I spent a month on Carola and Eilif Leidulvstad’s farm inspired by Fukuoka’s ‘One Straw Revolution’ and Natural Farming in the Andes in Peru. Here, I’ll be sharing stories of that month, revelations and new insights gathered into permaculture and life in general.
“On this side is the wharf. On the other side is Pier 4. If you think there is life on this side, then death is on the other, if you want to get rid of the idea of death, then you should rid yourself of the notion that there is life on this side. Life and death are one.”
The week before they come and murder all thirty-one of Eilif Leidulvstad’s sheep, Eilif removes his guns – two old hunting rifles – and leaves them at his mother’s farm. It is 1997, rural Norway, and there are six individuals from the supposed ‘Animal Protection’ government authority and two police officers. When they arrive, Eilif walks calmly inside, grabs his camera and starts taking photographs.
One of the women becomes so anxious that she begins smoking uncontrollably.
Eilif is inspired by his grandmother, and from the age of eight refused to take painkillers and considered himself a medicine man. For the last ten years at least, he has been sheep and dairy farming as naturally and traditionally as possible. His cattle and sheep roam free in the pastures, eating grass, leaves, bark, flowers, fruits and anything else they find. They need no parasite medicine, as they come from stronger breeds with higher immune defenses against parasites, are not over-crowded, and self-medicate using tannins found in willow, aspen and Salix, unlike modern sheep and cattle kept in closed quarters, largely fed industrially-produced grain, denied access to tannin-containing plant foods, and with modern, especially hybrid breeds, being bred for aggressiveness and size rather than immune defenses, which invariably results in such livestock requiring more drugs, vets and bringing more profits for the pharmaceutical industries.
Moreover, such sheep can barely give birth naturally – and need to be indoors with plenty of drugs and veterinary care. Eilif’s sheep, by contrast, give birth in the forest under the trees, require no medication, and the lambs spring up with energy soon after being born.
Their demands are threefold. First, that Eilif start using parasite medicine instead of allowing sheep to self-medicate on tannins and self-regulate population numbers. Second, that he feed them grain. Third, that the sheep not give birth naturally. Some weeks prior, Eilif has given his best ram to a local farmer, who has then given it to another farmer, who has then gotten it sick. Eilif drives across to rescue his ram and crosses regional borders in the process, a fact that the supposed “Animal Protection” authorities use as a springboard for arriving, guns blazing – a sick ram should simply not be taken across regional boundaries. They should, all things considered, just put him in quarantine, leave the livestock as is, and put any other farmer he sells sheep to in quarantine as well, if the illness is truly so dangerous. Knowing Eilif, he probably reckons the sick ram could be saved by creating a better environment and tannin medicine.
Instead, they violate the government and agricultural bodies’ own rules, and kill the sheep.
Three weeks into my stay at his new farm in Peru, Eilif calmly peels a carrot, puts a slice of cheese on it, and takes a bite, recounting the story of almost 20 years prior by candlelight.
It’s more complex than their three demands, however.
“First,” he says, “it had nothing to do with grains, parasite medicine and natural birth, and everything to do with the fact that I was breeding ‘non-approved’ breeds. An approved breed can be found at the fair with a red mark in its ear. These so-called ‘approved’ breeds are supposed to be healthier and have better genetic material – and indeed, they are often heavier and more aggressive. But this does not mean they have stronger immune defenses, or that they will produce heavier or more lambs, or higher quality meat or milk necessarily. Using kilograms as a measure speaks nothing to the quality of the meat. Moreover, traditional cows do produce more milk, but it’s mostly more water – it’s very watery milk which yields poor quality cheese. Modern pastures are monocultured or bi-cultured – mostly clover and grass – in contrast to traditional polycultured farms with plenty of plant diversity for higher immunity of livestock. So all in all, such poor quality livestock are absolutely great business for the circus of vets and pharmaceutical companies – they even ran ‘anti-browsing’ propaganda to scare farmers against their traditional tannin medicine so we have huge destruction of native willow, aspen, Salix trees or these areas being fenced off by farmers these days.
“I, conversely, was getting those without the red mark in their ears at the fair,” he continues, “and breeding them not for aggression but away from it. I was not breeding for size, either, but for quality milk and meat, and higher immunity. This scared the authorities, presumably, who had already gone on to form an agricultural body at a national level, purporting that instead of each region continuing to breed its regionally-adapted sheep as had been done for hundreds of years, they would now be ‘anti-racist’ and all breed only one or two types, pre-approved by this authority. They encouraged artificial insemination and attempted to make farmers dependent on this, but when they destroyed semen of other species, the farmers became angry and many went against the grain and continued breeding their own sheep and cattle, keeping up the genetic diversity. And that’s exactly what the government doesn’t want.”
