Kiselgården Version 2.0
Opdateret: 15. nov. 2018
Behind the green crowns of the trees that arch over the narrow road in the middle of the rural West Zealand terrain is Kiselgården. The farm, which is known for growing tasty vegetables, has existed as a biodynamic and organic farm since 1985. The customers are some of the country’s leading restaurants, a handful of wholesalers and private subscription customers. A generational change took place on the farm a few years ago, and today it is Ask Rasmussen, aged 31, and Amy Rasmussen, aged 27, who stand at the helm.
At the white-painted dining table in the large bright kitchen are Ask and Amy: parents of Victor, aged 6, and Birk, aged 5, husband and wife of three years, a couple for ten years and 2nd generation owners at Kiselgården. Somewhat modern, Kiselgården could currently be said to exist as a version 2.0. Where biodynamics has a somewhat different ring and where time after 2016 almost seems endless. At least judging by the visions.
THE WORKING DAY AT KISELGÅRDEN
Ask wakes up at 7 a.m. He is a morning person, while the rest of the little family prefer to snooze for as long as they can. However, before long the level of activity is high in Kiselgården’s main house. And the day starts in its usual way. Otherwise, the only normal thing in a day at Kiselgården is the structure of the life of the children, while the rest of the day’s content is unpredictable and unfolds throughout the course of the day.
Amy: ”It starts with porridge and screaming and yelling and ‘put your clothes on’ and then it’s out the door. I handle the ‘tour de kids’ and Ask drives out to the fields. When I’m back, it’s into the office where we have a staff meeting. Here we find out what’s going to happen during the day and then we just get on with whatever there is. Yesterday we rinsed leeks, the day before yesterday it was carrots, and today we’re going to pack boxes for Årstiderne (ed. who are buyers of Kiselgården’s vegetables).”
The vegetables take up most of the couple’s working day. From early morning until late evening. The staff start work at 9 a.m. at Kiselgården. The team at Kiselgården consists of three and a half members of staff plus Ask and Amy. The half a staff member is a bookkeeper who works once a week. He has taken over for Amy, who is now in the packing department and takes care of the customers. Ask looks after the fields. And a production manager plans the day’s jobs in collaboration with Amy with the lorry in mind, which drives to the farm every evening and collects the produce:
Amy: ”It’s very busy late in the afternoon. That’s the time we know exactly what orders have to be on the lorry that evening and whether we have it all available. Then it has to be packed on pallets and delivery notes prepared. But when there is something missing or someone calls ... – such as the restaurant Geranium, who called last week and needed 2,000 leeks of such and such a size. I replied, “they’re five kilometres in that direction and back again – you can have them, but they won’t be washed because the lorry is already here.” And then everybody jumped in to help.”
Ask: ”Yes, it’s something of a messy day. We don’t know from day to day what we have to harvest, with the exception of a few orders. I don’t think there are any days that are the same.”
Amy: ”Ask and I meet for lunch every day, just to see each other during the day. Ask carries on working and I pick up the kids and get dinner ready. When they’ve been tucked in bed, one of us often goes out and carries on working.”
Ask: ”There are also days when you’ve picked the kids up and they come out and work.” Amy: ”And then they make a mess. We’re in the packing department and the folding boxes, which we use to send the produce in, are scattered all over the place and there are games with water and the plug sockets are fiddled with.”
Ask: ”I take them out on the tractor sometimes and they also fiddle with everything. But I think they have fun.”
BIODYNAMICS IS NOT HOCUS POCUS
It is clear to see that a new generation has come to Kiselgården. In addition to the highchairs at the dining table and the cute children’s drawings that decorate the white wall, the generational change shines through in a new and more youthful paradigm. The method that Ask and Amy use to run their farm is borne by a different mindset: They call themselves ‘more realistic and less fanatical’ than Ask’s parents and that generation of biodynamic growers, who were influenced by the holistic approach to the way of operating biodynamic agriculture.
Ask: ”To be biodynamic is not hocus pocus. Many believe that you have to drive around at night and sow carrots, because the sun, moon and stars are all in the right place. It’s not a requirement, but an option if you’re really into it.”
Amy: ”We don’t do it that way. We’re biodynamic by not using anything conventional. Because in organic farming you can use 20% conventional feed and 20% conventional manure. You can’t do that with biodynamics. And this is the part that’s the most important thing for us.”
Biodynamic agriculture is based on a closed cycle. In all its simplicity, the animals contribute to it being maintained: The cows graze in the fields, fertilise the ground and make it usable for growing organic vegetables. Kiselgården has 50 hectares and if the farm is to remain biodynamic, in needs to get about 60 cows. Kiselgården currently has an exemption as biodynamic agriculture, because the farm deviates from the requirement to keep animals.
