotation for first term students. The crops in question were mostly large area commodity crops such as sunflowers, canola, rye, spelt, etc. To this class of about seventeen we gave an impromptu lecture about our project. We focused on why we believe open pollinated seeds are important, with issues of food security and biodiversity stressed. We took a detour from the school for the rest of the morning and walked three miles out to “the ruin,’’ a several hundred year old fort on a small island that is connected to the mainland by a man-made jetty. It was quite beautiful, and a nice walk to boot, past a small marina and around an inlet of the bay. Andrew even found some wild yarrow seeds to collect.
Birtha Toft, garden manager extraordinaire and member of the Frösamlerne, invited us to stay and work for a few days at Vestjyllands Højskole, “folk high school” where she works. Young people attend these schools of alternative education for six months to a year, usually between what is in the US high school and college. There are “high schools´´ all over the country where people can study everything from theater and art, to fusion cooking, to politics and sustainable living. The “folk high school” offers courses in all of these and more.
We exchanged work in the Biodynamic garden for room and board, and ate some of the best food any of us had ever had. We prepared some of the sandy, no-dig raised garden beds for the winter with manure and straw, mulched paths, built up fences, and broke ground to prep new beds for next season. We had a great time with all of this work, and traded some seeds with Birtha to boot!
We also gave a short presentation to the students and faculty of the school about the Seed Ambassadors project. We were able to hook up our computer to a projector so we could share some photos of Oregon, as well as some of the varieties that we brought seed for, including Painted Mountain Corn breeding projects and Kale. Our first formal presentation and it went really well, brought to life thanks to the photos.
During our stay there we also found the time to walk to nearby Rinköbing Fjord, and Birtha took us on an outing to see some amazing sand sculptures depicting viking myths AND the North Sea. A very great experience for all.
At the Frøsamlerne, event in Denmark we met up with Kayla and Amanda Preece, sisters(also from the Pacific Northwest) that have been traveling together checking out the seedscape of Italy since the beginning of November. We will be traveling together through our visit to Lithuania, after which they will return to the US.
Stay tuned for Kayla´s blog posts to find out more about the story in Italy and her take on the Seed Ambassadors Project.
When we got off the bus in Copenhagen it was very cold and seemed as though nothing was open. We decided to walk towards the center of town, past Tivoli Gardens and the wax museum to the main square. When we got to the town square it was full of life. We were surprised to see so many people awake so early — until we realized it wasn’t early for them, it was late. The bars were still open and they were still out from the night before. Once we had this realization it became obvious that every person that passed us was quite drunk, and so we had an amusing time sitting on a bench in the square watching the show.
Eventually it was late enough to call Søren Holt, a member of the Danish Seed Savers Association (Frøsamlerne) who would be our ride to Ødense for the Seed Cleaning Workshop later that day. We had a bit of difficulty with the pay phone, until a kind and compassionate (and very drunk) young man offered to make the call for us. After our pick-up was arranged, our new friend asked us what we were doing in Denmark. When we told him, he laughed and said, “You guys are very big nerds. I thought I was a big nerd when I play online video games, but you are even more nerds. You are like bionic nerds, made up of many pieces of smaller nerds stuck together!” I thanked him for the complement and the phone call, and we parted ways.
It was early enough that we were able to go back to Søren’s house before driving the 2.5 hours to Ødense. He served us toast and coffee and finally, Ikea made sense to me! We took a quick tour of his garden and were off.
The seed cleaning workshop in Ødense was attended by about 18 people, all members of the Frøsamlerne. The presenter, Jeppe Dalsgaard, has worked for seed companies in Scandinavia long enough that he had a great amount of knowledge to share: He knows the magic of cleaning seeds by hand (without fans!). Jeppe gave thorough demonstrations on cleaning spinach, kale, and carrot seeds using only three different sized screens, a shallow metal drum that looked something like a large cheese cake pan with a very fine wire mesh at the bottom, two trays and a muslin sack. He also gave the mathematical equations for how dry a seed can get at a certain temperature with a certain atmospheric humidity. He explained the finer details of “priming” parsley seed so it germinates quicker, and taught about the difference between seed vigor (speed with which seeds sprout) and germination rate (total percentage of sprouted seeds after a given period of time).
We arrived in Frankfurt, Germany at 6pm on Thursday (11/23), after leaving LAX at about 8pm Wednesday night. Entering Germany was easier than any country I have ever traveled to. No “embarkation card” as is common in Southeast Asia, no visa, just a quick glance at our passports, a question of “where are you going?” (answer: all over!), a stamp in our passports and we were in. No one was staffing the customs booth (!), so we had no one to ask what, exactly, counts as “goods to declare,” and so the seeds and garlic remained with us. I think the smell of garlic may be with us for a long time, as it was packed tight in our bags and its perfume permeated the ziplocks.
We found a cheapish hotel room (40 Euros = $53US) and promptly fell asleep. It was almost like Thursday didn’t happen. Thanks to the wonders of jet lag, we awoke at 3am ready to start the day. I’ve always wanted to be a morning person, so I hope it will last!
We spent early Friday morning walking around exploring the city, and then, once the bus and train depots opened, trying to figure out the easiest and cheapest way to travel the 800 km to Copenhagen. We decided to take the bus — a 15 hour ride from 2pm until 5am the next day!