You have two choices, Eilif says, after they have already finished placing the sheep in the truck for the slaughterhouse. Give me back my sheep, or I will persecute you in court. It may take five years, ten years, fifty or a hundred. But I will not give up.
They drive just up until the intersection of his road with the next in their car behind the truck when, all of a sudden, the car becomes stuck in a muddy hole on the road. Eilif doesn’t bat an eyelid, or chuckle – merely walks up while they sit, embarrassed, as he pushes them out of the hole with his bare hands.
Gandhi once said, first they ignore you, then they mock you, then they fight you, then you win. True to the principles of non-violence and non-action, Eilif does nothing and represents himself in court, weeks later, when all the evidence has already been destroyed. The sheep are dead, and there was no medical or scientific evidence collected in the first place on their state of health – just conjecture and ‘eyewitness’ testimony. He is convicted for mistreatment of animals and sentenced to not own any animals for five years.
Eilif Leidulvstad has a sustainability magazine, with a title in Norwegian to the effect of Sustainabilist or Sustainable Human, in which he details his practices and creates a forum for dialogue amongst similarly minded farmers. It’s a small magazine, self-published in the kitchen, but large enough to be listed under the National Library’s index with over a hundred subscribers. He writes about the whole incident with his sheep, of course. After one article he writes, someone comes and sprays poison all over his beehives and kills them. After another, his cousin cuts down all the Salix trees on the farm his grandmother grew up in. Many years ago, Norway, being the gateway for the Soviet Union to enter Europe, had secret members of the army as higher-up commanders – people that were unknown to the public as office-holders and hence unable to be targeted by the Soviet Union. After the Union collapsed, these people remained and their role became more espionage and monitoring – keeping an eye on anyone with supposedly ‘dangerous,’ ‘radical’ or ‘communist’ ideas. These people were spied on and attempted to be manipulated – mostly through psychological warfare. Eilif’s uncle was one of these commanders, so the actions of his cousin – moreover a Christ reborn / anti-Christ fanatic – make sense in light of its history.
We are talking by candlelight, and I cannot help but not know whether to cry or laugh. I’m reminded of the Crucible and the McCarthy era in USA. But Eilif, I say, I always thought Norway was quite a progressive country, with decent social norms and great environmental practices. I’m surprised to hear this.
He offers that Norway, perhaps, is a tad apart from Denmark or Sweden because of its oil wealth – they have something to protect, something to keep fighting for.
Alright, I say, but, well, isn’t it all kind of ridiculous? I mean, all you’re doing is breeding sheep and letting them prance around in the pastures; I mean, doesn’t the government have better things to do than target a lonely farmer in rural Norway? Aren’t there more pressing or urgent problems?
Eilif looks at me, and we share the briefest moment of silence, dwelling on the absurdity of the current global system that just to live simply you are ‘guilty,’ ‘unpatriotic,’ and a ‘national threat’ and that people who are so humble, good-spirited, peaceful and non-violent are more or less forced to leave their homelands for doing what they love and believe in. All for money – something which doesn’t even exist in the real world.
In 2002, Eilif acquires animals again and carries on. He is a quiet man, who keeps fighting and doing what he believes promotes wellbeing and thriving for all species, but they come again, in 2007, to convict him for ‘maltreatment of chickens,’ saying that the chickens were in excessively dirty conditions and showing photographs of very dark chickens indeed – of course, because Black Minorca is a black chicken, obviously! – and that his place smells of ammonia, also false. The court case is nothing more than a formality to shut down his farm and prevent him from breeding pure bred chickens with higher genetic diversity, greater immunity and hence to prevent him from reaching out to other farmers and encouraging them to do the same. He is convicted, again, and sentenced to never own livestock again for life.
Fearing the children will be next, Eilif and Carola flee to Peru. I’m a public enemy in Norway, Eilif murmurs, we would be such an easy target for child protection authorities – kids unschooled, unvaccinated, living in an old home with firewood and not electrical heating on the farm.
I am, suddenly, extremely angry.
It doesn’t end there, however, Eilif carries on. He points to the supposed ‘bird flu’ worldwide scare, which arose – not from migratory birds as believed – but from factory-farmed chickens living in close quarters and poor conditions, which then transported it to pasture chickens and other factory farmed chickens around the world via the Trans-Siberian railroad – more proof of fragility arising from critical hub infrastructure lock-in in global supply chains. Cheap sick chickens from factories were sold to Turkish farmers, before authorities arrived to kill all these farmers’ chickens, sick or not, even those which had survived and gained immunity, with farmers billed for the slaughter. Moreover, factory farmed birds are all but genetically identical – or at least, come from a very narrow gene pool – have low immunity, last about a year instead of 8 years full lifespan, grow large quickly and can barely walk upright after a few months have elapsed and all but crawl over to the food bowl.
