The Swedish Summer Farm Project

Swedish summer farms — fäbodar — are an essential but disappearing part of Sweden’s cultural heritage. Join my journey as I document them.

What is a Swedish summer farm?

Summer farms have been part of Swedish agriculture since the Middle Ages. They helped the pastures at the home farm last longer.

Young women would bring the cows and goats to graze at simple summer farms in the woods. It was heavy work every day, from early in the morning until late: guarding the herd, milking the cows and goats, and preparing butter, cheese, and other milk products.

While there were around 10,000 summer farms in the end of the 19th century, less than 250 active farms remain today.

The Swedish summer farm project

Two years ago, I volunteered for a week at Svedbovallen in Hälsingland. 

It was hard work to ensure that the 49 goats, eight baby goats, and two cows were taken care of properly, from six in the morning until late in the evening. I spent hours making curd cakes and baking buns — and trying to take care of fika guests at the same time. I slept in woolen clothes but still woke up cold in the middle of the night as the hearth went out.

And I loved it.

I remember visiting the same farm as a child — petting the goats, staring wide-eyed at the cows, and enjoying some cookies.

One of my great fears is that future generations won’t be able to have the same experience.

Even with some modernizations like electricity, it’s hard work to run a summer farm. Taking care of the paperwork, following modern regulations, managing with varying income, taking care of animals, baking homemade fika, welcoming tourists… it all adds up.

I have tremendous respect for the work these dedicated people do, but the odds are against them.

These farms are part of Sweden’s cultural heritage. We need to do all that we can to preserve it.

The Swedish summer farm project aims to:

  • document how the summer farms work today,
  • share stories of the past and present,
  • gather unique summer farm recipes, and
  • make it easier for tourists to find the farms.

My hope is to contribute to better conditions for the summer farm keepers and encourage more visits to the farms.

killing på fäbod. goatling on swedish summer farm

Come along on the roadtrip!

The active summer farms are mainly spread out in the southern North and in the middle of Sweden. So, I’m preparing for a pretty impressive road trip through stunning parts of the country.

You can come along on the trip from the comfort of your home — and won’t have to deal with all the mosquitos…

Follow the project through:

  • Articles in Swedish and English on this website.
  • Emails to the Swedish Spoon subscribers.
  • Live Facebook videos (at farms where I can get internet reception…).
  • Updates on Facebook and Instagram.

A bit later, you’ll also be able to see the result through:

  • A documentary series on Youtube.
  • A book about the life, history, and food of the summer farms.

Who knows, maybe there will be something else, too?

Make sure to subscribe below so you can follow the journey!

 

A few of the things you can expect

Documenting life at the summer farms

Many of the farms have been active ever since the 17th or 18th century. While many have been modernized slightly (electricity! running water!), others have not.

We’ll learn more about the history of the Swedish summer farms and the stories they carry.

Then there’s the current life at the farms.

How are the farms used today?

What do the conditions look like?

What animals do they keep? (Some farms keep the rare Swedish mountain cattle.)

Plus, I’ll do my best to report about all the cute baby goats, because… well, I can’t resist them.

dammsugare — Swedish vacuum cleaners or punsch rolls, even called arrack rolls

Learning more about butter…

Butter was one of the most important products of the summer farms. It is also one of my favorite obsessions and I can’t wait to learn more! In the meantime, here are my recommendations for how to make flavourful homemade butter yourself.

To be fair, the summer farms produce so much more than just butter, such as different kinds of cheese — fresh, hard, whey… We’ll learn more about the different kinds of milk products, but also what people used to cook and eat at the farms.

…and maybe some cookies?

Today, many of the active summer farms are open for tourists and the fika at these farms tends to be of the very best sort. If we’re lucky, maybe I can get some cookie recipes to share with you, too.

churning butter

Churning butter at Långåsen summer farm in Medelpad in the 30s. Photo: Gunnar Öhrn/Sundsvalls museum.

Collecting the stories of the summer farm workers

The pretty houses and animals may look idyllic, but it was hard work from early morning until late at night. In the old days, superstition was also present — maybe the trolls in the forest would put a hex on one of the cows?

In addition to interviewing current summer farm keepers, I’ll also talk to those who previously worked on the farms.

What did life on a summer farm look like in the old days?

What was their work?

What were the habits and customs?

We need to collect their stories when we still can, so that we as well as future generations can better understand and appreciate the conditions of the past.

sponge cake sockerkaka

Summer life sometime 1910-1915 at Skjortnäs summer farms outside of Gävle in Hälsingland. Photo: Länsmuseet Gävleborg.

Can you help?

This is a BIG project, so I welcome any help you’d like to offer. For example, maybe you…

  • want to suggest someone I should talk to,
  • know of a potential sponsor or stipend I could apply to (I’ve still got about half of the project costs to cover), or
  • have advice on documentary filmmaking to share?

Maybe you simply want to cheer me on?

I truly appreciate it — please email me.

Thank you

This project is made possible by the support of the Swedish Board of Agriculture (Jordbruksverket) and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, EAFRD. They will cover about half of the costs for visiting the farms and producing the related material.

I am also honored to have received the IRIS stipend so that I can collect the stories of old farmworkers.

Are you interested in sponsoring or otherwise contributing to the project? How exciting! Please email me and we’ll talk about it.

 

Say “hi” (or hej)

Do you want to share memories from summer farms, have a suggestion or idea, or maybe want to contribute? Maybe a “must” for the road trip playlist? I look forward to hearing from you!

 

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