Mats Jacobsen with his animals
©Marius Fiskum

The urban farmer

Mats Hegg Jacobsen, 32, is a young urban farmer who runs the farm “Jacobsen på Berg” in Tromsø. His ambition is to raise people’s awareness of quality in food production and he cares deeply for animal welfare.

Text: Berit Høisen. Photo: Marius Fiskum

It’s four years since Mats Jacobsen left his job in Oslo, packed up his life in Grünerløkka in Oslo and moved home to Berg in Tromsdalen to live out his childhood dream of running a farm. The family farm with the beautiful views had not been in operation since his grandparents stopped running it 30 years ago. The farmhouse was empty and, although the neighbours cultivated the land, a lot was overgrown.

“Being a farmer was a childhood dream, but nobody really expected me to start farming. I had a career in a company in Oslo and I was also a professional handball player. I was not at that stage at all, but I came home one day and told my partner that I wanted to be a farmer. She wondered if it was just because I wanted to drive a tractor. No, I wanted to be a farmer and shovel manure and do the other tasks. So that’s exactly what I did,” says Jacobsen.

Mats started the task of clearing up the family farm. He was well assisted by the farmers from the neighbouring farm who were goat breeders. There were enough kids for Mats, too. After a while, the goats were joined by chickens, pigs and Old Norwegian sheep. Today, he and his wife Lisa live on the farm at Berg with their two children. In the summer months, they have more than 250 animals on the farm.

Urban farming

What is it like to run a farm so far north?
“I think it’s important to work with the resources you have. I may not have the best starting point, but it was clear to me right from the start that the farm should be organic; not to gain certification, but because it feels right. Spraying the vegetables before eating them seems wrong to me. Running the farm in an organic way requires more work with less crops and more weeding. But when I’m delivering food to the shop it feels so right,” says Mats, explaining that weather and frost also play an important role when it comes to his crops. “But you can achieve almost anything when you want to!”

Mats now collaborates with several shops and restaurants in Tromsø: Clarion Hotel The Edge, the restaurant SMAK, delicatessen Helmersen Delikatesser and supermarket Eide Handel. They all have a focus on local and organic food and are eager to receive produce from the farm at Berg.

“They understand that different types of food and meat are seasonal and cannot be supplied regularly all year round.”

The locals in Tromsø can also contact Jacobsen directly if they wish to buy something. In the summertime, he and the neighbouring farm run an unmanned farm shop where people can come and pick up vegetables whenever they wish.

What is important for you as a farmer?
“Running an organic farm! But for my part that’s only the start. I want to increase the standard. It’s important to care about your animals. Whether this improves the meat or not... Well, I think so, but that’s an individual matter. It’s about those who buy the meat being able to say that the animal was treated well. You should be able to eat it with a good conscience. This aspect is important. It’s about behaviour that is as true to nature as possible. The animals should not be kept inside a dark barn. They should be allowed to go outside whenever they wish. The pigs must be allowed to be outside, so they can dig and roll in the mud. The animals must be in a flock, which they like best.”

Tromsø, food and visit

Mats believes that food is an important part of our culture, and something which is important to showcase to people visiting here.

Food tells a story about communities over a very long period.

"What did they live on? Lamb and kid are good examples of this. For a long time, Troms was largest goat farming county in Norway. There are coastal areas and steep mountains here. This is perfect for goats and lambs, which can graze on the mountainsides. This is a culture here, which I think our guests should experience,” explains Mats.

What do you do when people visit?
“Naturally, I show them around my farm. We take the cable car and visit the Polar Museum and the Arctic Cathedral. I generally take them to eat taco pizza at Yonas. Taco pizza is not exactly local food, but it’s something amusing, which helps make Tromsø the way it is.”

In the summertime, Mats enjoys mountain hiking and likes to take his family to Sommarøy and Brensholmen to hike up Ørnfløya.

“After all, hiking in the mountains is part of the job. I need to retrieve my sheep from the mountain pastures. Ørnfløya is perfect for a family walk. It’s not that far so it’s ideal for the children. When you reach the top, there is an amazing view!”

Mats eagerly explains that if you want an amazing view in Tromsø, all you need to do is walk up a hill.  Wherever you live in Tromsø, the sea and mountains are virtually on your doorstep. After a little thought, Mats remembers something important he has forgotten to say: “The light, the amazing blue light we have here during the Polar Night! That’s something I really missed when I lived in Oslo.”

Although it’s no longer something he notices every day, he becomes conscious of what a great place he has when visitors comment on it. He smiles and remarks: “I don’t only live here, I work here too!”

Edit: This article was first written for the Tromsø Guide 2018/2019.