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Forest Carnage Without our Consent or Council

I guess I should admit that I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea of ‘state-sanctioned landownership/property rights.’ That one can actually assume ownership over a sliver of mother earth – a co-evolving landscape that has been around for billions of years; cohabited/co-created by billions of different life forms weaving in and out and contributing their own characteristic ‘touches’ to enable the very unique space(s) that we see today – is quite an absurd idea when you get to thinking about it! I mean, it’s not like we can take our 10 hectares of forest with us into the afterlife! Property is a political arrangement with a lot of historically distinct contradictions that come right along with it! But, with the kind of holistic food production and forestry work that Malin and I want to be able to do, we decided to ‘play the game’ and become landowners.

With the purchase of our new house came this fairly small, but (we think) beautiful and adorable, plot of forest land (well… if you’re looking at that first picture below, we own everything that you can see that’s still ALIVE and standing – everything on the right side of the photograph).

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We had recently visited this area no less than a month ago and, at the time, rejoiced over the fact that our forest lay buffered by an adjacent sea of diverse, beautiful and old trees. Even Malin’s brother (on multiple occasions) seriously admitted that he might very well offer a bid to buy the land from the adjacent owners. And, coupled with our plot, see if we could try and co-create a larger ‘environmental sanctuary’ for forest diversity while conducting more holistic forestry practice(s) (e.g. ‘single selection forestry’/a.k.a. The Lübeck method and/or Continuous Forestry, etc.) … However, that adjacent ’sea of beauty’ now looks as if some angry God decided to give Mother Earth one horrible and shitty buzz-cut… With exact precision along our property line. It now looks like a wasteland (the area formerly known as “Sea of Beauty” pictured below with a deaf dog)…

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(the adjacent clearcut property bordering our property. i.e. this is not OUR land)

Granted, we never ‘owned’ this deforested area. So technically, we COULD just shut our mouths, mind our own business and humbly accept what has occurred (as many forest owners and locals residents plagued by clearcuts do) … But (beyond the fact that I cannot help from feeling that any and ALL thoughtless clearcuts rip out the very fibers of my heartstrings) what REALLY makes me frustrated about those who did the clearcutting is that they also had the nerve to plow a ROAD right through the middle of OUR forest – the very forest that Malin and I had just purchased – in order to access this newly made clearing. Cutting down some of OUR trees, damaging OUR soils and leaving groundwater exposure and runoff to an extent that I and my forestry friend had never seen before (pictures below).

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To top it off, the amateur foresters hired to do this cut chose to do it during one of the worst, ecologically destructive, periods of the year; i.e. they didn’t cut when the ground was frozen, they decided to cut and clear when the ground had thawed. This wreaks havoc on the topsoil (see pictures below). That is, when massive multi-ton machinery made there way through the area, what’s left is more-than meter-deep erosive cavities along ALL paths connecting to this clearing, exposing groundwater, damaging root systems, as well as trees along the exit route (see pictures below). And now, with such large cavities along the common forest path (not ONLY the newly created path on our property), there’s no way I can even get our hearty little 250cc 4×4 to access our OWN damn forest!IMG_4110

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What perhaps ethically frustrates me the most is that we knew nothing about this clearcut prior to our purchase of the land. And the cutting occurred during the 2 months that we waited for the previous owners to move their belongings out of the house, after we had already signed the contract and paid the downpayment. We legally owned this land while it was being raped. Nobody asked for our opinion or our permission or our perspective(s) in the use and abuse of our land. Nobody felt to inform us as to what would be occurring adjacent to our plot or how they might go about clearing it by utilizing what WE owned.

I am breathing fire right now and likely abusing the caps lock function while I look at the torn up roots/collateral damage done to this birch and willow on our property (below).

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We called the previous owners* and asked if they knew anything about this. They said that they were aware that a clearcut would be occurring adjacent to the forest plot (but only on the eastern perimeter. The fellers actually clearcut both sides, on our eastern AND western perimeter) but that, 1) It was supposed to have occurred when the ground was frozen, 2) was only asked one question by the foresters, if they could use the already-established ‘common’ forest road (a road that has existed for centuries and just so happens to run for a long stretch through our forest plot (see 1915 map below of our strangely-quasi-parallelogram(y) allocated forest property with a Northwestern-ish running forest path weaving in and out of our property, as well as the more recent meter+deep indents)) in order to move the machines in and out – He never gave them permission to make a NEW road through the forest plot – and 3) perhaps most important to the illegality of the situation, he told the foresters that his opinion mattered very little because he was selling to us. He specifically gave them our names. That is, this forest company decided to go ahead and destroy our property, our trees, and our part of the common forest path – all fully aware of our names and our ownership of this land – without bothering to ask for our opinion(s) or permission.

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(the clear cutting occurred on both sides of where the 1915 map is labeled ‘A.’ The red lines indicate where they crossed and damaged our land)

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To temper our nerves, he DID say that the foresters were obligated (and legally bound to) repair the road, but in any case, we ought to get a professional assessment of the situation. He recommended a forester that we’ll follow up with but I’m fairly skeptical of many Swedish foresters schooled at institutions that teach and practice biodiversity eroding, ecosystem destructive methods of forestry (especially when the invention of ‘scientific forestry’ was based on marginalizing the functionality of a forest to economically productive values (for further reading into the political economic/ecological historical creation of ‘scientific forestry,’ here’s a link to the first chapter of Professor James C. Scott’s book, Seeing Like a State (it’s free)).

What’s so frustrating about this whole experience is that we had imagined (from the beginning) that by the purchasing this forest plot, we’d be able to protect a sliver of Swedish forest from the kind of economically marginalizing and ecologically destructive forestry methods and practices that are considered the status quo and ‘normal method to harvest forest’ in Swedish forestry today. But even when we legally own the land, the forest industry and its crude methods of practice still manages to leach into that which they have no rights to, backhanding us on their way out and ruining a large chunk of biomass/fertile soils.