Eilif cites a similar story with regards to mad cow disease, where a double dose of a phosphate insecticide was rubbed on backs of cows, which promptly fell sick, a practice that continued to fuel further cow slaughter, suiting Monsanto’s need for decreased cattle and increased chicken farming at the time, and apparently swine flu had a similar dark side. All of this also, incidentally, funds animal vaccine-producers, vets and the pharmaceutical industries associated.
EIlif is a quiet man, gentle, awkward and grateful for every little act his volunteers do on his 25 hectare farm in the Andes of Peru, 2500m above sea level in a series of three high plateaus in a valley between the mountains. He does not ask any person who comes on the farm to do anything, merely suggests – maybe you could…maybe you might like to…– and thanks each individual for every job, be it catching a chicken, watering the trees or the nursery or simply cleaning. He respects days off, even when he is left all alone slaving away in the hot sun, and encourages volunteers to take a brick if they are sick or injured, brings them kefir. He is out in the fields by 6:30am at the absolute latest, and can often be out there until 10pm, irrigating the fields under head torch. Sometimes, he awakens at 12am and 3am additionally to ensure the pools do not overflow. Despite the sheer number of things which must be done on his four-year old natural farming paradise, he is extremely generous with his time and will sit for hours on end, recounting stories and patiently answering question after question.
When I arrive, the six other volunteers tell me he has barely been around, taking care of the kids in the town up on the hill while his wife, Carola, busses to Lima to vote. It is an act of sheer trust and faith in the spirit of his volunteers that he can easily leave the huge farm to a group of 20- and 30-somethings. Nor does he ask anything as simple as how did it go (a subtle hint of have you done it yet?) – merely potters about quietly and takes a look, doing the work himself if need be, if one ran out of time. The volunteers are shy about asking him for more than the basics of what is provided to eat, however, aware that neither have a source of work income, but he is sensitive to these needs – not enough to ask, but enough to respond when we write him lists, and often gets more than what was asked for.
In his fields and nursery, Eilif grows gooseberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and mulberries. There are trees bursting with guava, figs, peaches and baby plants of banana, apples, pomegranate, cherimoya, citrus, olive, avocado, thorny tomatoes, green tomatoes, sugarcane, stuffing cucumber, plantain, mango, plums, loquats, membrillo (quinces), passionfruit, lucuma, ukumanu, ice cream bean (pacay) and pineapples. Herbs and medicinal plants include lemon verbena, hibiscus, muña, spearmint, basil, bay leaves, rosemary, lavender, wakatai, oregano, fennel, matico, sangre de grado, thyme. There are sugar snap peas, beans, squashes, pumpkin, zuchhini, carrots (black, white and orange), beetroot, lettuce, spring onion, leeks, broccoli, cabbage, radishes, parsnips. Of the grains, there are two maize fields with purple and yellow corn, broadcasted and furrow-planted barley, wild amaranth and wild quinoa, and plans for rice. Of the tubers, there are over two hundred varieties of potato in a giant experimental potato plot, as well as yacon, yucca, mauka, mashua, achira, ahipa, arracacha, oca, ulluco, kumara. Vetch and clover are great groundcovers throughout, and there are poplars, conifers, pashul (basul) and penca to boot. Nitrogen fixers moreover include pigeon pea and Tephrosia alongside a spot of comfrey. Moreover, there are nine species of chickens, including ancient and native South American breeds, and plans for a cow and donkey and some sheep one day.
It’s been four years they’ve been here, and there is so much planted yet no house, running water, electricity to speak of. We volunteers all live in tents. Eilif, I ask him, what is your dream for this land, this place you’ve inherited? I mean, I continue, is it just a home for you and your children and the generations to come, or is there something more? He gestures to he hills, saying it will all be an entire productive edible landscape with high biodiversity, and that he aims to plant fruit and nut trees all the way up and down the valleys down to the two rivers. We want this to be an experimental centre, he says, an education centre for the next generation. We want to sequester carbon by planting here, showing what can be done, and eventually reforesting all the way up every hill you can see around you for miles.
I turn to the bare hills around us, tropical highland forests burned to the ground since the arrival of the Spaniards and replaced with a horrendous array of giant cactus, eucalyptus and crabgrass – weeds that thrive under continual destruction. In any other country, it’s not easy to find land, and so much of it. In any other part of this country, it’s not easy to find a place where you can grow just about anything – cold-weather foods to tropical fruits. The fact that Eilif has found both – inherited land from Carola’s grandmother – is a miracle.
I think: Eilif is an extremely blessed man.