Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lessons from a sustainable farm in Sweden

Two days ago we arrived at Frugården, a farm located on the peninsula of Vänersnäs in lake Vänern, about 25 km from Vänersborg, Sweden. Frugården dates back to year 1550, and the large manor built in 1760 still exists today even after a fire in 1963. Frugården itself has 1,000 hectares of forest and 250 hectares of farmland and also contains 20 separate homes that are rented out. While the farm produces mainly forest products it also produces rapeseed and grain. One thing we are currently experiencing in Sweden is a new law that 10% of all farmland must be allowed to be fallow because of a food surplus (the farmers are paid for the unused land), and it is no exception at Frugården.
Wood furnace for main house at Frugården
The forests at Frugården are sustainably managed according to both FSC and PEFC standards. Frederick, the owner, says that he gets a better price for wood that is certified, and that his lands have always been managed with a forest management plan. The wood products that Frugården produces are some lumber but mainly pulp wood and wood for heating. Frederick has currently purchased a wood chipper in order to find a use for some of the branches leftover from milling oak lumber. He plans to chip the wood into fine flakes because they burn better than wood pellets and will be able to be fed automatically into burners he has at the farm. He will use the flakes to heat the farm but plans to sell them as well.
Wood chipper
Wood is a big heating source at Frugården as most of the 20 rental homes on the property contain wood burning stoves. The large manor is heated by a wood-fueled hot water heating system. The heating system contains 3,500 L of hot water which is piped into and out of the house, and is controlled by an electronic system. The wood furnace is located in a small building behind the manor, and is fed twice daily. In the summer the furnace is fed once a week for hot water use in the house. One of the other homes on the property uses an air-to-air exchanger in addition to a wood furnace to maximize the energy efficiency. Frederick has had such success with this method of heating that he has already laid piping to connect the main hot water heating system from the manor to another house located nearby, and will finish the installation this summer. He estimates that using wood in Sweden is 10% of the cost of using gas heating.
One of the many homes heated by wood at the farm
Frederick has also been trying to install wind turbines at Frugården as well. Located so close to the water, it would have a lot of wind potential, but because it is located with views of the lake, some community members are suggesting alternative places to have wind power. There are already currently four wind turbines located at one end of the peninsula by another farmer.
Wind turbines on the Vänersnäs peninsula
I was told that their barns are all painted red because the paint contains iron oxide that actually preserves the wood and lasts for a long time. Almost all homes on the countryside are painted red or yellow, and in all places the siding is wood. The wood siding here in Sweden is also installed up and down, which also preserves the wood because the rain runs down it instead of collecting it like it does on the style of siding we have in the US.
Red paint preserves the wood, as well as the long vertical siding (rather than horizontal)

I was fortunate enough to stay with Frederick and Catarina at Frugården while I was in this part of Sweden for a few days. In addition to using their own wood to heat their homes, they also grow most of their own food and buy fish from a local fisherman that also rents at Frugården. They also rent their land to hunters and can purchase meat from them if they’d like. They have a compost bin and also collect wine bottles to be crushed to use in making roads along the farm. Ash from the wood burning furnace is added to the compost as well. Inside the main house all of the bathrooms have dual-flush toilets and in-floor heating. The house has four wood-burning fireplaces. One person on the peninsula has bees and makes honey, and I was lucky enough to receive some as a gift while I was here!

All sustainable aspects at Frugården are sustainable are done with the limited resources they have – they live on a peninsula but really treat it like an island. We all need to remember that within our own community island we can find everything we really need to be sustainable, and don’t need to import materials, foods, or other resources in order to be sustainable.

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