When you think of sustainable farming, or even just farming in general, you probably don’t think about Iceland, a country known for its glaciers and volcanoes. However, this cold little island is making big waves in the world of green agriculture. Despite a seemingly uncultivable environment, Iceland grows over half of its own vegetable produce, all with 100% green, renewable energy.
Since only 1% of Iceland’s land is suitable for agriculture, farmers have had to get creative over the years. According to the National Energy Authority of Iceland, “heating greenhouses using geothermal energy began in Iceland in 1924.” These greenhouses have created a boom of success for the Icelandic agriculture industry, providing locals with fresh, sustainable produce such as tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, bananas, and more. While the main focus of these greenhouses is on vegetables, they also produce many flowers, herbs, and other plants, covering a wide range of Iceland’s agricultural needs.
Green agriculture methods
With an abundance of volcanoes, Iceland has access to reliable, renewable, and sustainable geothermal energy which they use to heat their greenhouses, all without the use of fossil fuels. Combine that with their abundance of fresh, clean water, and they are able to grow crops without any harm to the environment.
Greenhouse farmers all grow 100% organic produce, forgoing agrochemicals and pesticides to maintain true sustainable standards. Some farms even introduce certain insects into their greenhouses in order to naturally manage pests. Icelandic farm Friðheimar says that they use “predatory mirid bug Macrolophus pygmaeus, which devours all the main pests that afflict tomato plants.” Successful farmers also make sure to thoroughly measure different factors such as “temperature, humidity and watering so that the plants flourish and produce the optimum yield.” Increasing the yield not only profits the farmers, but helps make efficient use of resources.
Farmers continue utilizing their creativity and problem solving skills to increase sustainability through the control of several factors. One key component is the transportation of geothermal water to the greenhouses, which is managed by building greenhouses very close to large water supplies to cut down on environmental costs. The thickness of the greenhouse glass is also precisely measured to around 4mm thick in order to maximize the amount of sun shining through. Friðheimar even states that they actively enhance photosynthesis “by using carbon dioxide produced from natural geothermal steam.” It’s these kinds of inventive and innovative methods that allow Iceland to revolutionize the green agriculture industry, showing the world that with enough creativity and drive, sustainable farming is possible almost anywhere.
One prominent leader in Iceland’s greenhouse agriculture industry is Friðheimar, a family-run farm that focuses on the production of tomatoes and uses their success to promote ecotourism and education. Friðheimar produces about 370 tons of tomatoes each year, supplying a huge portion of local produce. They have also begun to introduce new kinds of tomatoes into the Icelandic market, such as plum and piccolo tomatoes. In addition, they provide tours of their greenhouses, educating locals and tourists about their unique farming methods and sustainable ideology. As Iceland is already a mecca for ecotourism, Friðheimar has achieved great success using creative, sustainable methods.
In addition to the attraction of the greenhouses themselves, Friðheimar also runs a popular restaurant featuring a variety of tomato-based dishes. They have created a new niche in the restaurant business with dishes such as the famous “Friðheimar Tomato Soup” and “green-tomato and apple pie.” They have even expanded their use of tomatoes into more unconventional items such as tomato syrup to be used in coffee drinks and Friðheimar’s own tomato beer. Friðheimar is truly a major player in Iceland’s revolutionization of green agriculture, and their innovative passion for sustainability inspires both other people and other businesses.
Another leader in Iceland’s green agriculture initiative is Lambhaga, a greenhouse farming company that is the “largest producer and seller of fresh salads and herbs in the country.” Driven by a goal of “eco-friendly cultivation,” Lambhaga uses green, sustainable farming methods and an emphasis on modern technology to maintain an environmentally friendly business. Lambhaga is also located within Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital, which cuts down exponentially on the costs of food transportation and ensures that their customers receive the freshest produce possible.
Lambhaga grows several kinds of popular lettuce as well as beetroot and wheat grass. They also sell potted products so that customers can continue to grow their own produce at home. Founded in 1979, Lambhaga has seen long-term success because of their green farming practices, and continues to maintain their position as a leader within Iceland’s agriculture sector.
A broader impact
In an interview with The Progressive Farmer, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, the president of Iceland, stated, “I believe we are only in the beginning early stages of a transformation of success. With greenhouse agriculture, there really is no limit to our potential.” Iceland’s green agriculture success not only benefits the environment, but Icelandic businesses and the country as a whole. In an article for Atlas Obscura, it was found that “greenhouses are so important to the Icelandic economy that they have been supported by government subsidies for electricity and lighting.”
Iceland’s greenhouse agriculture industry is currently led by just a small amount of growers, though that is expected to change. While the majority of greenhouse crops are sold locally, the success that greenhouse farmers have seen is spurring new businesses to join in, and more international companies are showing interest in joining the green movement. Iceland has already ceased the importation of tomatoes as well, cutting down on the environmental and financial costs of transportation and preservation.
The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks all countries in regards to “which countries are doing best against the array of environmental pressures that every nation faces,” and the 2018 EPI puts Iceland in 11th place, making it a world leader in environmental protection. With their green agriculture industry continuing to grow and flourish, they may soon be making their way further up that list. Even in what seems like a challenging environment, Iceland upholds green standards and makes sustainability a priority. As global warming and food scarcity pose serious threats to the world, Iceland’s successful green agriculture movement illustrates the massive potential of sustainable farming across the world.
Written by: Katie Cohen
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