18 September 1998

Daylight precious in the long, dark winter months

Up in the mountains sheep farmer and log

cabin builder Arvid Brun enjoys his work,

but is he unhappy about agricultural

policies. Farmers have enough to live on

but nothing to invest, he told Tessa Gates

ARVID Brun farms 770m (2500ft) above sea level at Lund on the sunny side of the mountain that gives him precious daylight in the long Norwegian winter – four hours even in December. A day or sos drive further north, winter is one long night from December until February.

"When my grandfather came here in 1912 he had a list of priorities for the property he was looking for, among them that the valley must run east to west and have much sun on the mountain," says Arvid, who took over the farm in 1964. It has 11ha (27 acres) of land and the same area of forest. He has 200 sheep in winter, but says it is too many – 110 would be about right for a farm that size.

The trees grow slowly in the forest, which is pushing the limits at that height.

&#42 Trees grow slowly

"They wont grow above 950m (3170ft) above sea level and because the trees grow so slowly we can take only a little at a time," he says. "The climate here is very dry – few places in Norway are drier – just 63cm of rain a year."

But it is the dry climate that has helped preserve the old buildings on the farm, 20% of which date from the Middle Ages. The earliest has just been tested by the government which found the wood dates from 1166.

"It is thought to be the oldest building in Norway," says Arvid.

There are also some very modern buildings on the farm – and these are for sale. Arvid builds log cabins to supplement his income as a sheep farmer.

Farming in Norway saw a decade of new growth up to 1985, but Arvid feels it has been going downhill since then. "The mistake of agriculture politics was that it specialised on farms and farmers in the valleys. It makes me a little angry that the politics is that we should have nothing for the products and today they are taking away the subsidies. We have enough to live on but nothing to invest.

"In the best period we looked as if we had too much money. We were compared with industry and could have paid holidays. But farmers didnt go on holiday. We put the money into machinery and we looked too rich."

"I like to work very much", admits Arvid who built his first sawmill in 1964, a bigger one in 72 and bigger one still in 96. He has also built a huge shed where he and his two employees work year round building log cabins, sheltered from the -20C temperatures that winter brings.

The valley is a popular country retreat for people from Oslo, which is about a three-hour drive away. It has 1500 plots ready for building on and log homes are in demand.

&#42 Carpenters all busy

"You cant find a carpenter available in this valley. They all have too much work," Arvid says. "It makes home-made cottages more expensive, but imports are taking prices down. Norwegian carpenters earn around 120Kr/hour (£10/hour), while in Latvia they earn 10Kr/hour (83p/hour)."

The latest venture on the farm is his wifes project. "Gunhild has used all her money for this," says Arvid, as he shows off the salting room and large walk-in freezer crucial to the production and sale of traditional speciality meats. "We will take back some of our sheep from the slaughterhouse for this and also make special salted and cured products from reindeer and moose meat."

One of sheep specialities involves dried ribs of lamb that are put onto wood in the bottom of a casserole and then steamed. "The ribs can also be smoked," Arvid explains. "My wife is a very good cook and people always say she should sell the food she makes."

Easier said than done when it came to getting the preparation area to meet the stringent regulations. "I was almost giving up. Then we were told that selling to the public from here was possible but selling to shops was not," says Arvid.

"But now we have permission to supply shops as well. This is unique as it is not usually possible to sell specialities like this. We are opening this autumn."

As another string to his bow, Arvid is a tourist guide and parties of up to 40 people at a time are taken to the farm for coffee. In future, they will be able to take away a tasty souvenir of their visit.