HOME ON THE RANGE
We are north of Stockholm staying and working on a farm in a charming little town called Järbo. The farm is surrounded by a thick wood of large elms and spruce cushioned by meandering ferns and plush blueberry bushes. The countryside is a vast landscape of rolling green hills flecked with white cattle and sheep. The houses and adjoining barns scattered throughout the woods and fields are painted in a deep, iron-red with white trim.
We are staying with a retired couple on their small farm in the middle of the woods. Lärkan, the husband, is a passionate fly fisherman with a dry sense of humor. His wife, Marjo, is an old theatre performer/director and the head of the farm. Despite suffering from a bizarre allergy to wireless radiation, Marjo has created a positive community and lifestyle for herself at the farm.
We work 6.5 hours a day and each day we work on different tasks. Our first project is reconstructing a fence to keep the lambs contained during their weaning period. The next four days we un-package and spread massive, plastic-wrapped bundles of fermented silage (or "marshmallows" as we call them) onto the fields to enrich the soil. We rush to finish the marshmallows so that we can reach our bonus task of creating living chairs from willow trees! We plug in our iPhones and listen to books on audible to pass the time during some of our monotonous work. We thoroughly enjoy being outdoors.
As for our abode, we have cozy makeshift bedrooms above the sheep in the barn. In order to reach our rooms, we first have to walk past the lower barn where there reside some sheep, the occasional dawdling chickens, and a massive white guardian dog, Cale. After passing the frenzy of barn animals, we climb a ladder to reach our floor. There is a constant background of clucking, barking and maaahhhhing thanks to our furry and feathery neighbors. Upon our arrival we are asked most seriously to not touch, pet, or better yet look at Cale. He is not supposed to interact with people, because he is not a pet dog, but a working dog. His role: keeping the wolves and bears away from the sheep...yes I said wolves, he is really that ginormous. I really love dogs, but I have to admit, the size and sounds from Cale, the beast, make me a tad nervous in the middle of the night. I think of Cale as a polar bear rather than a dog.
Our animals at the farm are two massive Linderöd pigs named Paul and Esther. They are ours to take care of on a daily basis. Paul is adorable. When you pat his head he rolls over onto his back, stretches his legs, and closes his eyes; he is a sucker for a belly rub. You can pat him anywhere and he just drops. The pigs cry and whine when you bring them food. They act rather like little babies than like pigs as they kiss us with their snouts and whine until we pet them. They eat boiled potatoes every morning and night. If they are lucky, they receive scraps like cauliflower stems, carrot peels and most often, watermelon rinds.
One day, I enter the pigpen to feed the plump little darlings. After snarfing down their grub with fantastic speed, they try to salvage the spillage by snorting around. Half paying attention, I see Paul lock his eyes on my feet. I follow his gaze and look down upon the ground to step away from a potential wandering potato. I see no potato and think...weird. Then my eyes focus on my bright, neon pink and green New Balance running sneakers. I realize with horror, "OMG, my sneakers look like WATERMELONS!!!" By the time I put two and two together, I am pinned up at the door, shooing the ginormous pigs away from me as I try to escape an unfortunate destiny (they weigh close to 160 lbs each). BUT, the door will not push open because Anthony's equally massive body is obliviously blocking the door. He sees the frantic horror in my eyes and exclaims, "what should I do!?" I say, "LET MEEEEE OOOUUUUTTT!!!" At this point he realizes that he is obstructing my exit and I tap dance out of the pen with my heart racing, but alas I have my feet.
Also, I adopt a chicken...or does she adopt me? It all began while I was washing the ever-increasing mound of dishes by the outdoor kitchen trailer. Dishwashing here, makes me REALLY appreciate a dishwasher at home. The chore requires driving ten minutes to a neighbor's house, backing the car up to the front lawn, and filling up about 20 gallons of water in buckets. If you forget one of the many MANY lids to the buckets, then you're stuck gripping the galloping water in the back seat and your dryness is at the mercy of the driver, who may or may not like to drive like a New Yorker...
Back to dishwashing; the water must be heated in huge pasta pots on the stove during breakfast, lunch, or dinner so that it is boiling by the time the meal is finished. Then, you must fill up the massive tin tubs with hot, clean, and soapy water. I actually really like going to retrieve the water, because I dream of spotting moose and wildlife in the thick forest. I like washing the dishes too because it keeps me warm and I spend time with my chicken. I feed her leftovers through the day, she follows me for food, which I keep for her in my pockets. Living this lifestyle, the crumbs in your pockets is the least of your worries!
We are staying at the farm during the Dormition of Mary, a Greek Orthodox annual feast that takes place on August 15. Marjo built a beautiful chuch on the farm where they hold services throughout the year. To commemorate the death of the Virgin Mary, Marjo and her honored guests; a priest, two nuns, and a close friend, adhere to a strict vegan diet from August 1 - 14. Opportunity strikes for Anthony to prepare his famous vegan coconut ice cream, Blessed with Love.
Lärkan, a jack of many trades, is a master knife maker and while we aren't busy working on the farm or being The Recipe Hunters, and searching for traditional recipes, we are designing, sanding, and learning to craft our own knives. How cool?!
Some days we are covered in wood dust and/or smell really badly after working with manure, silage. With no running water we have to be creative with our bathing. We decide to use the local lakes for a nice break and we bring soap, shampoo, and conditioner. As we bathe amongst the locals relaxing on their summer days off, they explain to their children to stay away from the dirty gypsies. I will never forget this image: looking down at myself, my bottom half in the lake and my top half all white with soap, I look up at Anthony who has shampoo running down his face, one eye squinted laughing out loud. No easy bathroom access, no running water, no shower, no worries...We feel free, happy, and young.
Written by THE RECIPE HUNTERS:
Leila Elamine & Anthony Morano