My question is: does anybody know some good links to Swedish forestry law/lawyers with regard to malpractice? I need to read up on and be informed about the laws regarding the maintenance, use and abuse of forest roads. From what we know of this path, there’s no ‘servitut’ (which would give them the right to use the road without our formal or informal permission – permission they never had). I repeat – they decided to go ahead and destroy our property, our trees, our part of the path – all fully aware of our names and our ownership of this land yet still chose to not ask for our permission.

(UPDATE: We have (recently as of April) spoken with the forest company representative who admitted that they made a mistake and that they should have contacted us (I have this on audio recording) but, at the time, he said that he could only offer an apology).

We need to know the legal procedures we have, as owners, in addressing the making of NEW forest roads on other people’s (our) property without an owner’s permission, etc. When my nerves settle, I would like to know what our legal options are in going about addressing this.

I think it’s important to state that it is not my intention to pick a fight or make enemies – the gods know we could all be a little friendlier to one another in this often stressful, confrontational world. But we are ready to take legal action if some sort retribution is not extended to us. At the same time, what sort of retribution will suffice? One can’t just magically reanimate a 40-50 year old living tree or snap one’s fingers and instantly repair the slow growing intricacies of a damaged forest root system. As self-appointed ‘holistic forest owners,’ all of this makes me feel like we’ve already failed to do that which we intended to do – and we didn’t even get to have a say during the whole destructive process…

I guess I’ll go and cut some firewood and hope that I can calm down a little.

*(I should be clear (as I am making this a public message) we are on very good terms with the previous owners and hold absolutely nothing but appreciation and admiration towards them (they have only been kind, considerate and incredibly helpful) as well as our neighboring forest owners in our community. For now, the venom of my rage is saved for the ignorance of, 1) a historically marginalizing forestry practice (a.k.a. “Forestry Science.” That is, we believe (and know) that there are alternative forestry methods and practices (Lübeck method, single-selection forestry, continuous forestry) that provide yield without the marginalizing of long-term forest biodiversity and habitat) and 2) the absolute negligence of those who were hired to carry it out (particular, large-scale forest companies whom we won’t name for the moment)).

The Pangs of Buying a Quaint Swedish Farm:

…Medieval property lines, changing economic functional use of landscapes via international trade, and competing institutional entities and their conflicting laws… It ain’t easy finding that small scale farm!

I’m getting pretty frustrated with Swedish real estate. We, like many jaded urbanites in our generation (disillusioned with our global industrial food system but actively interested in seeking out alternatives), have been hankering to buy a small, simple farm with 1) a small number of hectares to be used for agriculture and 2) a small number of hectares to be minimally ‘managed’ as forest (everyone in Sweden’s countryside needs wood to heat their houses during the bitterly cold winter. Unless one lives next to one of Sweden’s many nuclear power plants. Even then, electricity can be fairly expensive) and 3) a quaint old cottage and barn to be fixed up and repaired. For us, the differentiating lines between ‘forest’ and ‘agriculture’ wouldn’t be as functionally distinct once we began working the land. That is, we’re interested in multifunctional orchards of ‘food forests.’

To begin to see our problems, all you have to do is look at a Swedish property map (see map below). Did you notice how many of the properties are in long strips? (We’ve noticed) And we’ve also noticed that these strips of property are frequently separated from the house property entirely (i.e. the highlighted red property). So, IF we were to buy the plots of land seen below, we’d have to walk over other people’s property to get to ours (this is not an uncommon scenario in our housing search). Luckily, for those of us living in Sweden, walking over other people’s property isn’t as big of a deal as it would be in America (check out the Swedish law titled, ‘Allemansrätten’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_to_roam) but the inconvenience, of owning two separate plots often quite distant from one another, remains an annoying problem!

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Property rights and politically established boundaries go waaaay back in Swedish history (well, at least to the middle ages). Three major reasons we have to deal with these long strips of land rather than other geometric shapes (like squares, or even more geophysically structured boundaries linking property to rivers and mountains) has a lot to do with 1) how the Swedish aristocratic government decided to draw village arrangements on maps, coupled with 2) their considerations over the difficulty of turning a plow, which was attached to a work horse/ox, thus making strips more appropriate than squares and 3) farm families then proceed to hand down their land to their (many) children (at least until the 19th century. Prior to the 19th century, the law designated that family members had the right to receive or refuse land first before it could be sold outside of the family). This meant they’d break up their old strips and portion them into new, more thinly sliced strips.

(fun fact: the designated space of an ‘acre’ used to mean an approximate rectangular amount of land that it took for you and a work horse/ox to plow within a day’s period of time. The measurement of an ‘acre,’ when taking into account i.e. soil quality and/or your horse’s strength, thus meant something different to people living in different places)

As you can imagine over many generations, with a finite amount of land to go around and new corporate laws in the 19th century, many Swedish farmers were unable to economically compete with such tiny slivers of land and decided to sell off their land (frequently, farmers weren’t really given much of a choice other than, go bankrupt or go away). Many of these small scale farmers either moved to America in the late 1800s/early 1900s or moved to the cities to find work (for example, Stockholm’s population doubled between 1880-1890).

Following world war two, Sweden opened the floodgates further to international trade. Many of the remaining Swedish farmers took another hit as grains, imported from countries that didn’t have to cope with the long winters or poorer soils of Sweden, flooded in and undercut Swedish grain prices. Much like farmers in U.S. during the 20th century, you either had to “get big or get out.”

