121. Arild Nydegger Øvre-Eide and Gyrid Dahl: Embracing Change and Tradition in Norwegian Farming

Sue Stockdale talks to Arild Nydegger Øvre-Eide and Gyrid Dahl, from Øvre-Eide farm in Bergen, Norway. Arild, the fifth-generation owner of a small farm, discusses his decision to become a farmer and how his father’s support played a role in his journey. Gyrid who works at the farm explains what motivated her to change career from being a hairdresser to learning how to run a farm. The episode also explores Arild’s surprising role as a teacher in a local prison and why tradition is important in communities.

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Time Stamps

[00:05:07] Small farms in Norway.
[00:13:27] Education in Norwegian prisons.
[00:25:03] Norwegian farming and diversification.
[00:31:13] Stepping out of your comfort zone.

Key Quotes

  • We have this possibility to keep up the farming absolutely everywhere in Norway. 
  • If we want to live off of the farm, we have to diversify.
  • In Norway, we spend a lot of money in our prison system and especially in education.
  • We have some school classes with special need kids that come here once a week to get a break from the classroom. 
  • I am very happy when we can share our farm with other people,
  • I have a big hope for the future for the Norwegian farming, but you must try to do something else. You cannot continue on the same track as your father and grandfather has done. 
  • You have to get out of your comfort zone to achieve bigger things. 

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Transcript: Arild Nydegger Øvre-Eide and Gyrid Dahl

Sue : Hi, I’m Sue Stockdale and welcome to episode 121 of the Access to Inspiration podcast, the show where you can be inspired by people who may be unalike you. Well, as you know, we had a few months break recently and were traveling all over the world. When we were in Norway, I met this week’s guests, Arild and Gyrid. Arild is the fifth generation owner of a small farm in Norway, and Gyrid is one of his employees who’s learning to run a farm, which is quite different from her previous job as a hairdresser. What I discovered from them is the importance of embracing change, the value of education, and we find out what Arild does when he teaches twice a week in the local prison. I’m sure you’ll be surprised, intrigued and engaged by what they say. And as always, you can listen or read along with the transcription on our website, accesstoinspiration.org. Welcome to the podcast, Arild and Gyrid. Lovely to speak to you. Arild, you are the owner of a farm, Øvre Eide, I understand.

Arild : Yes.

Sue : Tell me about that farm. It’s been in the family ownership since 1875?

Arild : Yes, you see that my family, they came from Sogn which is an area north of Bergen, and they were two brothers, they came here to Bergen in 1875. Today I am, yes, the fifth generation.

Sue : Do you feel a sense of responsibility?

Arild : Oh, yes. Well, you see that in one way, yes, and in one way, no. You see that when I was younger, I was perhaps 16, 17 years old. I asked my father if he wanted I should become a next generation farmer. And he said, yes, if you want because when he was a child he was forced to work on the farm and he didn’t want that I should have the same childhood life as he had had. So he said that he hoped that perhaps one day I would see also with joy to have a farm and not only with work. So he didn’t press me and not at all to do anything and it has been a success. Today I feel joy with the farm, yes.

Sue : And I also understand you have other talents in baking and confectionery.

Arild : Yes, because my family on my mother’s side is from Switzerland. So my grandfather, he was a baker, confectioner, and he came to Bergen in 1929. So on my mother’s side, we are for three generations, bakers and confectioners. So I have my education from Bergen, of course, but also from Stockholm and Switzerland.

Sue : And if you had a choice, would you prefer to be a confectioner or a farmer?

Arild : A farmer, of course. I love to do work outside, outdoor. So, yes, I still enjoy to make cakes and all that, but I prefer to work outdoor.

Small farms in Norway

Sue : And tell me about your farm. How big is it and what animals are on it?

Arild : Well, you see, it’s a traditional small farm in the western part of Norway. So we have, for the moment, we have six horses and 15 sheep during winter and one ram, and that gives in the spring about 25, 30 lambs. In Norway, there are about 38,000 farms, but only 10% of the farmers may have only the farm as their main income. So the big majority of the farmers they must also have another job so they can afford to run the farms again.

Sue : And there’s limitations on the number of animals that you can have, isn’t there? So you couldn’t expand to have more sheep if you wanted to?

