In Norway: Down to earth

In Norway: Down to earth

Scandinavia: an agricultural school in Norway wants to leave the planet cleaner and greener

My bus from Bergen to Gudvangen left a few minutes before time, not the first time in Norway. The journey took me past beautiful mountains and waterways, and after Voss, an adventure destination, we drove past quaint villages, waterfalls, streams, and forests — a jaw-dropping ride that was not even the beginning of my visit.

In Gudvangen, I bought a ticket, and soon after, boarded a boat with a horde of Chinese tourists to embark on a stunning cruise along Nærøyfjord, a Y-shaped arm of the larger Sognefjord. The boat floated over the calm emerald water fed by gushing waterfalls streaming down snow-capped green mountains. I couldn’t help but gape at the masterful work of nature that has blessed this Scandinavian country.

We cruised up one narrow prong of the upside down ‘Y’ and turned southwards into the other branch. The views were stupendous in every direction. In fact, this is how Norway is, no matter where you go. After around three hours, we arrived in Flåm. My destination was Aurland in the mountains, above the fjord, and I was instructed by my contact Marte to take a bus from the main road.

A section of Nærøyfjord, Norway. Photos by author

School of a kind

A short ride later I arrived in Sogn Jord-og Hagebruksskule (SJH; Sogn school of organic agriculture and horticulture). Marte, a student at the school, took me to the hostel where I would be spending the night. I left my backpack there and joined other students in the kitchen and dining area. The wooden building felt cosy and homely. Summer was just a few days away, so I had nearly 24 hours of sunshine. The students told me of a nearby waterfall to visit. So, I walked across the school’s farm, which was a vast meadow with healthy cows relaxing on the grass. I spent an hour on my own in the verdant environs of the school and thought how lucky these students were to live and receive their education and training in the lap of nature.

After my hike, I returned to the school and went on a guided tour. SJH was the first agriculture school in Norway to go fully organic and students get a lot of practical experience in both traditional and modern farming techniques. I noticed that the roofs of some of the buildings near the parking lot were covered in grass, which was typical of older times in Scandinavia. The students also learn how to process products harvested from the farm. There are facilities to bake, cook and make cheese.

Some of them were busy working the land — growing herbs, tomatoes, and even flowers. They learn how to grow crops without using chemical fertilisers and pesticides not only to produce chemical-free food, but also to ensure that the soil remains clean and healthy for future generations. These sustainable practices are inculcated in the students so that they can spread them elsewhere once they graduate. The school has an organic shop that sells their products.

In the evening, I returned to the kitchen where a few people were helping themselves from the well-stocked refrigerator. They invited me to take any “free food” I wanted. At first, I didn’t understand why they insisted that the food was free.

Then, a couple of students entered with boxes of sushi, bread and fruit, and introduced me to the concept of dumpster diving.

Dumpster diving

These young Norwegians, distressed by the fact that around a third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted, are fighting to change the rules. They go to supermarkets and forage their bins for food thrown away just before their expiry date.

They are careful about the products they collect and make sure they are good to eat. It’s shocking to see that ripe bananas imported from faraway tropical countries are dumped in large cartons only because they are not completely yellow. Little do European supermarkets, in their quest for aesthetic perfection, realise that in banana-producing countries like India, fruits with a few black spots are prized for their sweetness. Many argue that this practice is dangerous as it could lead to the consumption of rotten or contaminated food, but the people I met were vigilant in checking the quality and date of expiration of what they bring back; what’s more, they get a fridge full of free food. I spent a relaxed evening with them learning about their combat to make the world a cleaner, greener place.

The next morning, I took a bus back to Flåm and boarded a majestic green train to take the famed ride to Myrdal. It was a 20-km journey through snowy mountains surrounding a deep valley, with a stop at Kjosfossen, a waterfall that flows by the tracks. From Myrdal I caught the train to Oslo contemplating the stunning sights outside my window and reflecting on the activities of the students, hoping that awareness would grow about sustainable practices, which would ensure a healthy planet for generations to come.

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