To give you an idea of how this changed functional land use, if we were to compare the amount of agricultural land that remains today, there was once 3X more pasture landscape in Sweden prior to WWII. Much of this land has been converted to monocultures of forest (primarily dictated by global economics). The government and agricultural department, finding these figures disconcerting in light of future food security and agriculturally-related biodiversity issues, have engendered laws to protect agricultural land from being converted to forest land (I realize this is a very simplified history as I’m not going into detail about the changing property laws but, you get the gist of what’s going on).

Institutional Protections have (intentional or not) Altered how Real Estate is Packaged and Sold

Now, the real estate folk have told us that it’s become much more difficult to find small-scale plots that contain BOTH agriculture and forest plots (you can buy large plots, but they are huge farmlands and forests) due partly to these institutional laws being backed and enforced by entirely different state entities i.e. the forestry department and the agricultural department. Often the entities either 1) don’t always communicate with each other or, more likely, 2) have their own entirely different laws to enforce and thus differing mission statements as to how the land can, cannot and/or hypothetically ‘should’ be used.

What has occurred in real estate, over many generations in practice and top down enforcement, is that small farm property plots have been separated into either forest land and/or agricultural land and/or summer houses with dilapidated barns falling apart. One rarely finds them all sold together in a bite sized portion affordable to, say, a generation absolutely fearful of being caught in debt. (I mean let’s face it, after 2008’s economic crash most of us ‘jaded, farm-loving urbanites’ are not interesting in taking such huge financial risks like buying a massive farm. Nor are we dreaming about raising 500,000 pigs in indoor pens).

A Complex Political and Historical Ecology for Small-Scale Wannabe Farmers

Our problem, you see, is that we’re dealing with a long political and historical ecology. One that is continually unravelling before us as an aging farmer population dwindles (average in the U.S. is 57+, Britain is 59+, Sweden 69% are older than 50) and an even smaller number of people are showing any sort of desire to take over such large scale industrial farms that are financially risky and back-breaking to manage. Those with capital and political power can’t seem to fathom ever changing or altering the industrial model of food and forestry production to anything other than what they’ve known. So a younger generations (people like us), interested in smaller, less-risky, more holistic approaches to farming and forestry, don’t really feel like we have any sort of access to even begin growing and feeding future generations.

The kind of ‘dream plot of property’ we’re looking for may have been available two hundred years ago but after an age of industrialism and international financialization, those smaller farm plots have been sold off into contracts of larger farm plots, forest land has been separated and sold off to foresters and hunters, and the houses have become ‘cultural relics’ used as summer homes or vacation spots outsourced to Norwegians who can more easily outbid and afford Swedish country houses than Swedes because of their oil-fueled economy (no hard feelings to Norwegians :), They know I love them). Can you begin to understand our frustration?

We haven’t given up searching! But we’re going to need some more luck in our search ;) (OR you could just contact your nearest politician and/or entity-with-exorbitant-amounts-of-capital and voice our concerns).

Eggs That Will Put Hair on Your Chest

Introducing the magnificent, multitalented Muscovy duck (on the job)

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I really like this duck… Beyond the yellow yoked eggs (see below) that are sooo thick you need a machine to whip them or the amazing omelets (see below) it enables via it’s omnivorous diet, let me tell you a little bit about this amazing little duck (that’s not so little in size and dietary selectivity).Image

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So, what are the greatest characteristics of this duck? In my humble opinion,

–       It’s independent

–       Self-sufficient

–       and it just so happens to love eating slugs.

All of these characteristics go a long way in the temperate and artic conditions of Sweden. Especially among food producers having to cope with the quasi-recent Spanish influx of a certain type of veggie eating slug called the ‘mördarsniglar’ (influx is estimated to have happened sometime in between 1975-‘85).

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Directly translated, these slugs are called the ‘murder slugs’(!) or ‘killer slugs’ and have also strangely been called the ‘Spanish slug’ (though no one’s really certain where they originated, Spain seems to have been distant enough). Whether they came from Spain or not, one thing’s for certain (like the majority of invasive species), these little punks hitched a ride to Sweden with a little help from globalized forms of trade and they’ve had a ‘hay-day’ wreaking havoc on many of the greens grown here and throughout other parts of Europe.

Growing food in Stockholm on my small garden plot and coping with these murdering slugs was absolute hell. I became the murderer. I must have killed 20-30 slugs a day trying to keep them off my broccoli, kale and squash. Oh! How I wish I had some sort of hero to help me rid the garden of these pesky critters.

*Quack! Quack!* Enter our international hero, the Muscovy Duck

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The Muscovy Duck doesn’t actually come from Moscow, it comes from Mexico, Central and South America and happens to tolerate colder conditions exceptionally well. But not everybody in the world misconstrues the origin of this duck by name. Other languages like Swedish, Norwegian, French and Russian directly translate their title given to the duck into, ‘musk duck’ (some misunderstanding must have occurred in the English language).

When it comes to food, it’s an aggressive duck that has claws at the ends of it’s webbed feet, weighs in at 15 lbs (7 kg) as a male and 7 lbs as a female (3kg+), eats just about anything that moves (or doesn’t move) and it kind of looks like an eagle (with a friendly duck head) when it’s flying and lands on ponds like a pontoon plane – the kind of bird you don’t want to mess with if you’re a predatory species.

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On Öland, the Muscovy Ducks have a large role to play on farms and in gardens. At Dyestad Gård (an organic milk farm/artist community at location ‘B’ on the map in this earlier article), where I’ve been working and learning about small-scale farming, they simply let their ducks do what they want and I’ve yet to see a slug larger than my thumbnail on the premise. At Capella gård (an organic veggie farming and artist village on Öland at location ‘A’ on the map in this earlier article), where my wife is working, they ‘employ’ the ducks to protect the apple, pear, cherry and plumb trees from slugs.