Arild : Well, we could have done it, but then we have to reduce the number of the horses. So the law in Norway is that you can have as much animals as you want, if you also at the same time has big enough fields where you can spread for example your manure in the spring and summer. So if we would like to increase the number of sheep then we have to reduce the number of horses. Many guests they are surprised that we have so many small farms in Norway. And of course the main reason is that we have the black gold in the North Sea. So that has given Norway a lot of possibilities to do things that would be difficult in some other countries. So therefore, when you are cruising in Norway, you will see farms absolutely everywhere. You saw even farms up in Tromsø and Alta. And of course, if we were thinking about climate and economy, then of course there should not be any farms up in the north of Norway.

But we have a black gold and we found it in 1969. And if you go to our parliament in Oslo, Stortinget, and it doesn’t matter which party you go to, from the left to the right, they all agreed about one thing, that they want to have farms absolutely everywhere in Norway. And if you would like to have it like this, then, of course, you must use some of the black gold from the North Sea. So I think this is very important to tell people visiting Norway. So then they can better understand why we have small farms absolutely everywhere in Norway. If you go to Sweden, it’s just the opposite. In the north of Sweden, we have nearly nothing left. They don’t have a black gold. They don’t have the same possibility as Norway. And we in Norway, we should be more thankful for that.

We have this possibility to keep up the farming absolutely everywhere in Norway. And it’s also a question about quality of the food. Very often we get the question about how much medicines we use for animals. And of course, yes, we use some medicines for our animals. But if you compare that to other countries in Europe, it’s close to nothing. So, of course, food is more expensive in Norway than in Sweden, Denmark and the rest of Europe. But the income in Norway, it’s much higher than everywhere else. Everything is more expensive here. But the quality of what they produce in Norway in agriculture is very good then you have to pay for it. You can always get something cheaper. But then it’s also a question about the quality.

Sue : That’s an important point to make. Thank you, Arild. And how do you diversify to generate more income if you’re not just doing farming?

Arild : Well, of course, with tourism, that’s very important for us. So we started with that in 2000. The first year, I think we had only visits from three, four groups. And the last year, it has been a lot more. And for us, it’s very important. It gives a nice income for the farm. So that gives us the possibility to run the farm and also to restore the buildings, to restore the stone walls, well to do very important maintenance of the farm. And in the end you see that today we have nearly six people working on the farm year around. So yes, we are very satisfied.

Sue : And you run the farm in a traditional style?

Arild : Yes, we do that. So, for example, we use the horse in the spring when we are going to spread the manure. We have also several other wagons that we use during the year for the horse. And so it’s a quite traditional farm, yes.

Sue : And Gyrid, you are an employee at the farm. What are you learning from working there?

Gyrid : I’m learning a lot. I grew up with horses, so that was the knowledge I had basically before I came here. So everything with the running of the farm, all the different aspects of it, the sheep, the chickens, all of that is things that I had to learn. And here on the farm, you get thrown into it. And then you learn as you go. And I think that is, is a very good way of learning. And then of course, I have Arild and the other employees here to guide me and that has been very helpful.

Sue : Now you were a hairdresser before you switched to working at the farm. But that’s quite a change. So why change to farming?

Gyrid : Well, it was love.

Arild: Well, not with me.

Gyrid: No, not with Arild. I met my boyfriend when I was working as a hairdresser. He was actually the brother of one of my colleagues in the salon. Well, we met, we hit it off and he told me that he was taking over his family’s farm. So I thought to myself, okay, this is the man. Here is my chance. So we have a very good relationship, but I also get a farm. So I’m very happy about that. So of course, when that relationship got serious, we started talking about when we were able to take over the farm. and what we wanted to do. And I said to him, if we are going to take over a farm, I can’t continue to work as a hairdresser. I have to learn. Because if we’re going to run it, I want to do the best job that I can. So that is why I started working for Arild at Øvre Eide.

Sue :And where will your farm be, Gyrid?

Gyrid : It’s in Sogn, it’s about two and a half hours from Bergen, where we’re currently at. So I can still come home to Øvre Eide whenever I want to visit and come and say hello.

Sue : And will it be the same type of farm, the same sort of size as Øvre Eide?

Gyrid : It’s a little bit bigger, but it’s mostly woods and also a mountain, a big mountain. The farm, the farmland in itself is not much bigger than here at this farm. But it’s much more like out in the countryside, far away from big cities. So of course, some of the things that we do here on the farm, I can take with me. And some of the things I have to do a little bit differently.

Norwegian farming and diversification

Sue : And will you have to also diversify to generate income for the farm that you’ll be running?

