When I dreamed about what I would do when I got older, I never once imagined it would be owning and running a shop. I spent a majority of my life studying and pursuing art. From the age of eleven I was constantly creating things. I adored using my hands in various ways and exploring different mediums to express what was constantly popping up in my head. My creativity became a serious pursuit once I had been accepted to a specialised art high school in New York City called LaGuardia High School and then continued my studies in Baltimore at the Maryland Institute College of Art. As my practice deepened and solidified as I got older, everything took an abrupt stop when my mother passed away at the end of my junior year of college. My parents were immigrants from Poland who moved to New York City in the 80’s. When my entire world revolved around art, my mother’s entire world revolved around food. Cooking was the essence, the breath and life of my mother. She was always in the kitchen cooking something, and when she wasn’t in the kitchen she was gardening and thinking about her next meal.
That first summer without my mother, my life became about food. I joined a community farm in Baltimore to get myself out of the house, be around people, and stick my hands in the soil like my mother spent her summers doing. I’d cry harvesting tomatoes, pulling carrots, bunching kale, but I’d be comforted by all the beauty of the produce around me and the remarkable community I was working with. Those days on the farm really changed me. I used to see the world through a lens of thoughts and ideas I had built in my head. Working on a community farm in a neighborhood that was almost a food desert, food became something more than my mother that summer. My mother was the seed that brought me to that farm that then opened up my eyes to something bigger than myself, something that has grown and blossomed with me since. I learnt that food affects far more than just ourselves so from that moment on, food was everything.
My boyfriend Jesper and I opened our shop, Amiralsgatans Speceribuitk, on January 28, 2021. The shop truly is a culmination of all our food experiences. On my end it’s from those first days on the farm when I was twenty years old to my twenty-nine year old self today. In these last nine years I’ve been a farmer, a baker, a cheesemonger, a cultured butter maker, and I’ve worked at many farmer’s markets. I’ve spent a majority of those years teaching about fermentation and been blessed with traveling to many cities. How I ended up in Malmö, Sweden is a whole other story of it’s own, but my spontaneous move to Malmö and the spontaneous start of our shop feels somewhat written in the stars.
One of the first things that sparked my interest in Malmö when I first moved here three years ago and now has become a part of our shop is the urban farming community. There are so many wonderful urban farmers in Malmö and the interest for good local food from individuals living in and around Malmö is strong. That kind of strength is so vital and beneficial for any city to have a local food economy. We are blessed to work with Hampus Mattson from OlliÅke Farms, who grows a majority of the produce that we sell when the season is on and kicking here in Sweden. During the winters when scarcely anything local is available, we have meetings with Hampus about what we would love to have grown for the shop. But once the days get longer and the season begins again, everything is in full swing with Hampus biking his produce to our shop twice a week. Hampus also lends me some beds on his farm so I can grow flowers to sell in our shop in the summertime which has been such a treat. He has his farm situated in an area that is just a 20-30 minute bike ride from the city center in Malmö and it’s actually the area where most of the urban farmers are located. Not only is it lovely when we come visit Hampus’ farm to check on the flowers and to say hello and see what’s growing, but we also get to see and chat with all the other Malmö farmers. Chatting with different farmers about what they’re growing is rewarding, talking about the food options and food availability in our city is important, and maybe a farmer has too much of something that we can help out with and sell in our shop. Hampus grows a majority of our produce, but we are always supplementing with produce from other farmers in and just outside of Malmö.
These moments of meetings and discussions feel so rich and valuable because it’s not just us connecting with the farmers, but whatever we bring back to the shop, we can talk to our customers about the experiences and the discussions we have with farmers. The culmination of it all creates a strong community of support and where we can continue to learn from one another.
As I mentioned before, the beginning of our shop was completely spontaneous. The space’s initial plan was to be a fermentation production facility for a business I was then running. Yet that idea was thrown out the window with the uncovering of an immense amount of problems that I as one individual could not handle. Jesper left his full-time job as a chef and together we sat down and decided what we could do with the space to add to the Malmö community.
Local produce and other local items were already so accessible here, there wasn’t a need for a shop to only focus on local goods. So, we thought about all the things that weren’t accessible, things that we personally were always on the hunt for and the lists began. We first started with our favourite items from producers we had only ever had access to through travels or through working at restaurants. Say it be our favourite olive oil, vinegar, nuts, beans, etc. The lists just kept growing (and keep growing today) but we started with what we felt was essential and what we could afford.
A major issue we really wanted to solve with the shop was fresh produce in the winter and off season. The only resort to getting things fresh in the winter (other than beets, potatoes, and carrots) is going to the supermarket. Going to the supermarket to buy fresh goods is dreadful. Almost everything in the organic section (and many other sections) is wrapped in unnecessary plastic. So much of the produce is flown halfway around the world and even if it’s coming from Europe, it wasn’t grown with intention or picked with love and care. It was just grown, wrapped, and chucked on the shelf because food is big business. Most of the time it tastes like nothing. We knew there had to be a way to access the many smaller and beautiful farms in Southern Europe and we did and continue to do this with help from Natoora.
In our shop “organic” doesn’t matter. What matters is names, connections, discussions. No matter where something is being produced and grown, we want to be able to talk with the producers and know their practices. Organic is just as big an industry as conventional and the supermarkets reflect that. There are many small farmers that grow completely organically but don’t want to or can’t afford organic certification. So direct connections matter. Direct connections with producers and discussions let us know the care the producer takes in growing and making their products, that no chemicals have been used in the product and on the land. We know that money goes towards supporting better systems we want to support and see thrive. These systems don’t diminish our environment, but care for and work with it. Of course this kind of food does not come at prices that everyone can afford. The beauty with produce that is grown in season and grown properly is it is so much fuller with flavor. Food that is richer with flavor is also rich with vitamins and nutrients when it comes from bountiful soil, that in the end you don’t need so much. A tremendous amount of food is wasted these days, soils are being sucked dry of nutrients, and tasteless produce that wastes resources and damages the environment is being flown halfway across the world. If we support small farmers who do back breaking work to grow beautiful products, we do so much good for ourselves and for the environment.
Seasonality is not only celebrated with our fresh produce but through our dry (and oily) as well. Olio nuovo, fresh harvest of beans, nuts, grains, etc. We purchase just enough to not have items sit on shelves. There are so many things that many individuals have never had access to before that should be eaten in season (like beans!). We want to celebrate those things with our customers and give the best advice we can. When individuals come in to ask for something out of season, we can explain why we don’t have it and maybe introduce them to something new they’ve never had before. When customers come in discussing that they’ve never had much luck cooking dried beans, we can try and figure out why together and then give them some guidance on another attempt. We work hard and do the best we can to reduce waste, reduce plastic usage, and be as sustainable as we can be in the shop. If we ever have any leftover produce, we donate it to a wonderful local food bank in Malmö.
We recently celebrated our one year anniversary of the shop. It was a pretty unfathomable feeling that we’ve been around for a year already. On the day, so many customers came out of their way to congratulate and celebrate with us. We were so touched to hear everyone’s personal stories of how our shop has affected and benefited them and we’re beyond grateful for all our lovely customers. It hasn’t been easy starting and sustaining our business during the pandemic, but our customers make it worth it. Food is not just a thing we have to give our bodies three or so times a day so we can keep going. Food is a plethora of networks and connections that reflects our histories, our community, and the world. Every penny you spend and every bite counts.