oil on canvas, 80cm x 60cm, Iain White, 2010, £350
Significant cultivation in Iceland only began after c. 1900. Prior to that farming had been centred on sheep, unimproved pasture in summer and hay as winter feed. It was a way of life based on self sufficiency, often mere subsistence with unceasing toil and hardship. The only additional labour was provided by the Icelandic horse. Many farming families scraped a bare living with their sheep providing food, clothing, a life epitomised in Nobel laureate Halldor Laxness’s classic novel Independent People.
Change came with the first cooperatives at the end of the 19th century and a reduction in the dependency on Danish Merchants. In the twentieth century these cooperative movements expanded rapidly into a ubiquitous cooperative federation. Initially these movement drove change, diversification and modernisation, though still constrained by the Icelandic climate and environment.
However financial difficulties in some sectors led to a collapse of farming since the 1980s with significant rural depopulation and a retreat or abandonment of farming in many parts of the country.