And let me tell you, these little ‘quiet quackers’ do a fantastic job cleaning up house and providing us with the duel benefit of some amazing eggs. Though I must admit, one of my curiosities is in finding out how the taste of their eggs changes as their diets begin to change with the changing seasons – winter is coming!

Anyhow, if you have a slug problem, call in these ducks to do your dirty work and they’ll reward you with an amazing breakfast! (Chickens just don’t seem to have a pallet for slugs!)

‘I would do anything for love’ (…like break down a wooden fence)

Early morning last week, Wilhelm and I walked over to (farm owner) Henric’s to drink our morning coffee before milking the cows only to be unexpectedly rushed through our ritualistic ‘caffeination sensation’ because of a pair of disgruntled mothers. Looking out the window, mid-coffee, we saw two cows feeding outside… What didn’t make any sense about this visual from our perch by the windowsill was that there was supposed to be a fairly sturdy wooden gate between where these two cows were placed the night before and where they were feeding at that very moment. After further inspection, here’s what remained of that sturdy wooden gate (now reinforced by iron).

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I Would do Anything For Love

So, two questions you may or may not be asking yourself, 1) why did they so violently break down the fence? And 2) where were all the other cows? (If you don’t hangout with cows as much as I do, you may not know the finer details… So here they are,

  1. this particular farm has over 50 cows and
  2. cows are herding animals, they like to stick together and rarely separate from the herd. But these two cows were definitely separated and they seemed to be on a mission).

Luckily (!), these questions can be answered as one. One such rare time (though, not so rare to a cow farmer) a cow might separate from the herd is when they are going through ‘cow motherhood.’

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(notice the protective glance from Mamma Mooo)

Separation anxiety

As I said in an earlier post, cow mammas will often separate from the herd to give birth to their calves in a forest or field, often making it difficult for the farmer and potentially dangerous for the calf (depending on the prevalence in nearby predators: i.e. wolves, etc.). However, the other time a cow might separate from the herd is when she is in search of her calve(s). Hence, our broken wooden fence.

Most farmers will tell you from experience, the more a cow and her calf spend time together the more an unbreakable bond between them is formed (Henric said that if they spent 5-6 weeks together it was nearly impossible to separate them)*. The mammas who broke down the fence were with their calves for no more than four days before they were separated from each other (which is, by some, considered an excessive amount of time together).

For milking cows, who produce more than enough milk for both their calf and an extra milking, and for milking farmers, who have to cope with and juggle the socio-economic-ecological repercussions of a potentially volatile cow-calf separation anxiety relationship (which kind of goes hand-in-hand with meeting consumer milk demands in running a milk business), less time spent together is better (assuming a milk farmer wants to continue selling milk). The first 24 hours are legally and, more pertinent to the calf’s development, biophysically important to spend together. This has a lot to do with the milk that is produced in the first 24 hours called colostrum.

Colostrum

If you’re not familiar with colostrum (you really ought to wiki it (here’s a link)) it’s the super highly nutritious and immunity-system-boosting milk that is produced by every mammal within the first 24 hours (or more). Beyond the drastically different coloring from what most would consider ‘normal’ looking whole milk (it’s more of a dark, thick yellow), it’s loaded with immunoglobulins that aid the calves (and all other mammals) develop a strong immune system directly after birth.

New Friends and Family Reunions

As you can see from the picture below, the good news (speaking only for the lucky calves at Dyestad) is that the calves are not placed in an anti-social environment! (Wilhelm and I giving them new bedding and introducing new friends)Image

The mothers will often search for their calves for a while but, depending on how much time they’ve spent together before separation, will eventually give up searching (even though, whether they recognize each other or not, they do get to see each other twice a day during milking). The calves are still fed milk but only from a fake nipple.

After these calves reach a certain age (usually around 26 weeks) their diet has (hopefully) shifted from milk to grass fodder. At this point, they’re introduced first into a ‘teenager herd’ and, once they become mothers, finally back into the milking herd. The aim of course, is to make sure they’re eating grass side-by-side with their mothers and not drinking their mother’s milk, milk that will hopefully be making its way to local consumers (though I’ve seen some reintroduced calves pull a reversal and drink all their mother’s milk while farmers are left wondering where did all the milk go because the milk machine is pumping dry).

Understandably, this separation of cow and calf is painful to watch and hear while the mother cow is constantly searching and calling for her calf. It does seem to blow over after some time but it’s one of the paradoxes to our current food system that many of us never hear, see or experience.

*Beef rearing calves are given different treatment than milking cows. On organic farms, they often remain with their mothers until they are 1) decidedly ready to be slaughtered or, more often, 2) when another calf from the same mother comes into being.

Fäbod farming (a.k.a. no running water, no electricity farming)

“It was like a combination non-stop fieldwork on a hobbit-like meal plan”

Living the easy, yet not so easy life. No electricity, no running water only incredible organic food, a lot of love and a lot of time to reflect, smile and laugh.

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Two weeks ago Malin and I spend a week long vacation living and working on a Fäbod farm in Dalarna (see map).

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As you can see, the western side of Dalarna County is more mountainous as you head towards the border of Norway. So what’s a ‘fäbod?’ According to the Rättvik municipality (one of Dalarna County’s municipalities),

“it is really two words, “fä” and “bod” and together they simply mean “a place to put the livestock”. However, that is not enough to describe this very typical Swedish phenomenon. Actually it’s a summer grazing pasture.

We do not really know when exactly we started using fäbodar. The main theory, presented by Sigvard Montelius, suggests that in the old days the fields were small and hardly produced enough grain for the farmers and their families let alone provide grazing for the livestock. So the livestock had to graize in the forrests. When the farms changed into villages, due to distribution of estates, they had to go further and further away from home to find suitable pastures. Finally the distance was to great for them to be able to come home at night hence buildings were erected to house both livestock and the herds-girl (or boy). Yes, that’s right, herding the livestock was mainly the job for the young girl in the family or among the hired hands.

