Interview: Katrin Petersen — Founder of Veltan

Her Green
Tunnel Vision

Interview, Story & Images
Marie Zieger
& Katharina M.

It seems that the frontier of locally grown food is somewhere north of Scotland. On the Faroe Islands, a small archipelago of islands in the north Atlantic, people mostly find food in the supermarkets that has been shipped there. Mushed strawberries or brown lettuce is no seldom sight. Former TV reporter Katrin Petersen was trying to change that when she kicked off her project »Veltan«.

Fermented lamb, roots and fish, fish, fish. These are the culinary pleasures you’ll find when visiting the Faroe Islands. Barely anything grows above ground – turnips, beets, radishes, potatoes or carrots are, next to sorrel or other wild plants, the only »fresh« ingredients Faroese inhabitants ever get to cook or eat. Everything else enters the islands in containers.
It’s already in the name – Faroes mean »Sheep Island«. The ration of inhabitants is 50.000 people compared to 70.000 sheep on the 18 islands that are gathered amidst the North Atlantic in a triangulum between Inverness (Scotland), Rejkjavik (Iceland) and Bergen (Norway).

That was simply not enough for Katrin Petersen.

She moved back home after a study interlude in Denmark. In order to meet her, we took the ferry from Streymoy and went to Sandur – an island named after its beautiful, sandy beach. We met this tall, fierce lady in a tunnel. The tunnel she founded, to be specific. Amongst various varieties of lettuce, she answered our curious questions and showed us around the patches.

Veltan – what a place! Are you a farmer? Are you one of those people with a green thumb?

Not at all – I don’t have a green thumb at all! I’m just a journalist, who wants to change the world and make it a better place. I started to work in development, but I wanted to have more time with my kids. So, I had to figure out what to do, and agriculture seemed like a good choice. The growing tourism on the islands and food production work really well together.

»I’m just a journalist, who wants to change the world and make it a better place

How did you come up with the idea?

People here on the Faroe Islands have completely lost the ability to farm. As far as food is concerned, we are really dependent on imports. And they take their time. There was a lack of clean and fresh high-quality food. I went to Norway and the Shetlands to get some inspiration, and came back with the idea for these tunnels and a farming community that grows its own crops.

Veltan just turned 6 – how have the past few years for you and the community been?

We kept on growing. Both the community and the seeds. After the first few tunnels were blown away by our strong winds, we found a way to make them last in the meantime. Our community increased to 60 people. Two of them are farmers, the others are »hobby-growers«. And we’ve started a very small farmer’s market in our capital Tórshavn. Of course, every step is always new both for us and the customers. The generation of our parents and grandparents still knew how to farm, but then they started to see how easy and practical canned food is. That was very convenient. And it took two generations to change that habit again.

Speaking of community – can you please describe the people contributing to Veltan?

Many of us are learning by doing. But we had some school teachers asking us if they can visit us and learn from us. When they come around, they stay for two hours and help us plant and grow. Visits to Veltan are really hands-on, but the kids love that. It’s so easy to make your own food. You seed it, plant it, you water it and then you eat it! That’s why I had another idea, that I realised.

And what is that?

We established a school. A school, that takes about half a year. You don’t get any grades. You just learn how to farm the land. How to grow local produce and be self-sufficient. It isn’t targeted at a specific age group, you can join when you are 17 or 18, but also when you’re in your 20s or 30s. It will be about food and environment. Topics that are very close to my heart.

»The generation of our parents and grandparents still knew how to farm, but then they started to see how easy and practical canned food is. That was very convenient. And it took two generations to change that habit again.«

How were you able to build the tunnel?
As I worked for the development office of the Faroese government, I was close with the decision makers. I worked out a plan and strategy for Veltan and presented it to them. So they gave me a small grant. But that was just the financial part. The construction was a whole different story. Luckily, one of my relatives is an architect and he tried out various things to stabilize the tunnels.

As we’ve interviewed Poul Andrias Ziska, we’re wondering if you have already worked with places like KOKS and other restaurants?
We have some agreements with local restaurants, and they are getting more and more of our fresh produce. From late July to August, we also sell the lettuces in the supermarkets.  

Is Veltan your only job?

No – I’m a single mother and I work for the communications department of the environmental bureau. It is great to have children here. That’s one of the many reasons why I moved back. We have a very close-knit community. When my kids go rollerskating, and fall over, everybody knows that they are my kids and bring them back. We all know each other. That’s nice!

Last & obligatory question: What’s your favourite dish?

Dried lamb! It has to be, I’m Faroese after all! But it truly is my favourite dish, even though people from other places will never understand why we adore it so much.


Disclaimer: Katrin Peterson left Veltan after we intreviewed her. On one hand, she wanted to prioritize her family, on the other, she felt that living in Tórshavn detached her too much from the Veltan community in Sandur. The Food & Soil Culture School called Mat & Moldmentanarháskúlin was established in 2020. Also: Veltan won a Nordic food award called EMBLA.