It is a global warming story capable of striking fear into the hearts of children: broccoli can now be grown in Greenland. The land synonymous with ice sheets, polar bears and Eskimos has experienced a small but significant increase in temperature which has made it economically viable for the first time in hundreds of years to grow and sell the vegetable locally.
NARSARSUAQ, GREENLAND - It is a global warming story capable of striking fear into the hearts of children: broccoli can now be grown in Greenland.
The land synonymous with ice sheets, polar bears and Eskimos has experienced a small but significant increase in temperature which has made it economically viable for the first time in hundreds of years to grow and sell the vegetable locally.
The 57,000 inhabitants of the island, the world's largest, rely on the sea and imports from Denmark for the vast majority of their food.
But a one-degree Celsius rise in the temperature of the North Atlantic over the past century has boosted the air temperature in the south of Greenland by about three degrees.
Although potatoes have been produced for some time, climate change has created a 'growing window' during the summer months just long enough to allow the cultivation of vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and carrots.
A Greenlandic supermarket is now stocking the locally grown vegetables for the first time. Some farmers are conducting even more ambitious agricultural experiments, including growing strawberries. So far, however, the strawberry crop is measured in dozens of fruit rather than tonnes.
Although global warming has made these farming feats possible in such a previously frigid landscape, the prices are steep by UK standards.
A single head of locally grown broccoli will cost about £1.87, still much cheaper than the £2.80 charged for the vegetable flown in from Denmark. Carrots are more affordable, at around 46p a pound for the locally grown vegetables, compared with 55p for the imported variety.
Kenneth Hoeg, the chief agriculture adviser for southern Greenland, said he does not see why southern Greenland cannot eventually be full of vegetable farms and even viable forests.
"If it gets a little warmer, you could talk about a productive forest with enough wood for logs," Hoeg said.
"The limiting factor for human survival here is temperature, and there's a lot of benefits with a warmer climate. We are on the frontier of agriculture, and even a few degrees can make a difference."
Winter is coming later and leaving earlier. That means there is more time to leave sheep in the mountains, more time to grow crops, more time to work outdoors and more opportunity to travel by boat, since the fjords freeze later and less frequently.
Ewes are having fatter lambs, and more of them every season. The growing season, such as it is, now lasts roughly from mid-May through to mid-September, about three weeks longer than a decade ago.
"Now spring is coming earlier, and you can have earlier lambings and longer grazing periods," said Eenoraq Frederiksen, 68, a sheep farmer whose farm, ne Qassiarsuk, is accessible by a harrowing drive across a rudimentary road ploughed in the hillside. "Young people now have a lot of possibilities for the future."
Broccoli and cauliflower can be planted in Greenland from early May, and then harvested in August. In the past, May would be too frosty for growing and anything planted in June would not have enough time to grow.
Hans Gronborg, a Danish horticulturist, described the local cauliflower: "It's small, but it means you get all that flavour concentrated in one-third the size of a regular cauliflower."
He added: "Greenlanders are hunters, and it takes time to change their way of living and being. But I am confident that things can grow in South Greenland."
Alistair Ewan, the managing director of East of Scotland Growers, the UK's largest broccoli producers, said: "As the climate changes, they will be able to grow broccoli. I notice how the climate has changed here and how the growing window is now longer, and its getting longer each year.
"The one thing to watch out for is that while broccoli does like a lot of light, it doesn't want too much. Even some of the long summer days here can give problems, and in Greenland that will be even more of an issue. But if you work hard and cultivate it, it will grow fine."
However, some are doubtful about how far the new agricultural age can go.
Mads Laursen, formerly a manager with a Greenland supermarket chain, said: "It's important to keep it in perspective. They can grow about 80 tonnes of potatoes a year, but that is still only a tenth of the potatoes consumed each year.
"The local potatoes are actually more expensive than the imported ones. That's because there is a well-established infrastructure for transporting food from Denmark to Greenland. It's actually very expensive to transport small quantities of food from a producer in Greenland to markets."
In the 10th century, Greenland was relatively green, with forests and fertile soil, and the Vikings grew crops and raised sheep for hundreds of years. But temperatures dropped precipitously in the so-called Little Ice Age, which began in the 16th century. The Norse settlers died out and agriculture was no longer possible.
The nation's population live in a series of scattered settlements, mostly on the western coast. The capital is Nuuk, with a population of 15,000. Many towns have only about 2,000 inhabitants.
The economy is still dominated by fishing, with exports of fish and prawns being the main earners. However, mineral exploitation is becoming increasingly important as the ice's disappearance clears the way to areas where gold and oil may be extracted.
By SARAH LYALL The Scotsman, November 4, 2007 Straight to the Source