The fäbod tradition never died out completely in Dalarna but today it isn’t quite as hard. Women born in Dalarna are still called “kulla” and the men are called “mas”. These names originate from the “fäbodlife”.

A 100 years ago the fäbod life had its peak with about 20 000 fäbodar in the woods. Every village had at least one fäbod. The distance between the village and the fäbod varied but it could be as far away as 30-40 km.”

We stayed with an amazing couple named Ove and Yvonne in Kättboåsen,

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They let us settle into our small but extremely comfortable 1840s lodging for the week,

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and put us to work in the morning!

The plan of each day was rigorous and long but rewarding and (strangely) relaxing throughout. It was like a combination non-stop fieldwork on a hobbit-like meal plan. We went from 7am-9 or 10pm but also had about five or six meals/coffee breaks a day, which were thoroughly enjoyed by all.

We started each morning at 7am with coffee/tea (made over the fire place) and a simple breakfast of cracker bread & cheese in the main house,

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Our REAL breakfast was to be had after we tended to the animals first. That is, the 5 cows, 4 goats, 2 pigs, 54 chickens, 2 rabbits and 2 horses had to be either let out of the barn or fed accordingly,

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This feeding and letting out went quickly once we got the hang of it. The animals seemed just as anxious to move and get out into the forest as we were for our ‘second’ breakfast. We cleaned the barn of manure and threw it out the back of the barn (at which point the chickens would then scurry around back and pick out the most beautiful maggots) and strived to keep a dry barn with the application and use of hay and sawdust. We filled up water tanks, one with cold, the other with potential hot water (used for cleaning dishes, taking a shower, etc.) and started a fire under the potential hot water,

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All of the ‘filling’ was done by hand via wells that could be found throughout the property,

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Once every farm creature was fed or feeding, we went back to the house to eat breakfast number 2! This pictures doesn’t do justice to the actual color of yellow these yokes were (nor the homemade sourdough or goat salami),

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But you really were able to see the diversity of foods those chickens had the privilege to eat throughout the day… I’ve never eaten healthier, better tasting eggs.

After breakfast #2, which was drawn out, relaxed and enjoyable, we were on to the next daily task (which could be anything). For the first day, it was cutting and drying the hay. But no tractors were used in this processes. It was all horse powered,IMG_1123

Getting the racks set up and in place takes a little practice and a bit of muscle. But in truth, real success in hay racking has more to do with paying attention to weather patterns (the point is to dry the grass so that it can be stored for winter fodder for the animals). Malin was a quick learner,

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I preferred picking wild strawberries (kidding aside, this was merely another afternoon chore),

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Here’s the end result that our hosts kept telling us was one of the ‘finest racks of hay!’ (Malin and I couldn’t help but blush every time they said this),IMG_5541

The wonderful part about the afternoons was that they were always different so we never became bored with our task. That is, we knew that we had set chores with the animals in the mornings and evenings but the afternoon could be a crap shoot as to what we were going to do. Somethings were beyond our control (the weather, the calving of a cow (providing milk and cheese-making availability), the potential of somebody getting sick, etc.) Sometimes we were moving heavy things into storage,

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Sometimes we were weeding the garden,IMG_5477

Sometimes we were sewing a field full of heirloom, perennial rye,

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A lot of times we were chopping wood (much of the Fäbod’s energy dependence came from the forest),

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Or sawing down trees that the goats had killed by eating all the bark off….

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But almost all the time there was ample time for storytelling, walks and curiosities to be explored. Like how did that saw get stuck in there?

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Or how did that cat get up there?

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Around 2pm we had our big meal. After this meal I often felt like passing out for a power nap but Malin was ready to work in no time. A few cups of coffee later I was ready too. There was always something to do. Somethings were more necessary than others (e.g. bailing dry hay from racks into a barn before a rain storm blew in) and sometimes you had to apply yourself more than others.

By our second or third afternoon coffee break, we were nearing evening and the time to bring in the animals. We called and hollered for all the animals to head back to the barn and they usually came without a fuss (we usually left them a little treat by their place in the barn that they gladly ate up when they arrived). The animals essentially walked themselves into their own specific place in the barn and began to settle in for the night.

We washed our hands and prepared to milk Silvö, one of the rare fjällkos (Swedish Mountain cows) who was still milking (most of the others were expecting calves any day). Here’s Malin at work,IMG_0554

After one more meal, and some pre-planning for the following day before bed, Malin and I would head back to our little sleeping quarters… Absolutely pooped!IMG_5489

I know that I’ve written primarily about the animals and daily tasks of the fäbod lifestyle, but what perhaps impressed me most about this experience was how such a food-farming-practitioner-‘lifestyle’ encouraged and engendered a sort of humble, hardworking personality merely by default. You were directly able to see the results of your labor, you were physically tired but content by the end of the day. It certainly wasn’t easy labor, but 1) you didn’t have to do all the work (the animals took care of themselves for the most part, you only had to orchestrate! Easier said than done…) and 2) you got to eat incredible, yellow yoked eggs: work was edible(y) rewarding.

I will write more reflections about this farm in future posts.

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Milking Cows (like a boss)

I spent the first of many weeks to come working at a small-scale organic milk farm on Öland. After spending time in Dalarna and Värmland (which are further north than Öland latitudinally) have thinner soils, more mountainous terrain and more difficult growing conditions, Öland feels like a Mecca of growth. The island also has the advantage of being one of the handful of regions in Sweden rich with calcium, which nurtures a greater variety of vegetation.

