Interview: Knutur Rafn Armann

tomatoes Interview: Knutur Rafn ArmannKnutur Rafn Armann, Managing Director and owner of the Fridheimer Greenhouse, which provides 18 percent of the local tomatoes in Iceland.

EarthTalk: Hi, I’ve just been eating your tomato soup, which is the most delicious I’ve ever had, and I just want to ask you, because one doesn’t think of tomatoes and Iceland together. So why tomatoes and these greenhouses?

Armann: I came here 20 years ago with my wife. We had just finished our schools; I was in agriculture school specializing in horses. My wife was in horticulture school specializing in indoor growing. We had a dream to move to the countryside to live with tomatoes and horses. So we bought this place. Nobody had lived here for three or four years then we came here. So it was in bad shape but a nice place for young people to start to clean up and try to create some future. In the beginning we were growing tomatoes, cucumber, sweet pepper, zucchini, but then decided it would be better to focus on one thing, because it’s easier to be good in one thing than many things. So we decided to focus on tomatoes. And it was a good market for it and also we really like to grow tomatoes because the tomato plant is really nice to grow.

E: Great. And can you talk about the environmental aspect, a little bit. Like they’re all natural, they’re pesticide free, right?

Armann: Yes. I can tell you it’s possible to be picking tomatoes in Iceland because we have good help, so we use the hot water to warm the houses, but then we use our electricity to make sun with the lights for the plantsevery day of the year. And we are lucky here in Iceland that all our electricity are green electricity made from the cold water and warm water turbines.   And then we even got clear CO2 from the ground to put into the ground to help the plants to work. And then it’s also nice to be growing tomatoes because you can do it in a very healthy clean way. So we can water the plants with the same water that we are drinking in our houses, really good quality of water. And that’s really important because tomatoes are more than 90% water. We don’t use any pesticides because we are an island with not so many bugs that will attack our plants so we can easily control that without biological pest control. We don’t use any pesticides. And we can also pick the tomatoes very red because we are so close to the market with tomatoes we are picking in the morning, they are at the supermarket in the afternoon or in one day.

E: So that’s about as locally grown as you can get.

Armann: Yes, exactly.

E: And can you tell me a little about the health aspect for customers and how many people are actually eating these tomatoes.

Armann: Yes, we can say we open up our farms for seven years ago. And that was the first idea was to have a little side business by showing the people both the Icelandic horse and also what we are doing in our greenhouses. But it became much bigger than we expected. The first year we had 900 people, the last year it was about 70,000 people.  And we are expecting about 90,000 people in the coming year. And as a farmer it feels very warm to see how many people are interested to come to see what we farmers are doing.

E: And to know just how healthy the food is, too.

Armann: Exactly. And then you can sit beside that the plants eat something from the food and that was the idea to something about the food experience. When I’m traveling I like that, to get to know about the food. Because the food tastes a bit different if you know the background of the food.

E: It tastes a lot better. Okay, thank you very much and good luck.

Armann: Thank you very much and thanks for the visit.