Gyrid : Yeah, if we want to live off of the farm, we have to diversify. Of course, we could have done what my boyfriend’s grandmother did. She had a hundred sheep and she had some horses, but it’s different times now. So it’s not that easy to make a big income off of only sheep. Of course, we want to have animals, but we do have to to look at other ways of income from the farm as well.

Sue : So from your experience of working with Arild, what in particular are you learning?

Gyrid : So the good part of working for Arild is that he is a man of with a lot of knowledge about everything and anything. So he teaches me, you know, how to see all the different aspects of running a farm, both with the animal part and also with the tourism guest part. So I get to be a part of everything like the planning of events, how to do the events, work at events here at the farm, and also with all the animals. So he teaches me like all the different side of running a farm and running it as a business and how to take chances. Because you have to, on a farm like this, you have to dare to try something new and something different than your parents did.

Sue :And Arild, have you learned anything from Gyrid?

Arild : Yes, I think always that we can learn from each other. And it’s always nice when you have other people that you’re working with, but you see that it’s not always about my point of view is the best. And then I’m very satisfied that I have, for example, Gyrid who can tell me, well, perhaps think twice. Perhaps it’s better if we do it like that and that. So, of course, yes, I also learn from Gyrid and the other employees. Yes.

Education in Norwegian prisons

Sue :And if you’re enjoying learning about Ovre Eide Farm, then I suggest you also listen to episode 26 of the podcast, where I met Jonathan Cook, who is living the dream as a dairy farmer in Wiltshire in England. Just hop on over to our website accesstoinspiration.org where you will find this and a hundred other episodes to listen to. Now back to the conversation. I know that education is quite important to you, Arild, because twice a week you work at Bjorgvin Prison. What do you teach there?

Arild : Well, I teach inmates who would like to learn more about cooking, especially how to make bread and cakes. So I have in the class I have from two to eight students every day and they’re always very keen on to learn more about cooking because you see perhaps they don’t know so much when they come to the prison but it’s very nice for them but perhaps later when we’re coming out in the society again perhaps we can make a cake, we can make a bread for the family for the children. So it’s very popular to participate in these courses. Yes, absolutely.

Sue :And there’s quite an interesting philosophy that Norway has for rehabilitation of prisoners.

Arild : Yes, in Norway, we, if perhaps if you compare to other countries, we spend a lot of money in our prison system and especially in education, because we think that if the best way to rehabilitation for an inmate, that is what may know a little bit more when the day come when they leave a prison than the day when they came to a prison. And in Norway, about 20 percent of inmates may come back. And we think that’s too many. But if you compare it to other countries, they will say that’s marvelous. So I have former students who today work as chefs. Some of them may work on as a chef on a fishing boat and their income is two or three times more than my income but we are both very satisfied and it gives me a lot to see former students that they make a nice career later. Yes, it’s marvellous.

Sue : Where do you get the sense of satisfaction from working twice a week in the prison? What do you hope is that impact?

Arild : Well, it is that you give people hope. In this prison, we have people who are only for 60 days, but they can also be there for five years. But to give them the hope that if you pass some education, you will have a better chance to get an ordinary life out there in the society. To work with people who would like to really do something, that is. It gives me a lot. It gives me a lot. And you see, for example, now we have been three days skiing with some of my inmates. We have been at Myrkdal, and that is just between Bergen and Flam in Sogn. And you see that the inmates, they have been working for this tour. We have in the prison, we have something that we call student-run business. So the inmates, they have produced cakes for sale. And for the Christmas 2023, we sold cakes for about 12,000 euros. And of course, we had a nice profit and we have used the profit to go skiing. So we were three inmates, one guard and me, we went to a nice hotel, stayed there for three days, three days skiing, wonderful weather. And everyone was so happy.

Sue : And I’m assuming that they went back to prison afterwards.

Arild : Of course, they want to learn more.

Sue : That sounds like quite a feat to take your prisoners and the guard and yourself to go off skiing.

Arild : Yes, but you see also for Christmas we do another thing. For Christmas we have a tradition that we invite all the inmates who are going to school in the prison, they come to our farm to have a Christmas dinner. So last Christmas, well, my students, they prepared the dinner and we had 60 inmates, three, four guards in the barn and we serve them Christmas food. And of course, that’s also very popular.

Sue : Wow, that sounds amazing. It sounds like there’s lots of ways that you’re educating and inspiring these people in prison, I’m thinking.