It’s located in the southeast corner of Sweden, right across from Kalmar, and it looks like a long thin sliver.Screen Shot 2013-07-12 at 15.48.05

My commute from Malin’s school in Vickleby to Dyestad is about 26 km and takes 1-1.5 hours depending on wind and rain.

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I couldn’t ask for a more beautiful biking commute. It’s filled with prehistorical stone arrangements, 17th century windmills and hazelnut forests. Oh, and it’s also super flat and absolutely gorgeous.

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A lot of tourist come here during the summer to relax, try tasty cheeses, look at birds and buy expensive art (i.e. there’s a bit of disposable income, which is good for the local economy).

And so what am I actually doing? A lot of different things… But more generally I’m working on a ‘small’ scale milk farm. Daunting to me, the farm (consisting of fairly vast and lush forests, fields and meadows) is over 100 hectares and somehow is still not, by any means, considered ‘large scale farming.’ I’ve been able to see a large chunk of the farm through the tasks that I’ve been bequeathed by Henric, owner/farmer/co-founding Kultivator member (an international artist/farming collaboration, more on this later). Here’s Henric handing me the keys to my new ride, a ’57 Volvo tractor.

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I spend a lot of time with that Volvo listening to books on tape while I’m moving things, mowing grass and watching wildlife, like these two ducks fornicating in the middle of the road (I stalled my tractor waiting patiently for them to finish).
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Here’s a hawk you can barely make out right above the trees.IMG_0650

I had a sense of pride for my work yesterday when one of the cows had twins in a field I had just mowed during yesterday’s thunderstorm. The calves were aptly named Thor and Freja after the norse gods associated with thunder and fertility/harvest.

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What you should probably understanding about this situation is that when cows calve, they don’t willfully return back to the barn (as they normally and ritualistically do with a little bit of shepherding, and/or calling for them – they are herding animals). Instead they situate themselves somewhere in a forest or field, give birth to their calf and then direct their calf to lie flat and stay quite, “I’ll come back to you soon.” At which point the mother goes off to feed and such. These directions don’t always make it easy for farmers to find the newborn calves because they’re frankly pretty good at hiding and keeping quiet. There’s also the danger that a predator animal will find the calf first. Henric told me that if I had not clipped the grass in this field it would have been very difficult to find these two laying low in high grass. So I felt smug for a brief moment.IMG_0679IMG_0680IMG_0698

More updates soon!

“First comes food then morality” – Bertolt Brecht

The short version: As of this moment, I’ve moved to Öland for the summer and am on a self-imposed quasi-historical, gastronomical, volunteer-oriented exploration of small-scale Swedish food production. As many of you know, my academic focus has had me living, working and collaborating with small-scale farmers throughout Sweden and I’ve loved it! From the things that I’ve seen, smelled, heard, tasted and experienced I think it would be a down right shame to keep such adventures, tales and experiences all to myself.

IMG_0639(a ole’ overgrown hazelnut orchard at the farm on Öland)

The longer version: A few years ago I left much of what I was doing in my hometown Seattle, WA (running a fitness and health business, living among family and friends) to move to Sweden… in the name of love! (Why not follow my heart?!) So I went to live with my Swedish girlfriend (now wife/life partner) and study (more deeply) a subject matter that I have unrelentingly continued to care about: the infinitely broad topic of health.

The problem, as many of you health gurus may well know, is that the subject of ‘health’ isn’t entirely easy to define in clear-cut boundaries (in fact, most studied ‘things’ end up in a similar conundrum: no ‘objective boundaries,’ only socially constructed boundaries). Health, in all its relational glory, spans, crisscrosses, layers, jumps and overlaps temporal and spatial boundaries. It’s political, it’s ecological, it’s cultural, it’s individual and simultaneously communal, it’s historical and it’s ever-changing!

I’ll use myself as a guinea pig example, my individual ‘health’ (which, for our running definition, incorporates all forms of health (mental, physical, spiritual, etc.)) is based not only on my practice of daily physical exercises but the relationships I have and maintain among my friends and family, along with the foods that I eat (I realize that I’m stopping short of the many other non-listed, health-contingent relationships) – which would necessitate our focus into the health of the ecological region that produced that food (i.e. the soil quality, plant diversity, climate, pollution, etc.) as well as the health of the people/community that co-labored with that ecosystem to produce that food (who have simultaneously kept me psychologically happy during this period of time), non of which can be noted in entirety without their own distinct contexts and history(s)!

So where do we begin looking into the interesting relational qualities of ‘health?’ Where might we draw the line(s) when it comes to understanding, and thus promoting, better health? Especially when we can’t seem to get a solid scalar grasp on where we should set the boundaries? Ought we to scour our nearby communities for answers? Or must we look within and beyond our biological and geophysical regions? (Seeing that, 1. Swedes are the second highest per capita coffee drinkers (only to be over caffeinated by their northern neighbors, the Finns) and 2. I have yet to see a coffee bush growing in this cold land, I would answer the last two above questions with an astute “Yes and Yes, political borders be damned!”) How do we understand ‘health’? I’d argue that we have to look at ‘health’ from as many different angles, scales, disciplines and interactions as abductively feasible (in a C.S. Peirce ‘abduction’ kind of way – see http://www.helsinki.fi/science/commens/terms/abduction.html).

Aim:

I’ll cut to the chase and admit that my intention with this blog is not really to draw lines but rather connect dot (many, many dots) in order to reveal untold and perhaps forgotten stories about our changing perceptual understanding of health. I intent to actively explore the ever-expanding topic of ‘health’ by writing about it in relation to:

1) Food in all it’s glory. However, in the next few months I’ll specifically be focusing on what it’s like to grow food on small-scale Swedish farms (where I happen to be volunteering – see below) and how farming methods have changed and how this historically relates to,

2) Political Economics (examining the current contradictions that our global political economic system poses with regard to a. the growing ‘metabolic rift’ between town and countryside and b. what this rift means in relation to the future viability for small-scale farming without political interference. Do we have more sustainable-ish alternatives? What would these alternative entail? Who’s exploring them?)

