Of the newcomers I've met over the last couple of years, I've met Brazilians, Indians and Vietnamese, people who've moved huge distances to work in Skellefteå. It's been really quite inspiring.
However, all those people had jobs, mostly with Northvolt, to move to. Or least one family member had a job sorted in Skellefteå, so there was already some security in their move, however huge the distances and cultural differences.
But the Deysels, an extended family of five from South Africa, are something else.
They moved to Skellefteå in September 2021, from Little Falls, Johannesburg, a distance of 14,280 kilometers. They not only didn't have jobs lined up, they had decided to start a totally new business.
Weynand, the 42-year-old father was head of data and analytics at a major South African bank. Daniella, his 35-year-old wife, was a successful software saleswoman.
So they must've started an I.T. company in Skellefteå, right?
No. They started a farm. And not just any farm - an indoor farm.
I'll let Weynand take over the story:
– During the pandemic in South Africa we started growing vegetables and mushrooms indoors. We quickly fell in love with the whole process and realized that with my automation skills and Daniella's sales skills we could turn it into a viable business.
However, Weynand and Daniella were not happy with life in South Africa.
–There are major security issues, with high levels of crime that lead people to locking themselves indoors and keeping guns on their bedside table. That's no way to live.
Weynand and Daniella were worried about their children's future. Madi and Weyni, were 11 and 3 respectively. (Weynand's mother, Hanli, also moved with them)
– We were deeply concerned about our children's prospects in South Africa. The economy was deteriorating, businesses were closing, unemployment rates were soaring, and public services were lacking. We really wanted our children to enjoy a carefree outdoor life, says Daniella.
During our chat, Weynand shows me a news story on his mobile phone. It's about a police station in a town an hour north of where they used to live, that had to hire a private security firm to protect the station at night. Whatever the reasons for how this area became so unstable, it's difficult for any parent to argue with a decision that focuses on the future of one's children.
– With my Italian background I had a European Union passport, so we explored various European countries as potential new homes, explains Daniella.
– After considering Ireland, Italy, and Germany, we ultimately settled on Sweden.
But why an indoor farm in northern Sweden?
– Norrland offered more affordable property, and there was a demand for locally grown fresh produce year-round. Operating an indoor vertical farm allowed us to produce fresh crops consistently for local businesses while contributing to sustainability.
Vertical farming is also much more environmentally friendly.
– In contrast to conventional agriculture, vertical farming is more efficient. It can produce one ton of lettuce using only 17% of the space required for traditional farming and reduces the need for transportation, something that minimizes nutrient leakage from agricultural lands, says Weynand.
– This project also has a deeper purpose. We want to pass it down to our children if they choose to embrace farming in the future. We wanted to instill in them the value of living off the land while offering them a potential career in agriculture, says Daniella.
The Deysels have done well so far.
– We have contracts with many of the major restaurants in town. They love our microgreens.
So what do you think of Skellefteå?
It's been great so far. Sweden is renowned for its safety, which means we can sleep soundly at night, says Weynand, who continues:
– Our children can play outdoors without the need for gates. Sweden provides excellent education and healthcare for kids. It gives them a solid future, although I have to say we find Swedish schools a little lacking in discipline.
Daniella agrees but also admires how the local school swiftly integrated their children into the educational system.
–They even received an eight-week crash course on Swedish society, and transportation from our farm 20kms outside Burträsk was arranged seamlessly.
It's not all been plain sailing: there have been problems.
– The bureaucratic delays with Migrationsverket were frustrating. It took Migrationsverket the best part of a year to give us a caseworker. And getting personal numbers was also challenging, says Weynand.
They've encountered other challenges, such as finding reasonably priced tradesmen.
– They never return calls and are incredibly expensive, says Daniella.
And adapting to cultural differences has been interesting.
– South Africa is vibrant, and while Swedes are friendly, interactions sometimes feel slightly awkward.
Then there's the cold.
– We expected it, but it's the effort required to deal with the cold and snow that can be physically demanding. There were moments during our first winter when we questioned our decision to move here, especially while digging our car out of snow during a blizzard, says Daniella.
They're settled now, though. They battled through the winters and have really found their feet - they chronicled their adventures on YouTube. They're also one of the newcomer families being followed by film crew for a new SVT series, Norrlandsdrömmar .
Next, they plan to expand their farm with chickens, and Daniella, a splendid cook, even has plans to open an outdoor restaurant next summer.
– Yeah, we're here for the long-term now. We love it here. You won't be getting rid of us any time soon, laughs Weynand.