Arild : Yes, but you see it sometimes you feel a little bit sorry because, in the summer or in spring, in the summer, you perhaps you meet an inmate that you have had some years ago. And the first question they ask me is, are we going to have a Christmas dinner at your farm in December? And yes, we are going to do it. But then you see that this Christmas dinner is very, very important for them. And I think it’s important for every people. Most of us, we love to go out with some friends, perhaps family, to have a Christmas dinner somewhere. Perhaps you go to a restaurant or you go to visit someone else. And it’s also important if you are in a prison that you can tell someone else, yes, we had also a Christmas dinner. We went to a farm. We had a really nice time. We were 60 people, 60 guests in a barn and Christmas dinner, Christmas songs. So it gives them the hope for a better future.

Sue : Yeah, that sounds really, really fascinating. Giving people a sense of self-worth.

Arild : Yes.

Sue : And Gyrid, on the farm, I’m hearing now about Christmas dinner on the farm and there’s a barn. What are some of those activities that you are involved in to generate that extra income?

Creating a sense of community

Gyrid : I am involved in almost every aspect here on the farm. We do weddings, we do baptisms, we do Christmas dinners, we have birthday parties for kids, farm visits. Of course, all the tourism, we have riding tours up in the mountain and also school classes and kindergartens that come here, elderly centres that come. So it’s a lot of different activities here on the farm that I get to be a part of.

Sue : It almost sounds to me that there’s a bigger message about education and inspiration with the farm being at the heart of it.

Gyrid : Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I worked a lot with the school classes that come here. We have some school classes with special need kids that come here once a week to get a break from the classroom. And they join us in all the daily work with the animals, the sheep, the horses, chickens. So there is a big focus on using the farm not only for Arild and his income, but also for the area, the people living around here, families, schools. And Arild always says that he wants to share his farm. He don’t want to have it just for himself. He wanted to share it and to build something here that a lot of people could have use for in any way they needed it for.

Sue : So it has a sense of community.

Gyrid : Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Arild : And I think also that’s very important for young students, for young kids, but perhaps you have problems at school to understand with theory, but through practical work, perhaps you can understand it better, you can understand it easier later.

Sue : So doing things, not just learning things from a book. There’s the use of one’s hands and being practical.

Arild : Yes, yes. Learning through practical work.

Sue : Which is, I imagine, the same as what you’re teaching in prison.

Arild : Yes. So you see, for example, in the prison, what we also, another thing we do there is that while we are in the class, as I mentioned, from two to eight students, from May 2023 we have made all the bread for the prison every day and 90 inmates guards and restoration so it’s total 120 people and you see that inmates may get early up in the morning preparing the bread and so therefore we have fresh bread seven days a week.

Sue: Wow.

Arild: and for Christmas and Easter we make all the sweets and of course to make sweets cakes for 10 people that’s one thing but to make cakes and desserts for 120 that’s something totally different and of course when you have done that you have learned a lot you get a nice experience so that’s why I can ask restaurants in Bergen if I can open the door for one of my inmates so they can learn more about cooking and for example in the end pass the exam to be to become a chef or a baker.

Sue :So you’re really helping them to continue to be educated in different ways?

Arild : Yes we try to do our best.

Sue :What gives you greatest satisfaction out of all the activities that you do Arild?

Arild : Well, I am very happy when we can share our farm with other people, when they show interest in what we are doing, when we can have nice talks, we can tell about Norway, and you will always see that in every country there are positive and negative sides of living. But in the end, we can always learn from each other. To see that, that gives me a lot of satisfaction, yes.

Sue :And given that farming these days may not be top of the list for young people to have as a career choice, to both of you, how do you think a life in farming can be made appealing and interesting for those who might want to think about it as a career option?

Arild : Well, I think that it’s very important If you want to have a next generation on the farm, of course you must tell about the work, but you must also remember to tell about all the joy that the works give you. And many farmers in Norway they continue to do exactly the same as their father, their grandfather did, but like the situation is in Norway and Europe now, I think that you have to open your eyes and try to look for other possibilities. So therefore, I have a big hope for the future for the Norwegian farming, but you must try to do something else. You cannot continue on the same track as, for example, your father and grandfather has done. If you are positive, to try something else when it’s hope for you. If not, well, then life can be a little bit too difficult.

Sue : And what do you think, Gyrid?

Gyrid : Well, I do. I do agree with the more traditional farming is. Well, that will be hard work. And of course, here in the western parts of Norway with the small farms, the traditional farming is probably not on the top of the list for young people. But we see with my generation, I just turned 30, and I see a lot of people my age and younger wanting to buy a farm. They want to go into farming, but not in the traditional way. They want to diversify. They want to do something, of course, the farming bit, but they don’t want to just have the milk cows or just the sheep. They want to do things a little bit different. And I think that it’s good. We can’t be stuck in the same system and expect growth. So I think it’s very good that the younger generations, they want to come into farming I’d probably do it a little bit different. I think I think that’s a good thing.

