This winter, he will find out if it is possible to grow exotic fruits near the Arctic Circle. At the same time, he will lay the foundations for making Boden even more sustainable. Meet Manne Ek – a pioneer in a flourishing industry and a newcomer to the närhetsliv.
Night temperatures have descended to five degrees and it is a sure sign that the growing season in Norrbotten is heading towards the last harvest of the season. But behind the sliding door to the greenhouse, young, strong plants are green and the first flowers have just budded.
“Look, a courgette has began to grow here, says Manne Ek and points to the yellow trumpet on the plant, before adding: “This flower is edible, it is a real delicacy.”
Normally the plants are at this stage in June, not September, at least at this latitude. But there is nothing ordinary about this greenhouse.
The building is heated using waste heat from a data centre, making it possible to create an indoor climate where crops can be grown even during the coldest period of the year. The room has also been equipped with sensors and advanced cameras that read everything from air humidity to the plants’ ability to produce chlorophyll.
This is a world unique facility. A fact that probably makes Manne’s job even more interesting as he is responsible for the crops inside the greenhouse.
”Of course, it feels exciting to be involved from the beginning and at the same time do something that I think is a lot of fun. But it will be a challenge. I am studying to be a gardener in an outdoor environment and maintenance. Here we will be indoors, using new technology and many of the things that we do, no one else has done before.”
This winter, the greenhouse will be fully tested. The goal is to find out which fruits and crops thrive in the environment and can be grown in larger greenhouses that are heated using the same method.
”We will target foods that are now heavily dependent on import. Tomatoes, cucumbers and spices. We will try to grow exotic fruits as well. We have also heard of someone in southern Sweden who managed to grow a banana tree in their flat. It will be interesting to see if we can do this as well.”
The interest in gardening is shared with his mother, and on visits to her home, the occasional perennial plant has landed in his bicycle basket.
”Some of the neighbours have probably laughed when I have cycled past with a lot of plants sticking out in different directions”, he says with a big grin.
But his great passion was discovered late in life. Manne and his wife Ida-Marie bought their first house in 2016 and there was a run down greenhouse in the garden, which caused some headaches at first. Would they scrap it or use it? They ended up giving it a go and managed to grow some tomatoes in pots.
”It went just fine and was quite fun. The next year we tried some new plants and since then it has kept on growing.”
Six years later, 29 years old and one year from being a fully trained gardener, Manne is employed by Boden municipality and also working as a sole proprietor in the field.
”Many students have a job on the side, but often in a different profession than the one they are studying. Here I get the opportunity to work with what I am training for. It’s really incredible. Also, I get to be the supervisor of a group that does job training and work with the development of the outdoor environment in the city.”
Last summer, the family chose to change cities, from Luleå to Boden, and that change has improved their daily schedule. Manne’s workplace, at the Plug and Play area, is just 10 minutes away by bicycle from their home in Södra Svartbyn. The preschool and school are a block away and the supermarket is five minutes away by car.
”It feels like we have had more time since we moved here. Commuting to work used to take 20-25 minutes. We left early and were among the last to pick up children from preschool. Now we get more quality time together with the children.”
For Ida-Marie, the move from Gammelstad has meant coming home. On the same street, there are both family and friends, which has helped the children, Molly, 6, and Milla, 4, to quickly settle in. The siblings run across their friends’ lawns and the playground in the area is well visited. They have been given their own rooms and the garden has grown into a large playground.
”It has turned out exactly as well as we hoped.”
But it is not just a playground for their daughters. The new home also meant a larger plot of land and an opportunity to shape a new garden, and that’s where Dad has the most fun.
”We have managed to get some plants in and are in the process of building a new greenhouse. This summer, there has been more construction and planning. We have bought a lot of berry bushes as we think it will feel like a treat for the children to be able to go out and pick fresh berries. The garden is slowly starting to take shape and it feels exciting to see it grow.”
Manne can sense a similar atmosphere in his industry. There is not an plenty of trained gardeners in Boden, a fact that has opened the door to the smart greenhouse for Manne, even though he is not yet fully trained. But everything indicates that the situation will change in the coming years.
”This greenhouse is 300 square metres. More and bigger ones will be built. There will be jobs there. Boden also invests heavily in park management and wants to be a green city. This is noticeable as we get more work all the time.”
”People also grow more at home. In the aftermath of the pandemic, many people have bought greenhouses and realised the value of a nice garden. That’s why I see a bright future for my own company as well. It really feels like I have chosen a future-proof profession in just the right town.” #
TEXT: ANDRÉ SAMUELSSON / PHOTO: MATS ENGFORS
*Närhetsliv / We call our lifestyle “Närhetsliv” [nair-hits-leev] – a Swedish word for life close to everything important and more – work, school, culture, housing, kids’ activities, shopping and nature.