East Iceland Town Welcomes Newborns With Eiderdown Duvet

Icelandic down

Expectant parents in Borgarfjörður eystri will now receive an eiderdown duvet for their newborns, thanks to a joint initiative of eiderdown farmers Jóhanna Óladóttir and Ólafur Aðalsteinsson and Icelandic Down (Íslenskur dúnn), a local company. While Jóhanna and Ólafur provide the down, Icelandic Down provides the fabric and produces the final product, Austurfrétt reports. The town is expecting its first newborn in four years next month.

“This tradition has come to stay,” remarked Ragna Óskarsdóttir of Icelandic Down, adding that she hopes it will help increase the number of children in Borgarfjörður eystri. “The more children the better.” Like many small towns in Iceland’s countryside, Borgarfjörður eystri has seen its population shrink in recent decades, as younger Icelanders are drawn to bigger towns for work or other reasons. Ragna insists, however, that the town of 77 residents is a great place to raise a family. “They get a free duvet, preschool is free here, and free food in primary school. There is no better place to raise children.”

The first parents to receive a duvet through the initiative are Lindsay Lee and Árni Magnús Magnússon, who recently relocated to Borgarfjörður eystri and are expecting their first child in June. Theirs is the first baby to be born in the town in four years. They say the community has welcomed them with open arms. “I don’t think there’s a better place for a child to grow up than here, where an entire community is ready to welcome them,” stated Lindsay.

Around 90% of the world’s eiderdown comes from Iceland. The nearly weightless, highly insulating material is a natural by-product of the common eider duck, which plucks feathers from its own body during breeding season to line its nest. A typical duvet requires 400-600 grams (14-21 ounces) of eiderdown while a child’s duvet requires about 200 grams (7 ounces).

1,000 Tons of Cod-Equivalents Sold Away from Grímsey

All shares in the fishing company Sigurbjörn ehf. in Grímsey – Iceland’s northernmost inhabited island – have been sold, RÚV reports. The company has a fishing allowance of 1,000 cod-equivalents (a unit referring to weight and relative value of different fish species on the market), which will disappear from Grímsey.

According to Ólafur Helgi Marteinsson, managing director of Rammi ehf. in Fjallabyggð, Rammi has purchased all the shares in Sigurbjörn ehf. The purchase price is confidential, and the contract is subject to the proviso that the Competition Authority approves the purchase.

Gylfi Gunnarsson, owner of Sigurbjörn ehf. – which has operated three boats and a fish-processing plant on the island – declined to comment. The company employs approximately nine people and has a fishing allowance of 1,040,796 cod-equivalents.

In 2017, the fishing company Borgarhöfði was sold from the island, along with its fishing allowance, which came as a hard blow to inhabitants of Grímsey. At the time, RÚV quoted spokespersons for the two remaining fishing companies in Grímsey – Sigurbjörn ehf. and Sæbjörg ehf. – who assured RÚV that following restructuring of debts their operations were secure (the two companies were in a precarious position owing to mounting debts to Íslandsbanki). The spokespersons added that there was no intention of selling the companies, nor the quota, from the island, for such a thing would likely strike a mortal blow to the settlement in Grímsey, whose principal industrial activity is commercial fishing.

Inhabitants of Grímsey have participated in the Fragile Communities project since the summer of 2015. Reversing the steady emigration from the island has, however, proven unsuccessful. This fall, islanders appealed to the Icelandic Regional Development Institute (which sponsors the Fragile Communities Project) and the town of Akureyri to extend the project. The designated settlement quota that accompanies the project is the prerequisite for fishing operations on the island: the fishing companies are small and operations are difficult. Since 2015, the Icelandic Regional Development Institute has invested 21 million ISK in 18 projects connected to Grímsey. According to a 2018  census, 61 people live in Grímsey.

Rammi ehf. operates four trawlers, a shrimp processing plant in Fjallabyggð, and a freezing plant in Þorlákshöfn. The company employs approximately 250 people.

Hrísey Optimistic About Development Initiative

Inhabitants of the island of Hrísey are more optimistic about the ongoing ‘Fragile Communities’ initiative in which their community is participating, RÚV reports. The regional development project began on Hrísey 2015 and will end in December 2019; it’s anticipated that it will invest more in marketing initiatives for the island this year.

A project of the Icelandic Regional Development Institute, the Fragile Communities project (link in English) was founded in 2012 with the intention of collaborating with rural communities to address and counteract issues that have contributed to their decline, such as a lack of diversity in the local economy, changes to fisheries access, a decline in farming, seasonal tourism, a “negative spiral” in services, and lagging infrastructural development. Raufarhöfn in Northeast Iceland was the first community to participate in the initiative, which it did from 2012 – 2017. Since then, eight other communities have joined the project.

Hrísey is a small island (7.67 km2 / 2.96 m2) located in Eyjafjörður fjord, located 30 kilometres north of Akureyri and a fifteen-minute ferry ride from the village of Ásskógssandur. As of January 2018, 151 people lived on the island.

When Hrísey joined the project, its stated goal was the establishment of an “inviting and accessible island community, [with] a diverse economy and strong infrastructure.” However, many residents have felt that the Fragile Communities project was yielding few results in its initial years and, in 2017, criticized its implementation. Since then, however, many of the community’s smaller goals have been accomplished says Helga Íris Ingólfsdóttir, the Fragile Communities project manager for both Hrísey and Grímsey island. A new salt production facility was established on Hrísey, for example, as was a guest house and restaurant. An egg production plant, with facilities for 1,500 hens, will also soon open, thanks to funding from a Fragile Community grant. All combined, this has led to a perceptible change of attitude in the community. “I felt like there was more optimism than there’s been before,” Helga said. “People have more of an interest in taking a different approach to the debate.”

Helga said that expectations run high for government-funded initiatives, but that resources are nevertheless limited. “There’s just a few million krónur [ISK 1 million is equal to $8,315/€7,267] that we receive to distribute in grants,” she explained. “So this is more about showing solidarity and the desires of the inhabitants and their vision for the future, rather than there ever being some sort of direct, external assistance.”

This year, the project will be investing in marketing Hrísey. The goal is to attract more tourists to the island and appeal to investors who might be interested exploiting the island’s unique qualities and establishing new business opportunities there.

“Now there’s more experience behind the project, and there’s optimism that this will return real results,” said Halla Björk Reynisdóttir, president of the municipal council.