Ana & Oli
Velbastaður, Faroe Islands
When I was planing my trip, I would constantly see adorable photographs of the sheep from Faroe Islands. Naturally I wanted my own set of cute cuddly pictures of the sheep, but I also figured there was probably a fun and interesting story to tell as well. First introduced in the 9th century, the sheep are a big part of the Faroe economy, the wool is used to make fashionable clothing, notably by, GUÐRUN & GUÐRUN, and they are the main source of meat on the island alongside seafood. Enter Anna and Óli Rubeksen. I was able to reach out to them a few months ahead of my arrival and they agreed to participate in my project. I wanted to see their sheep farm and take some photographs of the animals. The farm has been in Anna's family for 8 generations, she remembers working on it ever since she was a little girl. Óli started helping out on the farm when he was 15 years old. As these things seem to happen in storybooks Anna and Óli fell in love and got married in 1993. Two short years later, Anna and Óli took over operating the farm from her father.
My expectation was of a farm with a barn nestled into a corner, neatly fenced off paddocks, and sheep frolicking in a meadow, akin to an an idyllic English countryside farm. I should have known better, there is barely a patch of land in the Faroes that is not inclined or sloped in some way, and the fact that the Rubeksen's house was perched with a lovely view of the sea from the cliffs should have given me a clue. Their farm was long and narrow, it went along the coastline, encompassing sea cliffs, crevices, steep hills, and deep embankments, with very few fences to be seen. This is where their flock grazed freely. It also explains why the Faroe sheep have such a distinct flavour profile being grass fed, free range, and very lean. Óli drove us out to the fields and dropped us at different areas on the side of the road. Our job was simple, create a human barrier and keep the sheep from crossing the road and force them to move along to the barn. Ragnhild (who left her nursing job early to participate) was assigned to baby sit me and make sure I did not fall of a cliff and die (sadly not unheard off for travelers and tourists not accustomed to the landscape). We covered a distance of roughly 3-4 km, though I must admit, the dogs and Óli did most of the heavy lifting as I was just trying to keep myself from stumbling.
Fram & Loa (sheep dogs) were quick to get the sheep going. Listening and watching Óli, they moved with purpose and intent. The moment a lamb would stray, they would dart out and guide it back into the flock, nipping at the ankles speed up the process. When the crisis was averted, they would assume their low crouching stalking position ready for the next escapee . It was like watching an intricate ballet being performed before my eyes. The sheep would dance one way, and the dogs would respond in kind, and the sheep would counter back. Óli acting was the conductor - a subtle wave of his hand would move the entire flock one way or stop the action entirely if he so wished. It was not long till the sheep were ready to enter the barn. Anna, Óli, and Ragnhild created a final human chain to keep the nervous sheep from bolting guiding them through the barn doors. Only a few of the herd needed to be sheared, as the majority had been attended to earlier in the year. These were just the elusive holdouts, accompanied by a few new lambs who had yet to be given some preventative medication and get tagged.
As if being farmers was not hard enough work, Anna and Óli also maintain day jobs. Óli works as a social worker, focusing on crime prevention and Anna works as a nurse helping young people with mental illness. On top of all that, Anna and Óli started a supper club in their home in 2012, called
Heimablídni hjá Onnu og Óla. They serve 5 course meals focusing on traditional Faroese food and beverages. It's been quite a success and they host groups at least once a week. For the Rubeksen's it was the perfect way to combine educating people about the Faroe Islands, experiencing good food and drink, wonderful company, and using the ingredients and produce from their farm. Their clientele started by catering to locals, but now is more geared towards travelers eager to get an authentic Faroese experience with genuine Faroese hosts. We desperately wanted to join them for one of their supper club evenings but sadly our packed schedule made it impossible for us to do so. It just means we have an excuse to return and spend time with Anna and Óli and enjoy more of the renowned Faroese hospitality.