Food by VICE

Why This Sea Urchin Diver Is Building an Arctic Farm for the Future

Amid the rugged and icy mountains of Norway, one couple's mission to create an Arctic farm for the future is growing.

by Roddie and Lindis Sloan
Oct 6 2016, 3:00pm
Foto: Martin Finnedal

All photos by Martin Finnedal.

Scotsman Roddie Sloan supplies sea urchins and mahogany clams to some of the world's best restaurants, from Noma in Copenhagen to St. John in London. He lives with his wife Lindis, who is an anthropologist, their three sons and a dog in Steigen, north of the Arctic Circle in Norway. This is where Roddie dives into the sea to handpick his catch even when it's ungodly cold.

The family is in love with the area. They have a deep interest in what they eat, and they have bought an old 2.4 square kilometer piece of land—slightly larger than the state of Monaco—which they are turning into a fully functioning farm, growing anything from carrots to garlic (the most successful crop thus far) amid the rugged and icy mountains. Their mission is to create an Arctic farm for the future.

Roddie Sloan: The purpose of this farm is to do something experimental in the Arctic. We'll be looking at what kinds of food you can grow in the Arctic. Food which maybe you couldn't grow before. We'll try anything: From permaculture to different levels of industrialized farming. Im looking to build a knowledge base of Arctic food here. So when people look back 25 years from now they have this knowledge base from the farm, but also on fishing. If we have climate change then we have to be proactive. And taking on this farm is a way of being proactive about climate change in the north. We want to find out what we can grow and what we can't grow. What's disappearing and what's coming back. The way people think about food now is very different from when I grew up. If you look back two centuries you see that what was edible back then is being rediscovered now.

Foto: Martin Finnedal

Roddie and Lindis Sloan at their farm.

Lindis Sloan: We both have full time jobs. Roddie is on the sea or doing all kinds of other projects, and I have a full time job as an anthropologist at the Center for Gender Equality in Nordfold. So handling this amount of farmland is quite the job. In Norway you can't just buy a farm and leave registered farmland to its own devices. You actually have to run the land. Eventually I think we'll have pigs in the forest like old times. And sheep on the meadows. We're looking into old breeds of sheep. The ones that, unlike modern races, also eat leaves from the trees. When I grew up you wouldn't see a single birch tree round the fjord. Now it's full of them.

Foto: Martin Finnedal

Roddie Sloan: When I grew up in the rural countryside of Scotland, my job for the weekends was working on the farm. Every summer holiday and every Christmas. After coming here to Norway I've built a career as a fisherman, supplying top of the line restaurants with sea urchins and mahogany clams, but before that I was a farmer, a chef and even a baker. I've worked with food since I was 10 years old. Now I'm back to being a farmer, but a coastal one. The idea was always to combine farming and fishing. What attracted us about this place were the opportunities for experimenting. We have two rivers on the farm which means that we in the future can draw electricity from one of them and maybe run a bread mill from the other. Thinking of energy is really important. Also we have seven different types of soil, so we can experiment with different crops.

Foto: Martin Finnedal

Lindis Sloan: The inspiration for buying the farm came from the TV show River Cottage. Creating a home that was also a food base. We are the kind of people who would never be happy growing tomatoes in a windowsill. I keep thinking that my grandmother would be happy to watch me knitting. Although some of the things we do here would seem absolutely nuts to her, like making sorbet out of the leaves of rowan trees. It tastes like marzipan, it's mad.

My grandparents grew up here. During the war my grandfather was obsessed with growing his own kale. It is the only vegetable that can grow here all year round. It can even grow under the snow. My grandfather during the war was of the very strong opinion that people who did not grow their own kale should have their rations taken away. We have always been big in local vegetables in this family. Even when I tasted spinach for the first time, I was convinced it was actually homegrown kale.

Foto: Martin Finnedal

Roddie Sloan: We want people to come and share their knowledge. We try and keep it as open-source as possible. It's about building ideas and inspiring people. It should be a place where people can come and feel at peace. That's why we invite interns here and they are part of developing the farm and they also become part of the family. This summer, our intern Jack invited his friends from London for a week and they all helped paint the barn. The commune of Steigen where we live is a very special community. It is very remote and just 25 years ago, before the tunnel was built, every journey from town to town was by sea. If you go to London and sit on the tube, you can avoid any kind of interaction, but here, that's not an option. Here, you depend on each other and that's why you will always find a bed to share.

Foto: Martin Finnedal

Lindis Sloan: Roddie hates everything from sheep. His loathing goes as far as goat's cheese. On the farm where he grew up, he was part of one too many lambings. He says it's like being in a city where everyone suddenly checked in to the maternity ward. Lots of blood and guts and gore there. To this day even just the smell of wool is more than he can stomach. But to me it's part of the dream to knit from wool from our own sheep. My stepfather has around 300 heads and they are part of managing his lands. It's my dream to have sheep of the old breeds. I have many dreams. Some of the soil here is really old seabed and I want to grow my own asparagus. It's nothing like the ones flown in from Peru. They taste of nothing.

Foto: Martin Finnedal

Roddie Sloan: I'm 46 years old, so this is my last project. This is the legacy project. When I die, I hope that my sons will say that this was a really great thing mom and dad did together. We want to make a place where both the land and the people can grow in the future.

As told to Martin Finnedal.

Every day this week, MUNCHIES is exploring the future of food on planet Earth, from lab-grown meat and biohacking to GMOs and the precarious state of our oceans. Find out more here.