Ask: ”I don’t know whether we will remain biodynamic. We’d rather concentrate on vegetables and making a good product. Whether they’re biodynamic or not.”
Amy: ”But there’s no doubt that Kiselgården will continue to cultivate in the same way,
where all conventional feed and manure are excluded.”
THE TASTE OF KISELGÅRDEN
And they have a great product. The customers speak for themselves, which includes a number of leading restaurants in Denmark. Kiselgården now grows no less than 120 different crops. Ask and Amy specialise in growing vegetables to the size that chefs request. And Ask explains how his job is to time the planting and sowing, so chefs can get, among other things, baby leeks, small carrots and beetroots for the whole season.
Ask: ”It’s something of a challenge and we’ll probably never learn what’s the right way to do it. But I think we’ve learned a lot from the mistakes. And we’ve always grown many things here on the farm that make it fun for chefs to order.”
At Kiselgården they grow all kinds of cabbages, all types of herbs, different varieties of potatoes, carrots in various colours and sizes, beetroot, onions and leeks, and more. Ask and Amy often hear that Kiselgården’s vegetables are particularly tasty. There is an explanation:
Amy: ”The clay soil contributes to the flavour. There are studies that show clay soil retains minerals and vitamins better than if you have a sandy soil, where everything is just flushed straight through when it rains and results in small thin carrots. The vegetables have to fight a little harder to grow in clay soil.”
Ask: ”I can taste the type of soil vegetables come from. Not necessarily whether it’s an organic or non-organic carrot. Clay soil retains water and nutrients. For example, we don’t water as much here as other farms do - even though I sometimes think we water a lot. And we can make do with fertilising only once. Where many other farms may need to fertilise two or three times, because all the water just trickles down into the ground. So it’s a good soil. It’s strong. But it’s also a difficult one.”
Amy: ”But the heavy clay soil is not preferable for vegetables.”
Ask: ”No, not in relation to yield. It is of course easier to harvest over in Western Jutland, where everywhere is a sandpit and you can just go out and pull a carrot out of the ground. You can’t do that here. You have to have a big spade to dig it up with. We also get many crooked and twisted vegetables. Especially carrots and potatoes. It’s very rare that we have a completely straight carrot.”
Amy: ”If it’s rained a lot, it may take a week before we can get out and work in the soil again, because it’s such a slushy soil and we can’t get out and drive the different machines. The soil is not always lucky, but it’s alright.”
Ask: ”It’s also what means we can’t mass produce anything here. We can do a lot of crazy stuff, have a fairly good economy with it - and we’re satisfied with that.”
COLLABORATION WITH RESTAURANTS
Nine years ago there was a message on the answering machine that Ask’s parents had on the desk in the main house. A message that turned out to start the development at Kiselgården.
Amy: ”noma called and left a message asking if we could come by with some samples. At that time we delivered subscription bags, where we took what we had, popped it in a bag and delivered it to an address. Friends and family came by and picked up a bag, and if we were lucky there maybe an envelope with some money in the postbox. It was very disorganised, but it was really cosy. And we just thought, well yeah, that restaurant noma ... And your mum, she called them something else. Ask drove over there with one of the vegetable bags. It was big leeks and unwashed potatoes and carrots. But then they called back and placed an order.”
Ask: ”We began to develop a collaboration so you could order, for example, small parsnips. The development was done in close collaboration with many of the chefs around. And we’ve since started many new things in the collaboration.”
The bag with the unwashed vegetables and all the authenticity that came with it, was in a way, the whole essence of the honest Nordic kitchen that is so popular in Denmark and abroad. It was the beginning of collaboration with the restaurant, which for the first time in 2010 was voted as the best in the world. And since then many of the leading restaurants such as, among others, Geranium, Bæst and Relæ, now buy Kiselgården’s vegetables. When Ask and Amy tell their story, there is no trace of boasting, in either words or body language about fine Michelin restaurants choosing vegetables from Kiselgården. On the contrary. On the other hand, what makes the couple happy is the inherent recognition there is of the work they do every day in an effort to produce tasty vegetables:
Amy: ”When we send produce off and we have a good gut feeling, and I can say, “Damn! We did that bloody well ... that’s what people will be happy about.“ I get happy every evening when we load the lorry and think that there are people who have ordered from us because they have a belief that it’s good produce. They’re showing confidence in us, whether it’s private customers, restaurants, wholesalers or caterers, when they order again and again. So you just know you’ve done well.”
ASK AND AMY
Amy: ”The other day something really crappy happened ... the potato harvester broke down.”
