29 October, 2010

Bread wheat in Denmark, day 1

backdate: 25 October

No matter how much practice i get explaining this to people, it's still a challenge to state simply. A group of researchers, farmers, millers, and bakers go to Denmark to observe the organic bread wheat production system, and i'm their videographer. What that implies, besides a free plane ticket to København, is five days of touring. The first two were pretty grueling, but by day four the schedule has relaxed and, with seven stops behind us there's time to look back and begin sorting out what we've learned. 

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From København we headed first to Viskingegård, where what began as a conventional pig farm has recently blossomed into an organic grain operation. (If you ever wondered where Danish ham comes from,  Sjælland in eastern Denmark is a center of "factory" pig production.) Milling at Viskingegård seems well-funded by owner Nils Mejnertson's other business ventures; the three-story mill, though home-built and pieced together with what he'd learned from others, was fully automated. 

Agricultural land in Denmark, we learned, is both valuable and difficult to obtain. In part because of restrictions on manure, pig farmers buy land as soon as it's available; they need larger tracts on which to spread their nitrogen-rich manure slurry to remain within legal per-hectare annual N limits. Under Danish and EU organic standards, farmers are allowed to import manure slurry from conventional pig production - but the farmers we talked to explained that many organic producers have agreed to phase out the use of 'conventional' manure. While this may present them with challenges, depriving "pig factories" of easy outlets for manure may force changes in their operations.

Across Storebæltsbroen (the Great Belt Bridge connecting Sjælland and Funen) we headed to the village of Ringe. There, hand-operated Kragegaarden mill offered a sharp contrast to automated Viskingegård. The machinery filling one low-ceilinged room of Kristian Anderson's small-scale operation was crafted largely of wood, loaded and unloaded by hand in small batches.

At Kragegaarden; photo courtesy Ellen Mallory

After a late supper in Odense it was a long drive north to Kalø. Forty minutes northeast of Århus, we were housed in student dormitories along with a handful of international students learning Danish. I'd write more about the school, which trains youth for organic farming certification - but you can learn just as much by visiting Kalø online.