Líf laga, a reference to the Norse mythological figure Líf and a play on the expression liv laga (“viable”), is a social enterprise based in Stovner, on the northeastern edge of Oslo. Líf laga engages local youth in the production, maintenance, and commerce of apples and apple juice.
At the head of the project is the youth club leader Åsmund Gylder, himself a native of Stovner. “I grew up here in this area. I’ve lived here all my life. Probably more than most other people, I am very interested in making this area a place for the future. I like to make people believe in a future together and be positive about all this nature we have here.”
When he started this project in 2016, Åsmund was already involved in several social initiatives, in particular involving music and traditional culture, but he wanted to create something that was accessible to everyone, something that everyone could be part of, without any particular knowledge or skills.
Åsmund has always been interested in local culture, the history of places, and the connection of human culture to the land. The Líf laga project is intimately related to its specific location. “This entire area is known for apple trees. So the idea has been in my head for many years. Let’s pick apples and make it a youth-empowering thing, so that we can earn money and learn to touch the earth. You can create meeting places that you can enjoy with kids, adults, you know, grandmothers and grandfathers. Everyone can meet up and pick apples for a higher reason. It turned out to be a perfect way to involve each other, to talk about history, to learn, to create together. To me it’s a lifestyle more than it is a project, actually.”
Stovner is often perceived as a problematic neighborhood. Like in many other urban peripheries around the world, the distance from the city center and the large immigrant population are unjustified generators of a strong stigmatization. Åsmund sees Líf laga as a way to challenge public perception and rehabilitate hopes for the future of the young residents.
“That’s probably the most important thing about the whole project: to build up a new reputation for young people in this area.
I think we’re a little step ahead up here because we have all this nature and are intimately connected to it. Gardens can be so much more. They can be like storytelling places, where you have kids cook and sell local food. You can make your own cakes. Take your mother with you, a place where I can show myself, my culture, my family. So this is an important part of what we are doing. But since it’s apples, it’s very easy to talk about that. I really think we have to create places where people can feel that they can grow together.”
The work at Líf laga is carried out in accordance with the seasons, throughout the year. The youths are involved in the whole process. In winter and spring, new trees are planted and old ones are taken care of – the group prunes trees also for older neighbors who aren’t able to do it. During harvest season they collect apples from a variety of donors, including trees in public areas, from farmers and from private plots: once a common occupation in Stovner, tree farming has nowadays been abandoned by most households, and apples would be left to rot without the intervention of Líf laga. The collected apples are squeezed and bottled under Líf laga’s very own brand and sold locally or in the greater region. The local shopping mall has provided shop space (free of charge) where the group can sell their juice directly. This has become a further educational opportunity. “They learn how to apply and write their own résumé to then get a proper job. This is the start of a project for getting a proper job later on. So we have our own youth in charge of being leaders of the small groups they are working with. I’m trying to teach young people history, cultivation, and business, everything in one package.”
Líf laga is an open program based partly on volunteering work and several paid summer jobs funded by the local municipality. Youth go through an application process or are recruited in collaboration with asylum reception centers, schools, sports clubs, and other local institutions. This summer the project occupied 23 youths for a period of three weeks. To engage more and more local youth, Åsmund is seeking several parallel strategies including recreational events, interviews with local “celebrities”, and collaborations with young artists (their upcoming special edition will feature labels designed by some of the most promising Norwegian graphic artists). “I feel like it’s harder and harder to find new people to recruit. Those who started this with me in 2016 … they wanted to stand up for the refugees and do something. Now it’s like you have to look for it and you have to, sort of, water and feed it to grow. It’s inspiring but difficult because it’s changing every year. I would say it’s strange, but maybe it has to do with the way people communicate on the internet.”
Still, Åsmund is very optimistic about the Líf laga method. “It’s so interesting, and it opens up another way of thinking. It’s not like school. It’s more like the wow part of something.”
Wahida, now 17 years old, started working with Líf laga when she was 15. “I always wanted to do something for my community, but I didn’t know where to start. I love my neighborhood. It is located in the East Side, and the East Side has that reputation… but it’s a very cultural and very diverse neighborhood, and there are always things happening here. Good and bad, of course. There are very many nice and kind and helpful people here. There are also people who don’t realize that maybe we should do something for our community. And I think some of it is due to knowledge. Not a lot of people here have knowledge about the importance of helping out in our community, but it’s a very nice neighborhood and I have lived here my whole life and I wouldn’t move to another place. I always thought about it, but I didn’t know how to do it. So it was just like an open door when the opportunity came through Lif laga and we have opened several people’s eyes – actually, very many young people, and I’m very glad to be a part of this.”