Karin Forsberg and Matts Johansson
26 June 2020

New business model in sustainable food production - A true fisherman’s tale

We were already doing this in the eleventh century – farming carp on land in combination with growing vegetables. “There’s not really anything new or nerdy about what we’re doing in Floda”, say Matts Johansson and Karin Forsberg from Garveriet.

When the food entrepreneur Matts Johansson first began roasting his own coffee and serving sourdough bread 25 years ago, he experienced several ‘Aha!’ moments with regard to what sustainable food production actually involves.

“From a sustainability perspective, fair and environmentally friendly coffee cultivation is not enough – not if it involves the planned economy. The quality aspect and social sustainability – i.e. that the economic model also works – are also necessary preconditions”, says Matts.

“I think we need to be prepared to pay 10 times as much for our coffee if we are to help coffee production to be both organic and financially viable in the long term.”

Matts needed to understand for himself what the sustainable production of coffee and food really involves, and how this can be communicated without slipping into pedestrian or clichéd sales arguments. Over the years, he has seen how many farmers and cultivators have had to struggle – not least those who try to do things the right way.

“We have many strange expectations of our food: what it should look like, what it should cost, and how it impacts the soil in which it grows. Ideally, we would like to have small dairies producing local cheeses, and small-scale meat farms. But it has become quite clear that much of our knowledge of cultivation, meat cutting and small-scale dairy production is being lost – there is a lack of knowledge-management. At Jernbruket, where we have a local slaughterhouse and the meat is cut (none of the animal is wasted), we need to import the necessary skills and knowledge from Poland and Ukraine.

Matts johansson is stubborn. Having met with South American coffee growers, local farmers and artisan food producers, who are all struggling to swim against the tide at the same time as there is more and more talk about sustainable production, it is clear that there is a failing somewhere in the system.

“I became really interested in this systemic failure – such as consumers demanding organic tomatoes but not caring that they are imported from Spain. Just 10-20% of our vegetables are produced in Sweden. This is something that will eventually become more apparent when we are no longer able to import vegetables from southern Europe, as a consequence of the coronavirus.”

With regard to vegetables, our level of self-sufficiency is extremely low. As part of its food strategy, the Swedish government has taken the decision to increase small-scale food production. There is, however, a big difference between words on a piece of paper and reality; procurement rules are one thing, but a local lamb producer, whose sheep spend their time grazing outdoors so that they do not need antibiotics, must also be able to support themselves.

“When did you last see a live pig?” Matts Johansson runs his fingers through his greying red beard.

Karin Forsberg finds it strange that, as a mother of three children, she knew so little about the food they were eating at home – that is, until she met Matts.

“I think we have a very blinkered view, and place a huge amount of faith in supermarkets and the state. Do you know how much time a Swedish calf gets to spend with his mother? Two hours!”

“Our cows spend a year in grazing pastures before they are slaughtered”, adds Matts. “There’s a mini-revolution taking place in how we view our food.”

Sustainability in how we interact and eat must not be allowed to be a large wet blanket that is draped across people’s lives. According to Matts, we have to begin with the small things. It is easy to lose enthusiasm if we don’t have an in-depth understanding of what we are actually trying to achieve. Both Matts and Karin believe that so-called ‘nudging’ (giving people a gentle push to help them make more sustainable decisions) is the best way to change consumer behaviour.

One example of using nudging to raise awareness is Garveriet’s own courses in sourdough baking, which are held for children and adults. We need to understand where the flour comes from, and that the way in which we grow our wheat can represent a risk both to nutrient levels and to the very soil in which our food is grown.

As Matts explains, “Monoculture requires the addition of artificial fertilisers and nitrogen, as well as spraying. Around 70 years ago, we chose cereal crops that were best suited to the local area; 20-40 farmers would then take their grain, which had different genetic traits, to the village mill. Each farmer would then leave some of their own seed variety behind. In this way, we developed resistant varieties by a process of natural selection. Monoculture, on the other hand, makes us vulnerable.”

“We need to return to some form of crop rotation. Even cattle can help to rescue our climate, as their grazing disturbs the soil, which is extremely important for bacterial flora and the creation of beneficial conditions for the ecosystems in the soil – the basis of all life. Without worms, the cultivatable layer of soil will become thinner and thinner. Once we’re down to a thickness of 12 cm, we’ll have passed the point of no return”, explains Karin. “The cultivation of oranges in USA, Spain and Portugal has already created so-called salted earth.”

It is not only with regard to vegetables that our self-sufficiency is low. Of the 12 kg of fish that the average Swede eats in one year, 6% comes from Swedish-farmed fish. We import 74% of the fish we eat, and this is mainly from fisheries that are more or less unsustainable. In fish farming on land, which combines vegetable cultivation in a circular system, the farmed fish provide nutrients for the vegetables, and vegetable waste returns nutrients back to the plant-eating fish. The roots of the plants also oxygenate the water.

“What we are doing with Pond Fish & Greens here at Floda is utilising old knowledge. We were already farming carp in combination with growing vegetables back in the Viking Age. And land-farmed fish in combination with rice cultivation has being performed in Asia for a very long time”, explains Matts.

According to Matts, there are great benefits to be gained. The seas must have the chance to recover, and we know that land-farmed fish do not contain any antibiotics or other toxins. It also eliminates the need for transportation, and the fish can be cooked when still fresh. Because they are not predatory, the clarias catfish, which are farmed in large tanks at Garveriet, are well-suited for land-farming.

“It’s clear that sustainability efforts in food production have barely begun. We have realised that we must take a different approach, but we haven’t really decided quite how, and we have certainly not yet begun to take action – apart from the small steps we are taking here in Floda”, says Karin.

“We all have a responsibility to gain as much knowledge as possible. With Garveriet – both the restaurant and the bakery, together with our meetings – we aim to become a forum for knowledge and produce more Aha! moments with regard to sustainability.”

Business models often lag behind, according to Matts. “We would love to be able to openly share our knowledge of how we can progress with the business models. Our goal for the future is that Garveriet shall have increased links with research, becoming a centre for sustainability where new solutions for problems can be developed and discussed.”

Having spent a long time checking out various fish stores, and having realised that much of what is being sold is not sustainable, Matts Johansson has taken action and opened a sustainable fish store in Floda. As he says, there’s a mini-revolution taking place.

 

This article was originally printed in Magasin Göteborg 2020 (swedish). Text by Ulrica Segersten.

Magasin Göteborg is published by Business Region Göteborg and the Trade and Industry Group at Göteborg & Co. The theme of Magasin Göteborg 2020 is ”Sustainable growth – for everyone”.