East Iceland Startup Makes Beverages Flavored with Locally Foraged Herbs

A start-up in East Iceland is producing nonalcoholic beverages using wild, Icelandic herbs, Austurfrétt reports. The company, Könglar (meaning ‘pine cones’), has been selling its beverages at restaurants throughout East Iceland since earlier this year and aims to be a truly local product. “People are always asking us if it’s possible to get [our drinks] in the [capital area],” says marketing manager Brynjar Darri Sigurðsson. “And we always say, ‘no, you have to come out East.’”

Producer Dagrún Drótt Valgarðsdóttir got the idea for making natural beverages from local, Icelandic ingredients after sampling a blueberry drink made in Finland. “We started to wonder if we could use that method using the nature we have here,” she says.

Könglar received subsidies from the municipality of Fljótsdalshérað, as well as the government’s Food Fund, which aims to “strengthen development and innovation in the production and processing of food and by-products from agricultural and marine products,” with an emphasis “on innovation, sustainability, value creation and the competitiveness of Icelandic food throughout the country.”

Thus far, the company’s beverages, all of which have names inspired by local folk tales, include a lovage drink, a dandelion iced tea, and a rhubarb soda. Dagrún says their focus has been “to use what’s around us as much as possible” instead of opting for imported produce or ingredients that aren’t native to Iceland. So, for instance, if they want the flavor profile of a tart, green apple, they use rhubarb, which is plentiful in East Iceland. In the future, Dagrún says Könglar would like to use their same production and infusion methods to make herbal-flavored beers and wine.

Follow Könglar on Instagram, here.

No Small Potatoes: Local Spud Farmers Hopeful For This Year’s Harvest

Potato farmers in Þykkvabær, the spud capital of Iceland, have high hopes for a good harvest this year, RÚV reports. This despite the presence of some potato blight, a fungus that wreaked havoc on last year’s potato crop.

Farmers say that if the weather remains good and sprouting goes well, domestic potato production will be sufficient throughout the year. Potato farmer Markús Ársælsson says this hasn’t been the case in recent years, but he’s still hopeful for this year’s prospects.

“It’s gone just fine and the outlook’s really good, but you never know until the end of the day what the result is going to be,” he remarked. “We might have a frost in August. But as things stand right now, it’s looking good.”

Potato blight is a major concern for farmers in Iceland, Markús agrees. “Yes, it rears its ugly head when weather conditions are like this and we’ve started spraying just to be on the safe side and that’s going pretty well. We’re hoping, just crossing our fingers, that nothing comes up now that makes this summer like the one last year, which was brutal. Because even though we sprayed them, for some reason, nothing helped with anything.”

Farmers take measures to ensure that their potatoes sprout as quickly and prolifically as possible, but growth does sometimes slow, which can make competing with imported potatoes even more difficult, says Markús. Growth delays on the domestic market means that Icelandic grocery stores will import potatoes and then want to sell off all their imported product before looking to buy more potatoes from domestic producers.

“It’s awful, of course,” said Markús. “Customers aren’t offered fresh Icelandic [potatoes], rather it’s ‘we’re going to finish off the old imported ones and then we’ll come back to all of you [Icelandic potato farmers].”

Over the years, domestic potato production has ranged from 7,000 tons all the way up to 12,000 tons in a particularly good year.

Year’s First Outdoor-Grown Vegetables Harvested

The year’s first crop of outdoor-cultivated vegetables to has been harvested and will be appearing on local grocery store shelves in abundance by the end of the month, RÚV reports. Major summer crops include cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.

Outdoor-grown produce in Iceland is naturally subject to the whims of the country’s famously unpredictable weather. Given the local climate and the profusion of geothermal heat, greenhouses are favoured for much of the country’s locally grown produce. There are currently between twenty and thirty farmers who grow potatoes outdoors; roughly the same number cultivate vegetables outside. As a rule, the first summer harvest is in mid-July.

“Cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, then potatoes—they usually come in the middle of July,” explains Helgi Jóhannesson, a consultant for the Icelandic Agricultural Advisory Centre. “Then carrots and beets come later. They take longer to grow, so usually, at the beginning of August.”

Imported vegetables still account for the majority of produce on Icelandic shelves, but summertime, particularly after Merchant’s Weekend at the beginning of August, sees a dramatic increase in the availability of locally grown vegetables.

“It’s obviously clear that it’s much better than importing vegetables and people are excited about it—I always find it a rather festive occasion when [Icelandic-grown produce] has finally arrived again,” continues Helgi, who says that this year’s first summer harvest bodes well for the rest of the outdoor growing season.