Icelandic Bananas (or Anne’s observations on an arctic food system)

I was lucky enough to be invited to adventure in Iceland after Christmas and into the New Year. The trip was initiated by Lauren buying two tickets to be in the second row of a Sigur Rós concert and spun into lots of winter Icelandic fun from there – think massive icicles, frozen waterfalls, climbing a mountain to soak in a geothermal hot spring river, climbing around a lava tube cave, and wearing a swimsuit daily as your base layer under 4 shirts… to start.

Lauren is one of the co-owners of the farm cooperative project and the harvester of many many berries last season. If you follow the Wild Abundance Community Farm page on Facebook, you’ve likely seen her very berry handiwork. She was a wonderful travel companion and great researcher of all the fun things one can do (somewhat affordably) in Iceland. It’s a volcanic island in the arctic circle, so things are expensive. I joked on my last day there that I should write a guidebook about how to be in a city and not feel like you are in a city, where to find free wifi, where to find free hot water to steep tea bags you brought along, where the cheapest grocery stores are, and which AirBnB locations have the best equipment-stocked kitchens. I’m sure it’ll be a top seller.

{Textures of snow, rivers, rock, ice}

{Somewhat frozen waterfalls}

Iceland can be described in winter as stunningly gorgeous with its stark contrasts between dark volcanic rock and smooth icy snow. Vast plains like Wyoming with scrubby arctic plants (barely any trees!), yet with tons of water running through it. Horses, horses everywhere. Food is quite expensive. Some of this is because there has been a boom in tourism and everyone is trying to sell a $25 bowl of soup. All the food seems imported and you don’t tip at restaurants. This means that the servers are likely paid $20/hour rather than the $2.33/hour as they are here, which brings up the actual cost of food dramatically.

Back to the topic on hand… Icelandic bananas. The first day in Reykavik, I learned from a new Icelandic friend that farmers grow bananas there, plus lots of hydroponic tomatoes and cucumbers. The farmer in me was excited to see the extensive glasshouse agricultural infrastructure, powered by 100% renewable geothermal energy, yet I was a bit disappointed once we made it to the small town of Hveragerdi and only found 8 or so greenhouses. The bananas seem to be more about novelty, rather than building an actual local food system. In a country of endless geothermal energy and heat, there is very little agricultural use of it, that I saw. We saw very few cultivated acres on the three driving days we took, ands little evidence of ranching beyond the thousands and thousands of Icelandic horses. Lauren’s day was made with 10 sheep, since it was a goal to see them, and we had been told that all the sheep were inside for the winter. For the number of times Icelandic bananas were brought up, I’m curious to know how many are actually grown. Someone would have to go during the summer to see if they really exist – maybe *you* should volunteer for such a worthy mission…

{What “high noon” looks like close to the solstice in Iceland}

This country is beautiful. I didn’t know what to expect in winter, I didn’t anticipate the dreamy lighting. I knew the sun would be low, giving only four hours of day, with long drawn out twilights. But the quality of light was amazing. A pink hue on the snowy blue landscape. All daylight hours of golden-hour lighting. Not to mention the moon. January 1st was a full moon and it graced the sky for 18 hours, from my after dinner walk to the geothermal foot bath outside of Reykavik until my morning walk and soak at the outdoor public swimming pool prior to my flight home. If you go to Iceland, make sure to go to a public swimming pool. Multiple hot tubs with jets at varying temperature ranges, a huge steam room, a sauna, and actual heated swimming pools for laps, all heated by geothermal water and all for the cost of a beer. I’d consider moving there just for this reason alone. :)

{Hot springs, icy surroundings}

The country felt otherworldly to me, much like New Zealand in its textures, but it did make me feel grateful for the fertility of Wisconsin soils and the relative ease of growing things here. I miss the dusky pink skies, the ravens accompanying me everywhere, and the endless natural hot springs – but I’m glad to be home, too.

-Anne, January 17th, 2018