Stepping out of your comfort zone

Sue : So I’m getting a sense of a little bit of risk taking, being entrepreneurial, new ideas. Arild, are you the one that comes up with all the ideas?

Arild : I will not take responsibility for every idea of what we have here, but many of them and sometimes my colleagues say, well, that was not the best you have said the last days, but let us try something else. But again, If you’re going to have success, it’s very important that you have a team. And if a success for a team, that is when you talk with each other and when you manage to find the best offers to give to guests. And but of course, I have my experience from Norway and I have also my experience from Switzerland. And I think that’s very important because why I started to have guests on the farm? Well, that was because I had been living twice in Switzerland. And in Switzerland, it has been for generations a tradition that, for example, if you are on a Sunday, you went to a farm to go for have your dinner or, for example, to go to buy for your milk or cheese, whatever. In Norway, we have only had this for the last, I will say, perhaps 15, 20 years. So when I came back to Norway and it was my time to run the farm, I realized that to continue on the same track as my father has done, that would be impossible. I had to try to do something else. So that’s why I started to, well, to open the farm for guests. And I have never regret that decision.

Sue : So there’s something about getting out of your own world into another environment, whether it’s Switzerland for you, Arild, whether it’s another farm for you, Gyrid, and out of the world of hairdressing, to be able to take some new perspectives to learn, seems to be something that’s important for sustainability into the future.

Gyrid : Absolutely, I do agree. You have to get out of your comfort zone. to achieve bigger things. So Arild with everything he has experienced, that creates the foundation for him here at the farm. He knows what’s working, what’s not. And of course, you need to dare to take some risks. And of course, not everything works. And then something works very well, as it has here on this farm.

Arild : I would like to say that as long as you have a possibility to sometimes to take two steps forward and one step behind, then we must be satisfied.

Sue : And so if we went forward 10 years from now, what do you hope you’ll be doing then?

Arild : Well, I hope that I’m still here on the farm, that we have guests, that I have my work in the prison. Perhaps when I have a week off or two weeks off, I can go on a cruise.

Sue :How about you, Gyrid? What do you hope to be doing in 10 years?

Gyrid : In 10 years, we will be living on our own farm, hopefully doing a little business out of it, get it up and running. Then my kids will be all grown up. They would have moved out in 10 years, hopefully. So that opens up a lot of free time as well. So then I have a lot of time to use on the farm and for new projects and everything. So I’m looking forward to the next 10 years.

Arild : And we hope that Gyrid, when she has time, will do some part-time working for us when she is in Bergen.

Gyrid : Yes, I do need to have a job besides running the farm, Arild.

Sue : And so I have one more question. What would be your piece of advice you would give to somebody to encourage them to step out of their comfort zone and to take a risk?

Gyrid : What’s the worst thing that can happen? But I think that if you really want to achieve something, if you really want to do something, if it’s possible, you should try it. You should go for it because otherwise you’re gonna sit at the elderly center when you’re 90 and you’re gonna regret all the things that you didn’t do. And I have to do a little pep talk to myself also all the time. To be like, okay, Gyrid you can do this. And if it fails, it’s okay, then we’ll try something else. I think people think that it’s dangerous to do something that you don’t know the outcome of. But the worst thing that can happen is that you’re back to the situation you are in now. But that’s the only thing you can do. You have to try. You have to go for it if it’s something that you really want to achieve.

Sue : And Arild?

Arild : I would say, yes, please do it. Because you know the famous song from France, ‘Je ne regrette rien’. I would say that to regret when you are getting old, why didn’t I do that and that? That’s too late. and so therefore my advice is do it and of course before you make the final decision if you’re going to do that and that of course you have to do some research but try and do the best out of it.

Sue :Well thank you so much for your time today and sharing your insights with our listeners so that we can learn a little bit more about Norway and farming and being enterprising.

Gyrid: Well, thank you so much for having us.

Arild : Thank you very much.

Sue : Thanks to Arild and Gyrid for their insights into farm life in Norway. And some new perspective on the prison system in Norway too. Well, let us know what you enjoyed about this episode. Send us a voice note or a message via our website. And you can subscribe to the podcast too, so that you’ll easily get notified about new episodes. I’ll be back again next week with another inspiring guest. Hope you can join us then.