To help the farm run, the couple sometimes rely on volunteers, and there were several during my visit. Ronny, from Germany, came to them through the organization WWOOF, or Willing Workers on Organic Farms. He was incredibly hardworking and wanted to learn everything he could from Per Christian, with the intent of perhaps running his own farm someday. Then there were three Spanish nurses, Marta, Pablo and Susana. They had recently completed a program that recruits nurses to learn Norwegian and find nursing positions in Norway. While they searched and interviewed for jobs, volunteering made it inexpensive to stay in the country and continue to practice Norwegian. The whole group made for a fascinating cultural melting pot, and really helped to complete all the work around the farm.
Per Christian's House
The cattle herd was just getting established when I visited, and the first two calves were on their way. The first was born with what was likely a selenium deficiency, making it very weak. It was found abandoned by its mother and nearly frozen early the morning it was born. Per Christian brought it into the house and laid it next to the fire wrapped in blankets. Its tongue lolled out, and even after warming up and attempting to feed it, the calf was unable to stand. The vet was called and she only gave it a 50/50 chance of survival at best. To everyone’s delight the calf could stand the next morning, but by the end of the day he had taken a turn for the worst and didn’t make it. The second pregnant cow then became a priority and everyone took shifts throughout the coming nights to check on it. About a week later, the calf was born soon after daybreak, happy and healthy. The mother licked it clean and all the other members of the herd came to pay their respects to the new little one. Per Christian was overjoyed.
Most of Per Christian’s attention was focused on farming oysters. He owns land along the fjord, and has agreements with several landowners in the area to be able to collect oysters on their property. The process entails donning waterproof waders and, in winter, many many wool socks. Then it’s out to trudge through the water armed with rakes and buckets. The oysters are dug up from the shore bed, dumped on a floating platform and sorted on the spot. Any that are too small are thrown back in the water to mature longer. The remaining ones should be large enough to sell and are moved to the boat. Back at the farm in the oyster house, the oysters go through another round of sorting. Any that slipped through the initial vetting and are still deemed too small are put into nets and thrown back into the fjord. These nets will stay marked by buoys for up to several years, until the oysters mature to a viable size for market. The remaining oysters are sorted into small, medium, and large, set into trays and stacked in large water tanks to rinse for over 3 days. After the rinse period is over, the oysters are ready to ship. The oysters are set in cardboard boxes lined with a compostable filler, and placed flat side up so that a little water stays in the cupped bottom side. This allows the oysters to stay alive during shipment. After they’ve been secured, the box is closed up and ready to ship to any of the restaurants in the country, mostly in Oslo, which order from them. Once, at a business dinner in Oslo, Eva and her coworkers were served oysters, touted for being locally sourced. She laughed to herself, knowing that they had in fact come from her own farm, and happy the company was footing the bill instead of paying for her own product.
There are two species of oysters that grow wild in the waters around Per Christian’s farm: the native Flat Oyster and the invasive Pacific Oyster. The Pacific Oyster is taking over throughout southern Norway. It is one of the most popularly cultivated species because it fairs well in many environments, which also means once introduced to the wild, it can easily spread. Pacific Oysters don’t like very cold water, so their initial appearance in Norwegian waters a couple decades ago was bit of a surprise. Currently they’re only found in the south of the country, but with rising ocean temperatures due to climate change, it’s likely their spread north will continue. Per Christian sells both species, but definitely more of the Pacific Oyster, as there is a larger population in the area. When the family eats oysters though, they tend to eat the native Flat Oysters. They have a richer flavor than the Pacific, sometimes described as metallic and tannic. To me, the Pacific seemed sweet and the Flat seemed savory. I loved them both.
It’s been a continued debate in the country on how to best deal with the problem of the invasive Pacific Oyster, part of which stems from the debate on if it even is a problem. Some people find the positive factors most compelling, such as how rising oyster populations improve water quality because they are filter feeders, how the oysters can be used as a food source, and how they are a fairly lucrative source of income. By predominantly selling Pacific Oysters, Per Christian likes to argue that he’s helping keep the species in check, while simultaneously making use of the new resource. But Pacific Oysters can quickly take over an ecosystem, choking out native species, lowering biodiversity, and disrupting the natural balance. They overtake entire shorelines, leaving beaches unsuitable for recreation because of their razor sharp shells. Southern Norway has a robust summer water-sport culture that is cherished by locals and this could be impacted by oyster growth.
The Norwegian government has attempted to encourage youth groups and citizens to collect and destroy Pacific Oysters. The public has legal free access to, and passage through, any shorelines, forests, and mountains, regardless of ownership. So people could end up collecting oysters along the coastlines of personal property. There was an outcry from some landowners who felt that encouraging destruction of something on their land overstepped bounds. Per Christian supports this argument, viewing anything on their land as their resources and their property, and that simply disposing of the oysters is squandering food and money. This begs the question, what are the big picture priorities? The current struggle pits individual rights against environmental concerns, but the two aren’t mutually exclusive. This situation exemplifies how parties with good intentions can fail to see or account for the consequences of their actions. The national not understanding the local, and the individual consumed by the day-to-day. We need to remember that nature includes us, and that everything is interconnected. There needs to be communication and coordination among those with local knowledge and interests, and scientists and policy makers in order to find nuanced solutions tailored to each community. Local actions are the only way to make global impacts, and we are living in a time that desperately needs both. ◈
You can find Per Christian's oysters and cattle on Facebook, and Norwegian blankets on their website.