VESTER NORGE – FRIDAY 31ST MARCH TO SATURDAY 14TH APRIL
This week our jobs have revolved around us completing the fence we began clearing up last week. Though there was still plenty of room for other little jobs around the farm. I confess, we have both been so exhausted from the the work that I haven’t been keeping up my daily journal, so this week’s post will be more of a summary of our time in general, rather than a blow-by-blow account.
On Saturday we had a lunch guest, Marie – one of the co-operative that Frederick and Kirsten had been instrumental in setting up in the late 70’s. Marie had been an au pair in London in 70’s so, brilliantly, her English accent is set in the London of Ronnie Briggs and Michael Caine!
Later that evening we were told by Kirsten that we’d been invited to a BBQ at the old co-op farm where Marie still lives and works (seemingly we’d made a good impression upon her). So on Sunday evening, after spending our day weeding and continuing the mammoth task of digging up 200m of sheep fence, we hopped in the car for the short drive to the old place.
Sidenote: Frederick and Kirsten
Now is probably an opportune time to introduce our hosts at Vester Norge. In many ways it has been they who have made our time on the farm truly special.
Frederick comes from a family of farmers, from the north of Jutland. Think of it like the Cornwall of Denmark. He grew up with six siblings and worked from a very young age on his family farm. When he was just four years old he used to sit under the cows to milk them by hand. He worked on his family farm; then as a brick layer’s mate; in a slaughterhouse; then in an iron foundry. He is a man with work in his bones, and now in his late 60’s, still has the energy and strength to run his farm, which he designed and built himself after he and Kirsten bought it twenty one years ago.
As easy as getting milk from a cow…
Frederick told us one day, without boasting, that he had once walked 300km in one week. Oh, and run 100km in a day. As a young man, he determined that he would one day have a farm, but he would never do so without a wife. This is where Kirsten comes in.
Kirsten is an amazing woman. A couple of weeks before we arrived she had just had her second knee replaced, so was off work to recover. Normally, as well as farming, she works as special needs assistant and educator, which she trained to do aged forty. Every day she bakes fresh bread, and takes vegetables from their own garden to prepare food. She also makes her own jam with fruits from the farm. Kirsten said to us one day that she would feel like she had failed if she ever had to buy bread or jam from a shop! She has a natural talent for languages, and can talk for Denmark, and is always interesting, intelligent, and well informed in conversation.
Kirsten and Frederick met at a meeting for young people interested in a farming revolution in the 60’s. Both wanted to move away from industrial food production, and towards a more sustainable, organic model of farming. They were soon an item, and before long were married and had a daughter on the way, with three more to come over the subsequent decade. At the same time they were founding members of a new farming cooperative, eventually with seven others, who wanted to create a new way. In their bid to change the world,, some hippies travelled, some smoked weed and took LSD, and some set up farms. This was Frederick and Kirsten’s contribution.
Back to Sunday evening. In the car Kirsten warned us that the co-op had a very different feel to their farm. As we pulled into the short drive we could immediately see what she meant. Where Vester Norge was idyllic, this was functional; while Vester Norge was a home, this was a place of work. Firstly, this farm was clearly on a larger scale. The barns and sheds were enormous and industrial. Great stacks of carrots and potatoes sat in crates waiting for shipping in the yard, there were pallets strewn around, and weeds poked through cracks in the concrete ground.
Though as Frederick toured us around the place it took on a different character. One of energy and hope and ambition. He told us how they had hand poured all of the concrete, and build the buildings themselves with the help of his brother – a building engineer. We could see the labour and effort all around.
After Marie’s wonderful BBQ dinner, with yet more amazing salads (I think it must be a thing here!), Frederick took us to the dairy side of the co-op, which had recently had the addition of a new shed for the cows. Again, the change in scale from Vester Norge was immediately apparent. The new shed was vast and filled with technology: the floors were giant conveyer belts to remove the manure, and great mechanical doors facilitated the movement of the cows.
Frederick and his friend showing us round the old co-op farm:
However, Frederick’s pride was evident. Grinning excitedly, he showed me an old tyre welded to an ageing tractor – used to push silage into the feed troughs – which he had invented in the 80s. Hannah asked him how it felt seeing the place, changed, yet still very much in his image. His answer was wistful and modest, but there was a glint in his eye. We could all see he thought that it was better in his day. And we all believed it, too.
Monday was more work on the fence, and after dinner we all sat til late into the evening playing Bezique – a French card game they played with almost all of their close friends.
The weather on Tuesday was dreadful, so we were given a morning’s respite from farm work. However, now that we had begun our fence we both felt we had something to complete; we had our own mark we could leave on the farm. Frederick took us out into the woods and cut us some fence posts, so we could set about stripping them of bark, and setting them in the ground. After more than a week of physical labour, however, Hannah was finally beaten. She had been quiet all morning (which I know is a sign of her chronic pain), and then, stripping her third post, it had all become too much, and she had succumbed to sleep rather than continue exhausted and in pain. Waking her gently, I took her back inside to rest properly in bed. We both knew that the more physical tasks were over for her.
Hannah strips bark for a fence post:
We were joined on Wednesday by two of the daughters, Anna and Sarje, visiting from Copenhagen. Phil continued working on the fence, and Hannah helped in the house and baked scones for us all. Friday, and our subsequent departure, was looming, so Phil worked that evening too, to finish our fence. With the girls there the place took on more of a family feeling. We now ate great feasts in the dining room. Frikadeller, Roast beef, brunsviger cake (which my mum used to make, too). Delicious. And always fresh bread, cheese, and homemade jam.
The finished fence:
We had had some more new additions to the herd this week, too. But on Thursday, Frederick rushed back from the afternoon milking shouting for us. Another calf was being born right then! We dashed out to the shed in time to watch the last few contractions, with the front hooves poking out. Then, all of a sudden, laying down with one rear leg in the air and a final push, the calf came. For a few seconds it was still. Then a twitch, and we could see all was well.
Two minutes old:
At dinner on Thursday night we were presented with gifts of Bezique (the card game we had played together) and Lego. We had played Bezique with them on a couple of evenings during our stay and enjoyed the game; and the farm was very close to Legoland! Then, all too quickly, on Friday morning we departed for Copenhagen. We took the Rød Billet bus for £20 each, leaving Jutland via the 1.6km New Little Belt Bridge to Funen, and an hour later crossing the Great Belt to Zealand over the 18km Great Belt Bridge (Storebæltsbroen). Finally, we arrived in Copenhagen to cold and rain, from where I write this. More on Copenhagen next week…
Hannah and Phil x