Going Green in Iceland

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Going Green in Iceland
by Kirsten Barkved

At Grown Here Farms, I hold the position of Marketing Manager, where my role is to create meaningful content that relates to my employer’s mission: living mindfully through sustainable food growth that lessens our impact on the planet. I was placed here through Canada Green Corps at the beginning of the year and since my arrival has enjoyed each moment of being part of a team that is dedicated to making a difference to the environment.

Canada Green Corps provides meaningful employment for youth aged 18-30 because they believe in the power of youth to shape and transform the world for the better. Moreover, they work with businesses that are mindful of the future as well as their social and environmental messages. The maintain Sustainable Development Goals that frame their passion for changing the world. From reducing hunger, promoting affordable and clean energy, responsible consumption and production, climate action – anything under the sun that has a plan for a sustainable and inclusive future, they’re after it.

Going Green in Iceland

Not only do their objectives aim to spur economic growth and diversity, they speak to something larger: accelerating Canada’s transition to a sustainable and prosperous future – something that my employer, Grown Here Farms, is keenly passionate about. And, as it just so happens, as am I.

Before my placement here, though, I had organized a trip to Iceland. Along with being Grown Here Farm’s Marketing Manager, I am first and foremost a Writer. And last year, I was accepted into the Iceland Writer’s Retreat, an international conference for writers all around the globe.

Aside from being cold, windy, and full of horses, it was all kinds of amazing. I learned a lot about the culture, the people, the land, and won’t soon be forgetting the incredible writing I was able to soak up in my short amount of time. Couple that with the fact that Iceland is a country that walks a lovely juxtaposition: being both beautiful while also incredibly tough. And what I learned in my short, but very sweet, stay, is that Iceland is not just known for its hardy landscape. It’s a place of innovation, growth, and sustainability.

Iceland

Going Green in Iceland

Going Green in Iceland

Iceland, for a long time, was a nation of people that developed their own traditional food growth purely out of necessity – it’s a country that is entirely isolated. It also has an extreme climate – only 1% of the land is arable for agriculture. Meaning that large-scale agriculture and factory farming is not only difficult, it’s near impossible.

But guess what? That doesn’t stop Icelanders. If I’ve learned anything from their culture, it’s that they are a people who are not only incredibly resourceful and resilient, they’re future thinkers – always mindful of their actions on their surroundings.

The Landscape

Going Green in Iceland

Going Green in Iceland

Iceland, for a quick geography lesson, is a large volcanic island that sits just below the arctic circle. There is an abundance of fish and seafood in their coastal waters and rivers, but for the most part, only 1% of their land can be used for arable agriculture – the Iceland’s volcanic soils are thin and much of the terrain is covered by lava fields, mountains, and glaciers. Great for photos and exploring, not so great for agriculture.

It’s an untamed terrain that is both rough and extreme, which means that, because of its rough exterior, it’s slowed down the industrialization and prevented exploitation of Iceland’s natural resources.

Icelanders have also learned the hard way that nature is delicate and once it’s gone, you can’t get it back. At the time of Viking settlement (1150 years ago), Iceland was 25-40% covered with trees. As is often common with humans, nature was used for a means to thrive. Housing, farming, churches; all of these required wood for construction. Sheep grazing from farming prevented regeneration. This combined with natural disturbance means that over 95% of the original forest cover is gone.

As a result, Icelanders are careful to maintain an ecological balance, with tight regulations and policies that hold them accountable to their relationship to nature.

Going Green in Iceland

Going Green in Iceland

Iceland actively uses Geothermal energy, energy that is generated by and stored in the earth through natural processes – in Iceland’s case, volcanoes. It’s a highly renewable and sustainable source of energy, one that Icelanders take advantage of when it comes to their production of fruits and vegetables.

According to the U.N Food and Agriculture Organization, “the utilization of renewable energy such as geothermal sources is of importance in an increasingly resources-constrained world where agriculture must become more productive and sustainable.”

Geothermal energy is not only less costly, it requires no fossil fuels (non-renewable resources) which mean less greenhouse gas emissions. It’s clean, reliable, and locally-produced, not to mention it’s affordable and virtually endless.

Going Green in Iceland

Going Green in Iceland

Iceland grows its organic vegetables in greenhouses that are powered by geothermal energy. They also use this renewable resource for fish farming, fish drying, as well as the production of their salt. It’s also what fuels electricity to much of the population. Because Iceland is situated in a cool climate and sits below the arctic circle, there’s also a certain lack of insects, which means Icelanders don’t use any agrochemicals or pesticides. If they do need to control pests, instead of using chemicals, they will implement insects. As well, their sparse population means that their food is less contaminated with artificial chemicals.

Despite its cool climate and restricted growing season, Iceland grows an incredible range of food crops, like potatoes, turnips, carrots, and kale. Hot crops, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and green peppers, are grown in greenhouses, which are heated with renewable geothermal energy, of which, I learned, Iceland has in abundance. This renewable energy source is what makes it possible for Icelander’s to grow their own food, most organic, so they don’t have to rely on importing from mass produced farms.

Iceland has become a global leader in renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction. This is mostly in large part because Iceland sits on major geothermal activity; geothermal and hydro are 81% of Iceland’s primary energy consumption. It’s this geothermal energy that powers homes, lights streets, and, most importantly, powers the greenhouses that produce Iceland’s local vegetables.

Going Green in Iceland

Going Green in Iceland

What I learned from my trip is that Icelanders can make very much out of very little. The philosophy of this volcanic island is an empowering one: if you can catch it, grow it, or make it locally, it can be consumed. They make the most of their surroundings, regardless of what they don’t have, finding new, innovative ways to produce, store, and prepare their food with minimal impact on the environment.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that Iceland is a country that is not only passionate about a green economy, they are active in promoting a sustainable economy and land for their youth in environmentally sound approaches to their livelihood. If that isn’t showcasing leadership at a time with big climate questions, I don’t know what is.

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