Even as a small child Rolf Axel Nordström was crazy about animals. As a city boy growing up in Malmö, he would scour the parks, collecting worms, frogs and small insects. More often than not he would bring the creatures back home, much to the annoyance of his father, a serious businessman with no patience for such frivolity.

At age 8, in remarkable anticipation of things to come, he wrote a short story about a pig, a dog and small boy, which brought into focus the immutable bond between animals and people and how we must all take care of each other. It was called “Nasse, Tasse och Lasse,” and was published in 1952 in the family section of the local newspaper.
Years later, while studying at an agricultural school and dreaming of one day starting a farm, he became painfully aware of the unnatural conditions under which some animals were raised. The ambition to make agriculture more efficient was then at an all-time high. With the factory as a role model, there was a call for larger but fewer farms, more and better machinery, everything to insure ultimate efficiency and ultimate profit—all admirable, except for what happened to the animals: Chickens used to be between 4 and 6 months old before they was slaughtered but were now killed at 32 days old; a cow could no longer be with its calf and a pig was not allowed to root outside but forced to spend his much-shortened miserable life on a cement floor.…
Maybe he, Rolf Axel, could do something about it?
In 1971 he bought Ängavallen, a farm located in the rich, fertile countryside between Malmö and Trelleborg. Here, things would be different. At first it was just a small farm where pigs could root freely outside and eat only vegetable fodder the way they’re supposed to. As time passed, the operation expanded to include cows, sheep and a slaughterhouse in which great care was taken so that no stress was inflicted on the animals.
Ängavallen has continued to grow. Early on a farm shop was opened. Then came the restaurant, the herb garden and the hotel. And now it has its own cheese and bread-making facility, with bread made from the farm’s own traditional grains. Altogether this is a tight-knit family operation, in which Rolf Axel’s wife Birgitta and two of their sons, Niclas and Mathias, are totally involved, and which includes a staff of more than a dozen people.

Dinner at Ängavallen, where we spent one night at the hotel, proved delectable. The chef, Per Frank, was there to take good care of us.
What was striking about the appetizer was how light and pretty it looked. But what exactly were we looking at? Oh yes, this must be the lightly salted MSC-labeled (ecologically correct) cod with ginger oil, horseradish and cucumbers. With it came a glass of refreshing Grechetto wine.
I watched, camera at hand, as some truffle was added to the main dish, a concoction of chicken heart and liver and a sprinkling of broad beans. And—moving from Umbria to Alsace—a 2008 Gewurtztraminer arrived at the table.
An elderflower sorbet with lemon sponge, woodruff and vanilla cream concluded the meal, along with a glass of Savignon Blanc. The restaurant offers 120 different wines and, not surprisingly, they’re all organic, with no chemicals or fertilizers. Incidentally, in 2008 the restaurant was named the “Eco Restaurant of the Year” by the White Guide, Sweden’s leading restaurant guide.


Pigs are Rolf Axel's passion. There could be no doubt about it. It was early morning, and he was taking us on a walking tour. We had passed through the herb garden, and were now entering a field of pigs, long-legged, energetic, multicolored spotted pigs, rolling themselves on the ground and having the most wonderful time. “Pigs are actually very clean in their habits,” he said. “As opposed to cows, they have designated places for their various functions, and will never eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom in the same place.”
He then went on to emphasize the importance of giving them only vegetable feed. As the subject of slaughter came up, he became very serious. “Pigs should not have to die in panic. They must never smell blood or see any of their own killed.” The subject triggered an old memory from his days in kindergarten.
He had passed the old Hussar stables in Malmö, and witnessed how a mare was led into the courtyard and had its throat cut. It was such a grisly spectacle that it gave him nightmares for a month.
We learn that the pigs reared at Ängavallen are a mix of domesticated conventional pigs, wild boar and a hardy old country breed known as Linderöd pigs.
There are 120 Linderöd sows in Ängavallen, 200 sheep and 150 cows. Entering the cow pasture, we were struck by how content, sleek and relatively small the cows looked, and by their brilliant red-brown color. These are “Rödkulla” cows, Rolf Axel tells us, “an old country breed that’s now threatened with extinction.” Earlier I mentioned something about how in this era of efficiency calves are routinely taken from their mothers at birth. Not so in Ängavallen. Here they graze together in harmony. We might as well have been back in the 1950s, when farms were farms and utterly idyllic.

Rolf Axel, is now a successful man, increasingly recognized as an important champion for good causes, and showered with any number of prizes and awards. But for a long time it was an uphill battle. He was always the odd man out. After his refusal to take over the family business, his father did not speak to him for three years, and the neighboring farmers shook their heads in disbelief as this crazy city boy full of weird ideas planted himself among them.
His reputation as an ardent advocate for more humane treatment of animals is widely known, which reminds me of an encounter we had a couple days later with Björn Stenbeck, who runs Salt & Brygga, one of Malmö’s most prominent restaurants. Of course Björn knew him. I mentioned his passion for pigs and Björn smiled and nodded. From his expression I read nothing but true affection.

Written and photographed by Bo Zaunders

For more info, see: http://angavallen.se/en/