3) Physical fitness (not only do I intend to write about workouts and different forms of fitness training, I aim to highlight ‘physical fitness’ as a historically emergent discipline. How did it become what it is today? From Swedish nationally sponsored gymnasiums to fitness trainers, from the ancient Greek Olympics to the Boy Scouts, We’ll explore the historical, political and circumstantial details)

4) History (Generally, I’ll be lacing an element of history into everything I look at. I’ll try to touch on historical landscapes, cultures, political changes AND FOOD-based history)

5) (I also plan on posting lots of cool pictures and local fantastic recipes! DIY activities)

(To repeat the above) as of this moment, I’ve moved to Öland for the summer and am on a self-imposed quasi-historical, gastronomical, volunteer-oriented exploration of small-scale Swedish food production. My academic focus has had me living, working and collaborating with small-scale farmers throughout Sweden up to this point and I’ve loved it. From the things that I’ve seen, smelled, heard, tasted and experienced I think it would be a down right shame to not share such adventures, tales and experiences.

Snuggling Has Become a Commodity

I’ve thought long and hard about the historical absurdity of my own previous profession as a personal trainer/health coach. Not that I’m judging personal training as a ‘bad’ profession. In fact, I find it to be one of the most admirable professions available and will continue to be a promoter of heuristic health until the day I die. My point is more economical and historical. When in human history have people ever needed (to pay) a coach in order to promote human physical active? (Maybe during the Roman empire???)

“I am myself and my circumstances. If I cannot save my circumstances, I cannot save myself.” – Ortega y Gasset (1914)

Throughout most of western history (better yet, ALL of known human history), merely living one’s life and working for a living incorporated a status quo of physical activity – until recently. ‘Fitness training,’ and specifically ‘personal training,’ is a very historically embedded job that wasn’t really available as an accepted practice, say, 50 years ago. Sure, some people made a living out of it (i.e. Eugen Sandow, Charles Atlas, Professor K.V. Iyer, etc.) and athletic training and gymnastics have been around for a really long time (mostly in conjunction with military service). What I’m trying to point out, is that our physical, environmental and ideological circumstances have to be altered to such an extent that there is a marketable need for, say, personal training. I’d even say that most of us are so hypnotized by the idea of ‘technological and innovative progress’ (cars, highways, home delivery, industrial production, iPhones (yes, even iPhones) etc.) that we’ve neglected to notice the detriment this has done to our humanistic needs.

Enter the Snuggery. The Snuggery is a cuddling profession started by a woman in NY who genuinely wants to help others heal with physical touch. That is, she charges $60 and hour for cuddling. No sexual anything is allowed and for precautions she always has somebody else in the house during cuddle sessions. Professionally and financially, she’s doing quite well.

I have the utmost empathy for her because I too believe that the current circumstantial environment of western society is in dire need for more close, physical touch (and there is medical research to back up the benefits of snuggling). But let me ask you to think long and hard about the historical and circumstantial implications of this – we’re putting a price-tag on cuddling. Cuddling(!).

Again, I’m definitely not judging her – She’s not swindling hundreds of millions of dollars by cuddling strangers, she’s paying for food and housing. My judgement is saved for the political economic system that has turned a blind eye to the communal, humanistic needs of society. I’m judging a neoliberal system of markets that, with the help of an unquestioned growing disparity in the spectrum of wealth and power, have alter our circumstantial environments in such uneven development that there is now a market for cuddling. My mind is absolutely boggled… I feel the greatest temptation to say to our society, “we should be ashamed of ourselves for allowing our circumstances to come to this. Cuddling need not be a monetary exchange! Get to know your neighbors and don’t be afraid to hug them.”

How do we begin to address this (short of a political, economic, ecological revolution)? Start a ‘cuddle revolution.’

Forever Chasing the Magic of Music

It was a sudden realization, the feeling of loss simultaneously mixed with smugness. The smugness came from newly applied knowledge. I had begun to learn how to play the guitar and felt much more confident in my musical abilities. When listening to a song, I could now easily decipher and place my singular focus on the sounds produced by the bass guitar, the lead guitar and the drums. I could separate them out and this gave me a sense of power, accomplishment and pride. But in doing so, I began to realize how this changed my experience of listening to the songs.

The magic of the song was partly missing. Not because the songs were being played any differently but because I could see myself focusing on each instrument separately, rather than on just allowing myself to experience the complex, ‘unknown’ combinations of voices, instruments and poetry weaving together into an amalgam of magic. I was like a scientist dissecting and compartmentalizing the magic of an old growth forest. A forest that once gave me a sense of ‘awe’ due to the ‘unknown’ combinations of life unraveling before my eyes, now became ideologically ‘knowable’ by its parts (plants and fauna). But this smug ideological knowingness, the belief that I could now know all the parts, noticeably plagued my magical experience of listening to music.

“I think of my suffering, of the problem of my suffering. What am I suffering from? From knowledge — is it going to destroy me? What am I suffering from? From sexuality — is it going to destroy me? How I hate it, this knowledge which forces even art to join it! How I hate it, this sensuality, which claims everything fine and good is its consequence and effect. Alas, it is the poison that lurks in everything fine and good! — How am I to free myself of knowledge? By religion? How am I to free myself of sexuality? By eating rice?” – Thomas Mann

I specifically remember being saddened by this loss-of-magic feeling and wondered two things, 1) if it really was a good idea to have taken up guitar lessons? And 2) would it ever be possible to experience music in the same magical way again, now that I was focusing on the parts that made up the song rather than the whole that was enabled by the parts?