Ask: ”But it was also old.”
Amy (with a smile): ”It was from 1985, just like you.”
Ask was born into the business in 1985, the same year as the potato harvester made its debut at Kiselgården. The time has come to acquire a new one and such a machine is not going to come cheap, which the couple agree on. In the last few years after the generational change, the couple has had to do some economic restructuring. This means that today the number of staff has been reduced to a minimum. Last year there was a weeding team of between 12 and 15 people. This year they are 5. In spite of the small staffing, the fields have never been more beautiful than they are now, thinks Amy. And she thanks Ask for that.
Ask and Amy. Two names that resonate as one. As one sound. Ask and Amy stated in that order, because phonetically it sounds most harmonious. The two met 10 years ago at a nightclub, where Ask played as a DJ, not long after Amy arrived in Denmark from Finland, where she was born. They became a couple and soon after she made her entrance at Kiselgården.
Ask: ”It started with you breaking your arm.”
Amy: ”Yes, in a car accident and suddenly I lived here. One evening Ask came home and said that he’d bought half of the farm. We didn’t think about the fact that in a few years we would take over the whole thing. So it just happened ... and then some children just came along.”
Amy has married into life in the country and she has had to learn everything from the beginning. The young couple has run Kiselgården alone since the generational change. Ask’s parents have rented the greenhouses, where they potter about and look after the herbs. They also live just behind the greenhouses in a small self-built house. And it can be very convenient – both ways. Like when Amy is frying meatballs and Ask’s father sneaks in for one – even though Ask’s parents usually keep a vegetarian diet.
Well after all, it is mostly about vegetables at Kiselgården. And plenty are eaten at the white dining table, even though the youngest of the two sons would rather just eat potatoes with ketchup. The eldest son, on the other hand, has an appetite for most vegetables. At one point Ask said he thought they all weren’t eating enough vegetables. And so Amy responded with vegetables in all guises. Amy is very fond of Brussels sprouts, preferably
with melted butter and Parmesan cheese, while Ask’s favourite vegetable is peas.
Ask and Amy are modern farmers. They also look the part. Amy has long brown hair in a straight ponytail and a large grey scarf wrapped around her neck. Ask has a flat cap with fair brushed back hair underneath. They do what other young people of their age do. Go out and paint the town red. There is room for a variety of life. Also in daily life, where organic eating is clearly preferable, but where something else is also acceptable:
Ask: ”We only have a small local supermarket and if we can’t get any organic meat, then we
choose free range meat instead. Alternatively, we can drive to Roskilde (40 km away, Ed.),
but perhaps that’s not so environmentally friendly. But we also go out and eat at McDonald’s
and yes, we smoke and drink.”
Dreams are set free in the yellow main house in the late hours. Often with a gin and tonic in hand. And there are many dreams. Right now Kiselgården is at a crossroad and it may mean that some dreams will soon be realised, while others have to wait or remain dreams.
Ask: ”We’re too big to just have a nice time and have a farm shop, where we can just potter around. But we’re also too small to go out and compete.”
Amy: ”We would of course like to grow. Maybe double in size. The dream is that when Ask’s parents no longer have the desire to have the greenhouses, one will be made into a room for events. With vines all the way up the glass ad long tables in the room. Like a private restaurant. An industrial kitchen would have to be built, because we would like to make herb oils and herb salt.
Amy: ”Of course I still dream of a farm with animals. Not something we would do ourselves though. A production manager would of course be hired, that would be nice.”
Ask: ”Horses, pigs, cows and sheep?”
Amy: ”No, not horses. I would also like us to have corn again. We haven’t grown it for many years, as we had some difficulty getting rid of it. We could make our own flour again.”
Ask: ”And then we must have our own flour grinder and we must have fruit.”
Amy: ”But it’s probably last on the wish list.”
Ask: ”Well, we could just plant a couple of hectares of fruit.”
Amy: ”We’re young, so we have many years to do it all.”
Ask: ”Yes, the next couple of years will be exciting.”
Whether Ask and Amy turn to the right or left at the crossroad, and whether there will be herb oils, flour and fruit from Kiselgården that the outside world can look forward to must remain uncertain for a little while longer. But something will happen in the next few years. It is nearly lunchtime here at Kiselgården and now it has been quite a few hours since the day started for Ask and Amy and their two young boys. It is that time of day, where the two prioritise each other’s company, where there is time to discuss work, children, customers, each other .... and the dreams, they keep those for the evening - if there is no work to be done that is.
Published by HOUNÖ
Text: Journalist Lousin Hartmann
Photography: Rasmus Bluhme, Moment Studio and Signe Birck
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