VOA Special English
A Man’s Mission to Farm in the Arctic


    Benjamin Vidmar lives and works in one of the most northern towns in the world.

    He is trying to grow food for the town of about 2,000 people. But that is difficult when temperatures are often below freezing and it stays dark for months in the winter.

    Vidmar keeps a greenhouse where he grows vegetables during the short summer when there is 24 hours of sunlight each day.

    During the winter, temperatures drop to minus 30 degrees Celsius. But Vidmar still grows what he calls microgreens and raises small birds called quail.

    He is the only person who grows any food in the town of Longyearbyen.

    The town is only 1,000 kilometers from the North Pole in the Svalbard Archipelago. It once was known for coal mining.

    Vidmar spoke to the Thomson Reuters Foundation recently. He said growing food may seem like a “mission impossible” but it is necessary.

    Benjamin Vidmar’s domed greenhouse is pictured in Longyearbyen, Norway, Feb. 24, 2018.
    Benjamin Vidmar’s domed greenhouse is pictured in Longyearbyen, Norway, Feb. 24, 2018.

    “How can people live here?”

    Vidmar says he hopes to set an example for other towns in the area.

    He said, “We are so dependent on imports. Everything is by boat and plane.”

    This makes the town vulnerable, he said. For example, when a volcano burst on Iceland in 2010, flights were suspended. As a result, stores in Longyearbyen were empty for a while.

    And, Vidmar says, the cost of imported food and its quality “is often disappointing.”

    So, Vidmar has started a company called Polar Permaculture to produce enough food for the town and to process all its natural waste.

    The company has received support from the government.

    Last year, the business made enough money to meet its debts after only two years in operation.

    Pots of microgreens at the Polar Permaculture.
    Pots of microgreens at the Polar Permaculture.

    The local produce is served in many places in Longyearbyen including its main restaurant.

    Vidmar is an American from Cleveland, Ohio. He was working as a cook on a cruise ship when he first arrived in Svalbard in 2007. He says one of his first thoughts on seeing the place was, “how can people live here?”

    One year later, he moved to the island and started working at restaurants and drinking places in Longyearbyen.

    He decided to grow his own food after he could not find fresh produce.

    Making Longyearbyen sustainable

    At first he tried growing plants in water instead of soil, a method called hydroponics. But he found he needed to use fertilizer which was not available on the island. So he got permission from officials to bring worms from Florida.

    The worms break down organic material that can be used to grow plants.

    He said his next project might involve making a biodigester, a device that creates energy from organic material. That way, he could use his greenhouse all year.

    Vidmar works with students at the local school to teach them about farming and sustainability.

    Teacher Lisa Dymbe Djonne said the students now ask about how the island is supplied.

    She told Reuters, “They question the transportation of food from the mainland to here and how expensive that is.”

    She said the students planned to talk to government leaders about the costs of importing food and the possibility of growing it.

    Vidmar sees the barriers to agriculture as the reason to produce “the freshest food possible.”

    “We’re on a mission…to make this town very sustainable, because if we can do it here, then what’s everybody else’s excuse?”

    I’m Mario Ritter.

    Mario Ritter adapted this Reuters story for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    sustainable –adj. to use resources without using them up completely

    vulnerable –adj. open to damage or loss

    organic –adj. related to or taken from living things

    produce –n. fruits and vegetables

    chef –n. a professional cook who usually is in charge of a kitchen

    cruise –n. a trip on a boat for pleasure

    distraction –n. something that makes it difficult to pay attention or work on something

    interview –n. asking someone questions to find out something

    figure out –v. to understand something

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