Penny Bunting visits Friðheimar in Iceland – a thriving family business growing tons of tomatoes using eco-friendly methods.
Growing tomatoes requires plenty of warmth and plenty of light. With this in mind, Iceland doesn't seem like the ideal place to start a tomato farm.
In winter, average Icelandic temperatures can struggle to get much above freezing. And in the depths of December there are only four or five hours of daylight each day.
But despite these challenges, the folks at award-winning Friðheimar Tomato Farm – in Reykholt in the Golden Circle region – have managed to create the perfect growing conditions for tomatoes. By using state of the art technology, and harnessing sustainable energy to provide warmth and light, the farm produces around 370 tons of the juicy red fruits each year.
Visiting Friðheimar is a delight. The vast greenhouses contain thousands of tomato plants, all grown using eco-friendly methods. The smell inside the giant greenhouse is wonderful, the fresh scent of the tomato plants mingling with the tantalising aroma of delicious tomato-based recipes being prepared in the kitchen.
Owners Knútur and Helena bought Friðheimar in 1995 and began growing tomatoes year-round in 2002, building a new 1,000-square-metre greenhouse with an environmentally friendly lighting system.
By making frequent visits to Finland – where the technique of growing crops using artificial lighting is highly advanced – they were able to expand their expertise and knowledge to ensure successful harvests.
Three different varieties of tomatoes are grown year-round, using lighting powered by green electricity, fresh pure water for irrigation, and geothermal energy – the farm has abundant supplies of geothermal water – for heating.
Organic and biological pest control methods are used, rather than chemical pesticides. And 600 bumblebees, imported from Holland, work hard to pollinate the crop. There are lots and lots of flowers, too – such as Black-eyed Susan (pictured below).
The restaurant and visitor facilities were opened in 2011, and two years later the Little Tomato Shop was added. You can now also buy some of Friðheimar's wonderful, homemade products online.
The atmospheric restaurant is right inside the main greenhouse. On the day we visited the restaurant was very busy – it was a public holiday in Iceland. We hadn't booked a table (booking in advance is advised, and we'll be sure to do this next time we visit!). This unfortunately meant we couldn't eat in the restaurant.
But luckily there was space for us at the bar, where we had the most delicious freshly made tomato soup, served with home-baked caraway seed rolls and washed down with tomato-infused water.
Guests can wander along some of the greenhouse paths after eating – the sheer volume of the crops being grown here is staggering.
In The Little Tomato Shop, alongside the restaurant, you can buy pretty much any tomato-related product you can think of, from chutney and soup to sauces and salsa – all produced in Friðheimar's kitchen. Oh, and fresh tomatoes of course!
Green Adventures January 2019
Alongside the sustainable growing methods, Friðheimar strives to minimise its impact on the environment in other ways too – including by using eco-friendly packaging, and reducing waste wherever possible. They have just introduced biodegradable PLA cups for their fresh Piccolo tomatoes, to replace plastic containers. PLA looks like plastic, but is made of plant starch and can be composted.
Friðheimar also participates in the Kolviður project, which plants trees on behalf of the company to offset carbon emissions.