Two years ago, Louise Gårdenborg stepped away from her career in architecture to take over Gårdsjö Farm. Today, the fifth generation farmer works alongside her parents, running their organic crop farm utilizing a combination of ancestral wisdom, a modern, science-based approach, and great care for the surrounding environment.
“As a farmer, you are completely dependent on the land,”says Louise. “Acting for short-term gains is basically the same thing as putting yourself into bankruptcy. In order to run a successful agricultural business, acting long-term and sustainably is a must.”
Nearly every project undertaken at Gårdsjö Farm is guided by the principle of “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” The farmers strive to optimize processes and foster circular systems as much as they can.
“I tried to take the LEAN concept with me from my previous career, which is really about orderliness, good planning, and investing resources in the right things,” says Louise.
As she strives to produce food as sustainably as possible, Louise is eager to test alternative farming methods and solutions. She keeps up with the latest agricultural research and derives inspiration from role models in the field, as well as through ongoing discussions with experts, advisors, and fellow farmers. When it comes to experimenting with new methods, Gårdsjö Farm maintains tight controls in order to minimize risks and maintain flexibility.
“If you do the wrong thing in the wrong place, it will unfortunately only be an experiment that is, usually, quite costly,” says Louise. “We believe it is better to test several solutions on a small and controlled scale in order to gather knowledge and experience, and then refine them to achieve an even better effect.”
Location: Heby municipality, Uppsala, Sweden
Type of farm: Organic crop farm (114 ha) and forestland (84 ha)
Main production: Plants and grains, includingoats, wheat, red clover, barley, fieldbeans, potatoes, rye, rapeseed and peas
Key practices: Year-round plant cover, protecting soil structure from compaction, catch crops, enriching soil with organic matter, buffer zones, constructed wetlands, nutrient balance and balanced fertilization, correct timing and conditions for fertilizer application, use of manure in plant production, nutrient cycling.
Transforming an environmental hazard into an important nutritional resource
Conscious of the farm’s close proximity to several lakes,Louise takes deliberate actions to keep nutrients in the soil and out of the watercourses. Gårdsjö Farm is run using organic cultivation methods, without the use of any pesticides. Fertilization is carefully timed. To maintain good soil structure and reduce compaction, the farmers take care to optimize tire pressure and use GPS controls on their machines out in the fields. Protective buffer zones have also been established along all watercourses.
“It’s win-win.We get better soil on our farm, and we helpreduce eutrophication.”
“The goal should be to produce food where added nutrients end up in the product,” says Louise.“Products with a high nutritional content also contribute to better public health.”
Louise and her family also look beyond the property lines of their own farm to address the problem of nutrient runoff in the area. When they found out that the local Julmyra Horse Center was struggling to manage all the manure produced by their 200 horses, they seized an opportunity to close the nutrient loop.
Gårdsjö Farm now takes in all the manure produced at the Julmyra Horse Center to spread on the land as fertilizer. This reduces the risk of nutrient leakage to the nearby creek, while enriching the soil on Gårdsjö Farm with important nutrients. Currently, Louise is participating ina project to separate horse manure from shavings in order to achieve more efficient fertilization and to produce biofuel.
“It’s win-win,” Louise says.“We get better soil on our farm, and we help reduce eutrophication.”
“The solutions to many of these challenges are about finding good forms of cooperation.”
Joining forces to protect local waters
Determined to do as much as she can to help advance water and nature conservation in her local area, Louise has become an active participant in several community-wide efforts.
Acting jointly with neighbouring farms, Louise has helped construct phosphorus dams in the catchment area to reduce nutrient leakage.She is also involved in a local water protection association, which investigates measures to reduce nutrient runoff and has implemented the construction of a local wetland area. As a result of the water management association’s work together with local residents, visible improvements have been achieved in Vansjön, a nearby lake. Their actions have helped preserve valuable wetlands, restore the lake’s stock of pike, and increase the amount of bird life in the area.
Furthermore, through her participation as a board member on the Örsundaån’s water council, Louise has influenced the adoption of a vision to “promote the socially, economically and environmentally sustainable management of aquatic environments in the Örsundaån catchment area that contributes to a competitive sustainable food production.”
“The solutions to many of these challenges are about finding good forms of cooperation,” says Louise. “We need to blur the boundaries between different landowners, different types of agriculture, different municipalities, different counties, different authorities, different countries, etcetera.”
“As a farmer, I have a real chance to both reduce my own climate impact, and contribute with climate actions that will hopefully benefit everyone.”
Taking action to improve biodiversity and reduce climate impact
In addition to her work to reduce nutrient runoff, Louise takes action on her farm to promote greater biodiversity. The forest edges on Gårdsjö Farm have been restored to create more diverse environments. The farmers have also planted flowers on the field edges and built insect homes for pollinators.
Louise’s farming practices are also greatly influenced by her awareness of climate change.
“As a farmer, I have a real chance to both reduce my own climate impact and contribute with climate actions that will hopefully benefit everyone,” says Louise.
At Gårdsjö Farm, the farmers strive to act as locally as possible to avoid long transports. To reduce fossil fuel emissions, all machines are run on HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil), a renewable diesel alternative. The farmers are also net-producers of solar energy.
Currently, they are starting up a micro-malting plant which they plan to use to further refine their grains and offer local breweries and bakeries a locally produced product with a small climate footprint.
“It’s fun to work in an industry that can actually make a difference—and where my decisions actually make a difference,” says Louise.“We do not have time to wait. Now is the time to act and change.”
National winner of the Baltic Sea Farmer of the Year Award 2021
In recognition of the efforts made at Gårdsjö Farm to reduce nutrient runoff, Louise has been awarded with the national Baltic Sea Farmer of the Year Award for Sweden.
“I am of course very honoured, the prize itself is some kind of bonus, but what honours me the most was to be nominated by someone from the outside,” says Louise. “When you are self-employed like me, you do not have a manager who can tell you that you are doing a good job, so this is a wonderful way to get confirmation that what we are doing is not completely crazy.
“I hope that I can inspire others to work more with these issues and that we can find common forums where we can help and inspire each other.”
What advice do you have for other farmers?
“Do not wait,” says Louise. “Dare to test, seek out collaborations and learn from eachother.”
“Louise Gårdenborghas received the Baltic Sea Farmer of the Year award because she, through her collaboration with Julmyra Horse Center, provides an example of how horse manure can be transformed from a problem into an important nutritional resource in agriculture. By receiving manure from 200 horses, the risk of leakage from the horse facility to Julmyrabäcken is reduced and the nutrients are useful in cultivation locally. She is a creative, driven young farmer, who includes the public in water management in a way thathasn’tbeendonebeforein the area. Louise is a unifying force in the work to reduce eutrophication and supports and engages landowners and residents in the catchment area to ensure that measures are carried out where they are most needed in the catchment area to improve the status of the waters.”