Learning from Farming Cultures: Iceland

Way back when, we were privileged to spend two years living in Iceland. Our two oldest children were barely in grade school when we moved there, and I love the exposure they had to another culture.

Likewise, we adults were exposed to this other culture as well. It was my first time out of my native land, and I had a wonderful experience. I never forgot that I was the visitor and I tried to fit in as much as possible. I took a course in conversational Icelandic. I learned how to knit traditional sweaters from the wool of the native Icelandic sheep.

The only picture I could find of the many sweaters I knitted - brown, grey and white.
Those sleeves could have been a little longer!

In case you're curious, you start at the bottom, knitting the sweater upwards on a circular needle, adding contrasting colors of wool yarn to make the design, and stop when you reach the chest. You then knit the sleeves on smaller circular needles from the wrist up to the underarm. Finally you put all three pieces on the large circular needle - two sleeves and the body - and knit upwards to the collar. The only seams are about 7 stitches long under the arms.

I fell in love with the sheep. Such beautiful creatures they were. They came in many variations of color from white to brown and black and everything in between. Traditionally, the wool isn't dyed, it's used in its natural colors to make the intricate patterns on the sweaters. It's naturally water-repellent and very warm. Nowadays you can also buy the yarn in various colors.

We'd drive past sheep farms in the ancient VW bug we bought when we got there and sold when we left. In the spring I couldn't get enough of the lambs.

I was told that after shearing, the farmers let their sheep out and they wander the interior of the island all summer long. In the fall they follow their footsteps back to their farms - or the farmers round them up using their Icelandic ponies, I was told both versions of the story.

The Icelandic sheep is one of the world's oldest and purest breeds of sheep. They are triple-purpose, providing meat, fiber and milk. (Source: ISBONA) Coats, sweaters, hats and mittens are sold in nearly every shop.

Because Iceland doesn't produce grain, the sheep are hardy and do well on pasture and hay alone. Portions of the island are extremely rocky but there is plenty of rich green grass in summer. The photo above shows Icelandic farmers baling hay in a flat and not-rocky field.

Did you know that Iceland doesn't have flies or mosquitoes? Or bees, either. And because there are no bees, there are very few flowers - just some ground-hugging tiny blossoms - and no honey.

I was going through some old photos the other day and came across these. Photography back then scarcely resembles today's technology, so I hope you'll excuse the blurry pictures.

I think we can learn from every country and their inhabitants' way of life. Icelandic sheep are hardy because they have to be; they must survive without grain, they must produce wool enough to survive the winter, their lambs have to be hardy. The strongest animals are the ones that survive, and the gene pool is strengthened. The best milk-producing, best wool-producing, best mothers are prized animals. The people know how to use the wool to keep themselves warm, and they know how to market their products to make a living.

How can we apply this knowledge to our own farms and homesteads?

This post has been shared at some of my favorite blog hops.


My hope is to inspire you, and to encourage your homesteading plans and your dreams of a simple, self-reliant, God-dependent life. You can follow me at:
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