Text & photos — Charles Post
“If you don’t have anything to offer the farmer, you have to become the farmer yourself.”
Through Parsa Massahi’s rock-steady gaze into the camera, it’s clear that these are words he lives by. Sit with them awhile. Notice their depth and weight, how they challenge the way our society tells us to scour the dollars and scrape the cents from life in search of some abstraction of happiness.
From the moment my wife Rachel and I set foot on the dark soil of Polarhagen, an organic, regenerative market garden—the first of its kind in northern Norway—we feel the resplendent vigor and focused intention of this thriving arctic oasis. Using no tractors or heavy machinery, and sitting some 169 km inside the Arctic Circle, the farm feels deeply, diametrically opposed to a reckless, profit-at-all-costs way of life.
Amongst the kale and arugula, we follow a path through the garden to the white farmhouse owned by Parsa and Lisa, first generation farmers embarking on an alchemist’s journey. The tale of this farm’s birth is an adventure in its own right.
After falling in love in the south of Norway, the couple spent years searching for the right place to build their life and family together, never losing sight of their desire to live differently, to work the land together. Across Denmark, Iceland, and Norway, the pair searched for the right fit, but despite their best efforts, their dream continued to elude them. Living out of their car while searching for the farm where they could run things their own way, they began to reconsider an idea that had once seemed impossible.
As Parsa tells it:
Back in the beginning of this search Lisa’s dad had told us that as he was moving back to Russia to take care of his parents in their old age, his house in Norway’s remote northern islands would be empty and we could just take it. Finding this proposition ridiculous at the time, we had said thanks, but no thanks. Lofoten was too cold, the house only had an eighth of an acre of arable land, the season was too short and who would we sell our vegetables to? The closest town was only 4,000 people. No, no, no, it wasn’t possible.
“But plan F had gradually turned into plan B. I was sick and tired of working under the constraint of other people’s can’ts and shouldn’ts, and we decided to go for our impossible plan B.
“I sat down and wrote out a list of all the vegetables that I knew that could tolerate a cold climate and the list quite quickly found its way up to 25 different kinds. Three days later we arrived in Lofoten and started to renovate a house that very much needed a loving hand. We worked long and hard through the long night of the arctic winter and after four months of renovation, two months of greenhouse building followed and then the garden had to be established. We came to Lofoten in November 2018 and on the 9th of June 2019 we gave out our first 20 boxes, filled with lovely produce from a garden that hadn’t existed just a few months before. Polarhagen was created and the people of Lofoten could add a wide array of vegetables to the already impressive local food market.
Polarhagen, woven into the wild fabric of Norway’s Lofoten Islands, is imbued with a reverence for local systems of nature, experiential wealth, and a thirst for meaningful connections, all grounded by a sense of place and purpose. As my wife and I walked beyond the front garden and freshly mulched driveway strewn with the odd mussel shell, the energy of the place grabbed us.
We were hundreds of kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, soaking in an improbable abundance of green growth.
To be resolute in one’s path is to be certain about where you’re headed and why. Parsa and Lisa are gin-clear about the life they aim to live. Share a meal of fresh salad, coffee, and local goat cheese, and you’ll quickly understand.. They reject “the belief that wealth is the digits in your account and notes in your pocket.” as Parsa puts it. “Real wealth as I see it is sitting at a table with your friends, eating a meal together.” Spend a day at Polarhagen on a warm summer afternoon, and you’ll experience this first hand.
Following a round of introductions, hugs, and warm smiles, Parsa leads us beyond the greenhouse that embracingly adjoins their home, and points out that nearly everything in sight was found, bartered for, or built with their bare hands. Looking around, my eyes meet beds of flowers and rows of parsley and radish, kale, arugula, and lettuce – emerald green like the reindeer lichen that adorns the distant mountains and rocky spine of Lofoten. Their fingerprints covered every millimeter of Polarhagen and I thought, this is not just work, this is a whole life.
Barefoot, Parsa stands rooted to the ground like a stately oak. Beneath him lies soil, dark and nutrient-rich, born from their chest-high compost heap, which rests nearby in the June shade. Soil is one of the ultimate riches of any farmer. And unlike most tokens of wealth, it can be made with nothing more than organic material, heat, and time. With enough of each ingredient, a keen steward may transform land into something remarkable. Soil is alive and dynamic, an ecosystem of microorganisms, many species strong. Collectively, they do the hard work, turning organic material into the black gold that fills a beet with nutrients and a tomato with the taste of sweet summer.
In truth, though, we are losing soil worldwide at an alarming rate. A recent U.N. report warned that Earth could run out of topsoil in the next 60 years if we, as a global society, continue to support its destruction by way of petro-chemical, ecologically abusive agricultural practices. Fortunately, soil can be incredibly resilient and regenerative.
Parsa and Lisa know this. It is a truth that guides their every move. Without healthy soil, they cannot grow robust vegetables. Without good soil they cannot live the life they do, and so they nurture and tend it. They don’t push it too far. They care for it like a family member. This attention to the land, the healthy systems and cycles of nature shapes their approach.
With such a short growing season, lasting just a few months each summer, time is of the essence. Must much be done to prepare the soil for planting, support the soil during the brief growing window, and tend to it before the freeze of winter. And while the seasons may be shorter here, caring for soil in Lofoten follows similar principles everywhere: the concepts of tending and feeding soil are universal. And the result is a vibrant microscopic ecosystem that can produce food rich with nutrients.
Thanks to ambitious dreams like Polarhagen, the tide is turning. Regenerative agriculture is on the rise. Our food systems are transforming because of a groundswell of soil stewards and flower raisers, market farmers, and organic advocates. Parsa and Lisa represent a bright thread in this community, a potent force in a global movement, all while farming and thriving in one of the northernmost communities on Earth.
Charles Post is a Montana-based ecologist and brand consultant, award-winning filmmaker, and co-founder of The Nature Project, an organization committed to creating opportunities for underserved youth to experience nature. His passion for science stemmed from his studies at U.C. Berkeley where he was advised by the esteemed ecologist, Dr. Mary Power. Since then, Charles has built a career bridging his ecological background and creative interests. His social media platform, creative work, and consulting opportunities aim to grow the groundswell of ecologically minded companies and people compelled to save our home planet.