Gåltjärns Farm, Sundsvall

Conversation with Amanda Alskog

When we arrive at the farm, Amanda Alskog is in the processing kitchen, wearing an apron and kitchen boots, finishing up cleaning after some beetroot juice forced its way out of the large fermentation vessel that was filled a couple of days ago.  “Me and Magnus moved to the farm in 2017 and started growing vegetables. Magnus is the sixth generation here on the farm.”

Gåltjärns Gård, previously known as Gårdtjärn, was a dairy farm until 2013. Just before its closure, a dairy facility was constructed. “They had almost completed the dairy when we moved here, so we thought we could also try making cheese. We did that for almost a year but realized it was difficult to combine with vegetable farming. Cheese production is heavily regulated, with strict cleanliness requirements and you need to flip the cheeses every day. It meant showering and changing clothes each time, and it didn’t work well for us,” she explains.

After that, the space remained vacant until a month ago when the environmental health department paid a visit and approved it for food processing again. Amanda recounts that the meeting with the environmental health department went well. “At first, it felt a bit intimidating when she kept mentioning ‘sanction fee’ several times, which made me a bit hesitant. But then they called again and were more positive, and when they came here, they were very positive. It felt like they had some respect because it used to be a dairy, and we had already been approved by the central food agency. We had gone through a lot back then, which has helped us now. We knew that water samples would be taken, hygiene zones would be established, and an HACCP plan would be required. It was nothing out of the ordinary. We have two refrigeration rooms, and we can bring in the vegetables from the outer door. We also have a rough wash area in the barn. We bought a vegetables processor and big fermentation buckets last spring. Now we’re in the testing phase, but we work with quite large batches,” she says, pointing to the 60-liter bucket filled with beetroot and ginger. “We sowed the beets early but didn’t have time to harvest them. They were left to their fate and grew gigantic, but they didn’t become woody. They were super delicious, and the fermentation process was quick. My dad used to ferment vegetables, and we’ve received a lot of ceramic crocks from him. Every autumn, we planned to start fermenting, but it didn’t happen on a larger scale until now. We fermented cabbage, maybe a total of 100 kg, which was sold in the farm shop.”

For the sauerkraut, Amanda usually gathers wild cumin and juniper berries that grow on the farm every year. She prefers juniper berries as a seasoning. “I enjoy sauerkraut with everything – on sandwiches, with meals, in stews. I haven’t been eating many other ferments lately – now I have to get used to beets…”

We walk out of the hygiene zone and into the barn, where there are five cubic crates filled with very nice cabbage heads. “Most of it is Castello, but we have also tried Drago and another variety – since Castello is not available as organic seed, we want to move away from it. We have tried other varieties, but they haven’t been nearly as good so far. Although it has been a bit difficult to keep track of Drago – I marked it very carefully when I sowed the seeds, but then we got stressed during the planting process – and now I don’t know which one it is.”

Amanda and Magnus cultivate vegetables on 1.5 hectares and have experimented with different cultivation techniques. “My dad used to cultivate on drills, and we have done the same for the cabbage. On the plot up here, we have 30-meter beds where we practice no-till. We have a BCS two-wheel tractor with a tiller and have bought in compost. We’re also trying to get a handle on the weeds in different ways. Magnus has welded a deep cultivator that follows behind the tractor. The broad forks are too heavy but good exercise,” Amanda remarks (I agree). “We have 200 beds, and it’s quite tiring to walk through all of them. This year, Magnus welded a loosener that goes under the carrots, so we don’t have to use the forks.”

Looking forward

We have good communication with our customers, and they are quite interested. We have a good conditions to grow cabbage and carrots, and if we can establish the sales, we will try to ferment in the autumn, store them over winter, and sell them in spring and summer. It would fit well with what we do otherwise.

“When it comes to pricing, we try to match the prices of Swedish organic products,” she explains. “It would be great if we could sell everything ourselves and avoid the wholesaler. Here in Sundsvall, not all stores have lacto-fermented products on their shelves, especially not from Sweden.”

Gåltjärns Gård is now a community-supported agriculture with 130 members. The vegetable boxes are delivered to several pickup locations in Sundsvall on Thursdays, while some are picked up directly from the farm. They also have a conveniently arranged vegetable stand inside a container that serves as the farm shop.

Amanda Alskog participated in Förädlingsodling: mjölksyrning för småskalig grönsaksodlare autumn 2021 at Hornuddens Trädgård in Strängnäs.

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