After many years of reflection I might answer #2 by simply saying simultaneously ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ I do experience magic through music but the experience is different than my experiences when I was younger. But with deeper reflection the truth is, these are impossible questions to answer (even though such reflections should not be ignored). That is, I could never go back in time and unlearn how to play the guitar. I could never erase my memories (they’ve already tried this in the 1950s with shock therapy, which turned out to be a total catastrophe). Instead, I could only continue to chase after that feeling, the magic experienced through music.

It wasn’t until college that my focus was drawn back to this ‘loss-of-magic feeling,’ but not by my own accord. I had been playing and singing a lot of music throughout high school and college. I was in musicals, a capella groups, choir and jam bands, but my favorite thing to do was improvisational jamming during live performances – e.g. jazz solo scatting. At one point I told my classically trained music friend, Chris Marianette, that I was ashamed I hadn’t really learned how to read music fully. But when I told him that I was going to begin learning, his reply shocked me. He said, “No! That’s a horrible idea.” He told me that he was frankly more impressed by the way that I sang because, unlike many of his classically trained friends, I wasn’t thinking about the notes, I was feeling the music. I sang what felt right in that specific moment.

This answer confused me. I knew that my ability to play music would be significantly hindered by not learning how to read music but Chris was telling me that, in doing so, I would lose part of my ‘magical touch.’ It seemed like a paradox.

What I’ve come to realize, after waaaay too much philosophy and theoretical reading, is that it is a paradox. The paradox of chasing after magic, analogous to scientific research, is something that we must all uncomfortably accept. The more we know, the more we realize how little we know.

Magic as a Process to be Lived

“The highest and most beautiful things in life are not to be heard about, nor read about, nor seen but, if one will, are to be lived.” -Soren Kierkegaard

In my humble opinion, to rekindle the magic (of music, scientific research, the generally ‘unknown,’ and the feeling of ‘awe’) we cannot ideologically assume magic is an ‘it,’ rather, a process; a journey to be lived. The process is derived by the combination of the living/moving parts that make up the whole and the whole that are made up by the parts. It’s like a continually moving, back-and-forth, Socratic dialogue between parts and wholes which, when understood as a process, are inseparable from one another.

Take a song for example. Good music, the kind of music that gives us goosebumps, is not only a utilization of separate parts or instruments that are played. If everybody in a band just played their separate instruments without listening to each other (the whole), the music would be stale and horrible sounding. It would carry no feeling if there wasn’t a group effort that was continually striving for group harmony; reaching collaboratively together for that unreachable star.

This harmony is, of course, always dynamically changing and never the same. Even though every musician may be playing the exact same notes, their feelings, the time of day, the weather, the audience who may (or may not) be listening, the culturally distinct epoch in history, are all woven into the music being played at that very moment. This makes the music always uniquely and contextually different from previous performances, every time.

Musicians have the simultaneous task of playing their separate parts while checking in, consistently, with the whole – do we sound good together? Am I playing too fast? How do I adjust to meld with everybody else? Over time, with group practice and collaborative effort, musicians no longer have to ask these sorts of questions. They simply live in the music. They live the magic.

Magic is then understood as a lived, experienced, collaborative process, never as a moment frozen in time. By living the magic, musicians are no longer chasing after it. By ideologically shifting from once striving to separate out the instruments to enabling harmony, the smugness evaporates. With smugness out of the way, the paradox becomes one woven singularity and the magic returns… All at once, that same feeling that I had while listening to songs before I learned how to play the guitar comes flooding back… the same feeling but different.

Mutualism in the Garden

We’ve been having a little bit of trouble in the garden. And when I say ‘little,’ I truly mean no-big-deal

As you can see, we have a jungle of veggies in one of our many garden plots and they all appear to be lusciously happy! This ‘trouble’ I speak of should be considered less of a complaint and more of a ‘cool-thing-to-show-people-about-mutualism-and-the-enabling-organic-use-of-space.’ I should say that our Stockholm gardens have been nurtured daily by ourselves or by our friendly neighbors when we’re out of town. AND we’ve planned all of our gardens with companion species in mind.

Companion species are plants or animals that have been found to mutually aid one another. Where the ancient knowledge of species companionship and/or mutualism came from is beyond me. Most likely it came from your grandparents or their grandparents (or their grandparents) who had spent enough time in the garden to noticed, “Hey! The fennel AND the broccoli grew MUCH better this year when they were grown next to each other rather than last year when they were individually planted by themselves.’

In order to fully grasp the companion species concept we sort of have to set aside our Darwinian belief of ‘survival of the fittest’ and think more along the lines of Kropotkin’s rule of thumb: ‘greater diversity and dynamics are better for the survival of ALL’ rather than putting all our eggs into one basket.

Anyhow, back to the ‘trouble’… We’ve had some black aphids that we’ve found to, not only be pest species but, have their own mutualistic relationships as well! (picture)

Aphids and ants help each other out. The aphids suck the sugars from our absolutely beautiful garden plants and secretes a sugar that the ants eat. The ants, in turn, provide some sort of protection for the aphids and their kin (perhaps against ladybugs and the like?). It’s kind of like Darth Vader and the Emperor in Star Wars or the pact between Sauron and the Orcs in Lord of the Rings.

Luckily! We have our own mutualism going on.(Picture)

Today I found this wonderful spider dining on aphids. Notice where she decided to set up camp. This is one of our Krasse flowers (Swedish for Nasturtium) which tend to be fantastic at mutually helping just about ALL of your garden veggies. Two weeks ago, this picture wouldn’t have been possible. Big the growth of the flower leaf has spatially enabled a livable home for a spider that is now mutually aiding and protecting our garden plants. Thanks so much lil’ guy!

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