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1 December 2017

A playground for a sustainable lifestyle, deep in the woods

“Quality, happiness and sustainability are all equal parts of the happiness puzzle.” This is the motto of Flemming and Mette, a sympathetic Danish couple. In the fall of 2016 chef Flemming Hansen and his partner Mette Helbæk, cookbook author and stylist, left their restaurant business in Copenhagen and headed to the shore of the Halla lake in Southern Sweden to craft “a paradise of their own”.

Stedsans in the Woods, the visionary project Mette and Flemming have created, is a restaurant and a resort in the middle of the forest. Here all meals are plant based, 95% of the ingredients are either gathered in the surrounding forest, or picked right before dinnertime in the restaurant’s own garden. The remaining 5% are sourced from local organic farms. Fresh fish comes from the nearby lake, meat is either produced by Stedsan’s or sourced locally from hunters and farmers.

Guests of the resort can stay in canvas tents or simple wooden cabins. The place is equipped with compost toilets that have a view to the sky and has a floating sauna and an outdoor spa in the making. Working in collaboration with architects, designers, chefs, farmers, philosophers and musicians, Flemming and Mette experiment with simple, logical solutions to use water, energy and waste more efficiently.

Stedsans in the Woods is a good example of a new kind of tourism which is becoming trendy around the world. Agrotourism offers travellers extraordinary experience they have not had before. It is also an opportunity for farmers to showcase their produce and make money.

On a more existential level, agrotourism can literally be a window to our food system. There is research showing many kids do not know milk comes from cows or that fish fingers are made from fish. There are adults who think that chocolate milk comes from brown cows!

In a globalized and hyper-interconnected world, where hardly any restaurant does not have exotic ingredients on the menu, it is striking that we are oblivious to where our food comes from and how it is produced.

Stemming from the green movement, agrotourism aims to reconnect us with our food, get closer to nature and experience a different lifestyle. Furthermore, it provides city dwellers with an opportunity to learn how food is grown, what it means to eat local, healthy and unprocessed food and acknowledge the hard work behind planting and harvesting. Surely, quite a few office workers, who spend their days in front of computer screens, would appreciate slowing down and doing some physical work outdoors. Who knows, it might be that you are an eager hunter or a resourceful forager!

Back to the Swedish idyll. On their seven hectares of land Mette and Flemming show how an alternative way of living can look like. Stedsans in the Woods proves that a local, environmentally friendly and simple life is possible. And the cherry on the cake: it can make you happy!

Inspired by the principles of permaculture, the farm grows a large variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs and berries. Chickens and an old bread of pigs provide the kitchen with needed proteins. The place is almost 100% self-efficient. “Only the sweet sins of life like chocolate, wine and coffee need to be found in the city-store,” says Flemming with a twinkling eye.

Instead of adding chemicals or pesticides, Stedsans in the Woods uses waste. Food scraps become animal food, water from the restaurant is being pumped up in the fields. The farm uses mixed crop-livestock method, where animals clean the weeds while providing fertilizer. Even the insecticides here are natural! The Stedsan’s team built “insect hotels” to attract natural enemies of plant lice, a destructive pest living in temperate regions.

Photo by Anders Guld/ Stedsans in the Woods.

But what else do they have to offer? I had a chance to speak with Flemming Hansen and ask my pressing questions.

What is the message of your idea?

FH: That this food tastes incredible, that it is joyful and fun to live a sustainable life. We can solve most troubles in this world if we want to. Use your money and time on good things instead of bad things. We don’t need politicians to do it for us. We have the power to solve problems with environmental and health ourselves, and it is very satisfying to realize that.

Do you think this concept could work in other places?

FH: Yes. This concept can work in many forms, everywhere. I would actually love to make consultancy as a part of our business. I think that this could be the solution to almost every problem in this world and that it makes people happier.

Do you mind sharing your favourite recipe with us?

FH: I would rather say: use good ingredients. Then you don’t need a recipe. Okay – bake some beets till they are soft inside (maybe one hour at 120°, but any temperature below 200 will do – check the beets with a pointy knife). Add a little salt, fresh goat cheese, thyme, roasted hazelnuts and a vinegar stirred with honey.

Stedsans in the Woods is a creative lab for a sustainable, healthy and balanced way of living, which is very low on green-house gases and supports biodiversity. It demonstrates that agrotourism has many benefits to offer, including a much-needed knowledge platform about food, resource efficiency and care about nature.

Reading trough the interview, one can see how passionate Flemming is and how strongly he feels about today’s challenges. At the same time, his optimism is contagious, it made me believe that each of us has the power and the ability to make this world a better place.

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