Aschim Vestre is the only farm-genebank in Norway. Here a large variety of grains are sown and harvested on a regular basis to allow the genes to adapt and maintain vitality. Besides cultivating grains, Johan and Kristin Swärd grow potatoes, peas and some vegetables.
The use of old varieties started as a cultural interest. In the process Kirstin and Johan became more familiar with the diverse and nutritional quality and effects on soil. Now that awareness of these benefits becomes more widespread customers are more and more interested in purchasing their grains. Today the farm harbors a constant evolving reservoir of diversity. Kirstin and Johan mill their grains on the farm where they are put in bags and sold directly to their customers as well as stored and brought to various stores and markets.
Labeling Organic- Demeter
Since 1991 Aschim Vestre produced with organic certification. However, Johan and Kristin felt EU legislation for organic production no longer sufficiently represented the development of their values and practices. Thus in 2000 Aschim Vestre became an acknowledged Demeter farm, hereby obtaining the most extensive certification for ecological practices. Still, Johan feels these labels obscure the practices of running a farm in its unique entirety, aside from meeting a set of anonymous requirements. Thus the farmers foster the direct purchase of produce from the farm which maintains personal connections. This way they are able to communicate the choices they make in their way of production. When too much nitrogen is applied to the field for example it inhibits flavor, color and shelf life of the grains. Thus Kristin and Johan use a green manure to fertilize their fields. By having a direct contact with his customers the farmer gets appreciation for all the extra work put in and feedback on the quality which is not possible with the products which are sold through the store.
Developing old varieties
In 2011 Johan Sward received the Plant Heritage award for his work in investigating the properties of ancient grains, and for ensuring those varieties previously stored in gene banks are again cultivated. Kristin and Johan Sward have focused on einkorn, emmer, oats, rye and barley. Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia naturally harbor a common history of grain varieties where climatic zones overlap. The seeds for the varieties researched at Aschim Vestre had to be sourced from gene banks in Russia and Canada as they were no longer present in Norway. In 5 years Johan hopes to have most of them ready for sale.
Over the years Johan has enriched and tested over 40-50 kinds of wheat varieties. Many of them are not approved varieties and do not conform to the standard of the law. Yet they are reliable grains which have been developed by farmers for generations and adopted to Nordic conditions. Eg Johan believes the Dala Lanthvete will become more popular as it is perfectly suited to the climate, and probably quite similar to the sort that originally existed here.
Central to the vision of Aschim Vestre lies the question of how we value the harvest. Do we measure the harvest of a land in calories, nutrients or perhaps even cultural and ecological value? We do not need more calories in Norway, but we do need more nutrients and cultural and ecological diversity. When it comes to wine most people appreciate the differences in quality, perhaps in some years we will be have a similar appreciation for the distinctive quality of various grains.
Johan said many customers that said to have difficulties digesting gluten experienced they could digest the older varieties grown on Aschim Vestre. These varieties contain soft gluten, whereas modern varieties are bred to contain hard gluten to optimize the baking properties which are needed for industrial production.
Some older varieties of wheat are found to have 20 times more selenium than modern varieties. This is very important considering a lack of selenium in a diet can cause cancer and Norwegian soils are generally selenium deficient.
Milling of the grains
Aschim Vestre harbours an impressive collection of stonemills, restorated from the 40’s, each having their distinctive methods for grinding the grains. Grains are often milled on order, enabling Johan to mill them in the most suitable way for the customers intended purpose.
Stonemills consist of small articles of rock which are glued together. In contrary to cutting knives the stones sharpen themselves through a slow breakdown of the miniscule particles. The large surface area of the mills allows for more moisture retention in the flour.
The main mill produces 4 gradients of flour: Fin Sammelt, Sammelt, Grov Sammelt and Kli. Another mill grinds the whole grain so fine that Grov Sammelt appears to be Fin Sammelt- an desired traits for those who like to bake light cakes that still contain all the nutrients of the whole grain.
Johan Sward does not have formal authorization to sell his seeds for reproduction, yet he has enabled many farmers to grow new varieties by giving them a few kilo’s of seeds. Norwegian seed laws are homogenized with those of the European Union. Thus EU seed legislation is influenced by international negotiations and the needs of the industry, not those of biological diversity and smaller producers. Farmers active engagement with seed breeding depends on their right to use, sell, exchange and take care of the seed. When farmer’s freedoms get cramped the incentives to continue growing special varieties are diminished. The authorities are aware Johan is selling his seeds illegally and mostly think it is alright for him to spread the varieties. There are not many producers in Norway which are formally registered as seed producers.
Peas for Bua Baerekraft I Butkk
In the spring of 2014 we contacted Johan with Johan about the possibility for him to grow peas for Bua that we could sell the following autumn. Aschim Vestre didn’t have a taker for peas that moment, thus our agreement was a both a good way to increase value from the intercropping of graincultivation and enable us to sell a locally produced source of high quality plant protein.
Due to their ecological production methods the peas do not grow at the exact same pace. Harvesting is done at when most peas are ready and so our bags contain some green and some yellow peas. The boiling time and cooking properties however are exactly the same. You may also occasionally find a spelt grain in the peas from spelt production of the previous year.