A short immersive trip to the Faroes reveals a landscape and an agricultural heritage that inspires and intrigues in equal measure.

A short hop from Edinburgh, as the flight descends, visitors see how beautifully stark and raw the Faroes are as they jut out of the north Atlantic. A local politician proudly described the inhabitants as ‘Children of the sea - born on the rocks of the ocean’ which is a poetic way to summarise what a tough existence it’s been.

Farming here brings challenges, no trees or cereals flourish, as the wind lashes them down. And whilst this is utterly breathtaking terrain for hiking, photography and birdwatching, growing crops on this isolated archipelago of basalt rocks isn’t for the faint hearted. 

Travelling to the beautiful coastal village of Kirkjubøur, with its black tar houses brightly illuminated with splashes of red on the windows and doors, tourists discover a picture postcard location but it’s also a great starting point for understanding agriculture and land ownership in the Faroes. The farmhouse Roykstovan, is one of the oldest inhabited timber houses in the world, home of 17th generation farmer Jóannes Patursson.

His family hold what’s known as a king’s lease. The islands’ lands were initially owned by the church, post reformation they transferred to the king, now they’re still publicly owned. Jóannes explained that if land is required to build new housing for the burgeoning 50,000 strong population, farmers can receive notice that part of their estate can ultimately be reclaimed and used accordingly.

They can, of course, appeal but the bottom line is that the land ultimately isn’t theirs. The estate also can’t be sold by the farmer, but can only be passed down to their children who must have received an agricultural education before they can accept the lease. It’s a complex and traditional system, utterly different to Scotland’s capitalist approach.

Inside Jóannes’ home are relics illustrating how harvesting the land and the sea naturally overlap in the Faroes. Spears for whale hunting, ropes to catch sea birds, sheep guts transformed into buoys. Nothing was wasted, and no opportunity to prolong survival was overlooked.

Another way for tourists to experience the Faroes’ farming outlook is to leave the land behind and take to the water at Vestmanna with puffin.fo cruises. The islands never joined the EU due in a large part to fishery concerns, and they have experienced boycotts in the past. As you leave port, evidence of the strength of salmon farming becomes apparent as fish farms pepper the water.

Prices for salmon are currently high and pelagic fishing is also a strong market. But as the ship sails past the monumental sea stacks, and the skipper skilfully navigates the caves and passages, he tells how sheep are taken by boat to the foot of a cliff then hoisted up by rope to graze: this is free range on overdrive. It’s said that experts can taste the difference between sheep reared on different islands and whether they’ve grazed on the lowland, highlands or coastline. Whilst lamb is imported from the likes of New Zealand and Iceland, the locals save their own meat for drying to produce local savoured luxuries.

Dining in the Faroes gives a real insight into the unique food production of the country. Due to the wild exposure of the islands root vegetables are the common harvest. Restaurants and islanders experiment with turnips, beets, radishes, swedes, potatoes and carrots. Greenery comes from herbs such as angelica and sorrel, and wild plants such as sea purslane, cuckoo flower and reindeer lichen. Rhubarb is everywhere - we tried it as a refreshing juice, in a cake, and mashed to a puree to serve with prosecco.

The restaurant scene has changed dramatically in recent years, even attracting a Michelin star to its shores with KOKS restaurant in Kirkjubøur. In the capital Tórshavn it’s possible to visit one small street that houses some of the the islands’ best restaurants. In Áarstova slow roasted lamb, cooked for twelve hours, fell off the bone. At the Barbara Fish House horse mussels, blue mussels and bacalao are deliciously available. And the aptly titled ‘Ræst' offers up this particular speciality of the Faroes. Ræst is the process of drying meat and fish in order to preserve it, allowing an ageing or fermentation process to occur. The humidity, temperature and air of the Faroes creates these unique flavours, and the resulting meat has a potent and pungent flavour with the creamiest texture.

Another experience that combines farming and dining is the new option of ‘Heimablídni’, or home dining, at the house of Anna and Óli in the village of Velbastaður. Once you’ve got over the epic views you discover that the couple is doing what many farmers in Scotland are doing - diversifying. As well as running the farm which comprises of fifty acres, with 75,000 ewes on the farm and 150 ewes living freely in the mountain, they have additional jobs and run regular supper clubs. Visitors can simply eat and enjoy the scenery, or ask questions about food production, farming and agricultural history. Diners can see the drying house from the dining room window and learn how Anna grew up on a diet including sheep’s head, offal and ræst. We feasted on cured lamb, salted herring, beef meatballs, followed by rhubarb cake, and accompanied with beer from the nearby Okkara brewery.

For today’s Faroese farmers it’s still a relatively tough gig in a beautiful setting. For tourists it’s a slice of wild paradise with a very distinctive flavour.

How to Get There - Fly direct from Edinburgh airport, the only direct UK flight, with Atlantic Airways. Book at atlantic.fo/en. Discover more at visitfaroeislands.com.

Janice Hopper is an Aberdonian freelance travel writer and runs the family travel site Tots2Travel at www.tots2travel.wordpress.com. She travelled with Atlantic Airways and Visit Faroe Islands.