For the last three years we have been living on the family farm breeding rare and endangered heritage livestock. It has been fantastic to live a farm life with young children and getting to know the different breeds of Norwegian animals. It was a blessed life and we are grateful for the growth and experiences we’ve had looking after the land and animals. However, life keeps moving and our growing family has taken another road to journey in Norway.
We have recently bought a new house in the suburbs of Alta that is surrounded by young families. The area is newly developed and has great views of the city and Alta fjord. It will be amazing during the Midnight Sun. The sun circles round the house on three sides, enlivening us – we had missed living in the sun. (The farm was in the Tverrelvdalen valley and the house was only in the sun for a short part of the day because of surrounding forests.)
Our house is a three bedroom, two bathroom, single garage, two story house. It is built to the new Norwegian energy standards, is highly energy efficient with balanced ventilation, heated flooring all downstairs, a fireplace upstairs, central vacuum cleaner and extra large big double-glazed windows. It is only 5 minutes drive away from the city centre but far enough away from major roads to have peaceful silence. Wooden flooring, white panel walls, a stairwell chandelier and super modern fixtures. We also have a community playground with soccer field, jungle gym and forested areas surround. We had to buy the house without even seeing what the yards look like. That is the funny thing when you live in the Arctic, you can’t wait until the snow melts to buy a house. We are very happy with our move and look forward to creating a life in our new home.
There are many reasons we chose to move and I think they all relate to a Norwegian life. Living on a farm is hard work and a romantic life but not always practical for a growing family.
First comes the issue of play friends for our children. Farming isn’t a young occupation in Norway. The average farmer is 50 years old. This means that there are not many families or small children in rural areas. In our area most people were of pension age. Several Norwegians advised us that when our children grow up it will be hard on them to see friends because they would have to rely on car transport (as the bus routes here are very sparse) to get anywhere. Plus friends would also find it hard to get to the farm. It is particularly important for our children to have friends because of their bi-lingual background. Usually young kids play together because their parents know each other, which relationships keep when growing up. However, I am not in the Norwegian inner circle and so my children don’t have the access to friends most other Norwegian children do. Friends aren’t everything until you have some.
Second, is the issue of schooling. In Norway children are generally required to attend the school within their housing district. This can be reconsidered because of special circumstances such as the family has just moved and wants to keep the child in the same school, but if you don’t have a good reason, tough. The school that our kids would have gone to is a country school in Tverrelvdalen. It is considered a good school amongst the locals as the student/teacher ratio is small but children have a hard time doing after school activities like soccer training because they have to make it to the other end of the city. The other issue is that smaller schools have less offers and less qualified teachers and more chance of closing (Alta is in a transition period with organising schooling). So we decided that it was best for our kids to go to a stable inner city school with a good reputation, hence we moved to the burbs.
Thirdly, a farm takes up a lot of money and time. Working it was great when the kids were too small to enjoy going on holidays but as they got older we wanted to travel more as a family and it is just not possible when you have animals that rely on you every day. We found too that we were spending all our money on the farm but we wanted to spend our money on our kids. Even though a farm is great for kids we found that it was more for me and Moose. Moving to the burbs and postponing the farm meant that we could have the normal Norwegian life of jet-setting to different cities and countries on the holidays.
Fourthly, Moose and my career off the farm were quickly taking off. We had not planned to have careers off the farm but we kind of fell into them and found that we enjoyed them thoroughly. As we spent more time off farm we began to realise the inevitable. Our hearts were torn between the love of our animals and the need for job security, a regular income and mental challenges. We loved the quiet life but we still wanted to progress our education and careers. It is hard to have both, therefore we had to make a tough decision.
So as much as we loved building up the farm, we decided to postpone it for a while to focus more on our growing family and our growing careers. But that certainly doesn’t mean we have given up our animals!!
While we were on the farm developing our breeds we realised that there were only so many animals that we could have on the farm. Space, housing, time, workload and conservation limited development. Having diverse breeds – chickens, rabbits, horses, geese, sheep – also greatly limited capacity. When we were preparing to leave the farm we placed a lot of our animals on other farms in the area.
The breed that we found very hard to give up were the geese. Surprisingly, they had become our favourite on the farm and we didn’t want to let them go. We felt a duty to care for them as they were the most in danger of extinction (only 150 left in the world). We had worked so hard with them, learning about breeding and geese husbandry and adapting them to the Arctic. So we decided to find a forvert for them (a feeding host). We found a farm that was just around the corner from our new house. It is a dairy farm and they were very excited to have the geese. The farm feeds and watches over the geese every day and we visit, do extra work like build fences and finance the operation. Usually the hosts finance the animals and we would just use the animals for breeding with a for agreement but we still want the geese to be ours.
Since, we have realised what an excellent idea it is to have many flocks of geese on other peoples’ farms rather than just one flock on our own farm. It means that we can create a strong breeding program that supports genetic diversity. We already have another farm lined up for this years breeding season which is actually the visiting farm where Ariel our mule is kept. Breeding our geese on other peoples’ farms is a perfect solution, even better than breeding on our own farm. It is a win/win/win – for us, the geese and the other farmers.
Living off the farm is only a small detour for us. We have decided to explore Norway a little bit more first. Our hearts are still on the farm (and it is only a 15 minute drive away from our new house) but for now we will enjoy seeing where our lives will take us in Norway.