As anyone who has visited the region will no doubt tell you, there’s something about the East Fjords which beckons you to return. The sheer mountain peaks characteristic of the southern East Fjords are unique in Iceland, as is the pyramid-shaped mountain Búlandstindur rising 1,069 meters (3,507 feet) above the ocean.
The creative atmosphere in several towns and villages where young artists are breathing new life into the region is also addictive; young artists like the ones photographer Áslaug Snorradóttir and I met in Seyðisfjörður in the winter of 2012, in Stöðvarfjörður last year and, most recently, in Berufjörður in early March for the latest issue of Iceland Review magazine.
In the spring of 2014, musicians Svavar Pétur Eysteinsson and Berglind Häsler of band Prins Póló—winner of Pop Album of the Year and Songwriter of the Year at the Icelandic Music Awards in February—left behind their lives in Reykjavík and moved to a farm in Berufjörður along with their three children.
“We were looking for a new apartment in Reykjavík. Ours was exploding at the seams—it was way too small and I was pregnant with my third child,” Berglind explained. “We could either upgrade by adding a room, which would have cost about 10 million krónur [USD 71,000] or move to the countryside, get much more for much less. The decision was easy,” Svavar added.
After settling into the farm and following the success of their Bulsur vegan sausages, which entered the market in 2013, the couple are now preparing to launch a new food project: oven-baked chips using homegrown rutabaga (yellow turnips/swedes). With the help of MATÍS (a government-owned food and biotech research and development company), they created a recipe for the chips.
“They will be similar to the root snacks already available on the market but instead be made from Icelandic vegetables—we’re going to organically farm two hectares (five acres) of yellow turnips, which grow easily in Iceland—and will be baked, using rapeseed oil, instead of deep fried, and seasoned with fresh chili, fresh garlic and sea salt,” Svavar detailed.
The couple hope to crowdfund the project, dubbed Sveitasnakk (‘Country Chips’), via Icelandic website Karolina Fund. On the first day, they raised EUR 1,000 (USD 1,085), or ten percent of their target. Today, they have made 86 percent with three days to go.
Berglind and Svavar have plenty of other projects in the pipeline too, like producing a variety of other snacks, including from seaweed from down at the nearby shore, and creating a space to hold concerts and other events in the spirit of Havarí, the downtown Reykjavík record store/gallery/concert venue/hang out they ran from 2009 to 2011. They also hope to welcome tourists at the farm’s guesthouse during the summer and run an artist residency during the winter.
“There are a lot of possibilities, a lot of things we want to do here in the future,” Berglind said. Life on the farm has come with a steep learning curve, though, she admits. “We really jumped straight into the deep end but we’ve learnt a lot. And when we get stuck, we can always ask for help, or Google stuff.”
Berglind stressed that while it would be a lot easier for them to go and get regular jobs—she’s a former television journalist and Svavar a graphic designer—this is a lifestyle choice where the boundaries between work and family life are blurred.
Rich in ideas, terribly hardworking and with a can-do attitude, Svavar and Berglind represent a seemingly growing number of creative individuals who are creating opportunities for themselves and others in rural Iceland.
Zoë Robert – zoe(at)icelandreview.com