Meet Lars!

In our Citizen Placemaker series, we chat with amazing and inspiring people from outside the architecture, planning, and government worlds (the more traditional haunts of Placemakers) whose work exemplifies how creating great places goes far beyond the physical spaces that make up our cities.

Rosenhill farm, located in rural Ekerö, Sweden, is a place that combines food, culture, and community. Located about nine miles west of central Stockholm on the city’s rural fringe, the farm is a calm but bustling destination for people in the surrounding area. It’s relaxed atmosphere and focus on organic food and connection to the land offer a refreshing retreat just a half an hour’s drive from the city. The farm’s proprieters, Lars and Emilia, exemplify the Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper philosophy in their approach to creating a great place that draws people back again & again. I spoke with Lars recently about his experience with growing a place through an iterative process as organic as the vegetables in its fields.


How did Rosenhill begin? What inspires you to continue running the farm and garden, and how do you hope it will change and grow in coming years? 

Oh, that´s about 100 years ago when Emilia’s grandfather built the barn. For us it has been 20 wonderful and quite intense years of mistakes, learning, disappointments, and miracles. One reason to continue is of course the fact that it is a way to get an income. The other reasons, though, are to do things that other people seem to like, to live in and with nature with its seasons, and to witness all people coming and going. In terms of the future of the farm, it´s hard to say. I’m quite happy with it as it is, but to be able to keep it as a nice playground for me and Emilia (as long as we stay healthy) and others would be perfect. Then to see some others gradually taking more responsibility would also be great. Generally, the biggest visions I’ve had have been along the lines of “It would be nice to have a new weed-wacker,” or “Maybe we should plant some trees there” and so on.

Who comes to Rosenhill? What attracts them to this place?

All kinds of people come, mostly from the Stockholm area but there are also quite a lot of tourists. Hopefully, they find it beautiful and easy-going. We hope to spread an idea of simplicity and playfulness. We serve some good food, and in the autumn the main activity here is to help the Stockholmers make apple juice. I think the rather simple way we solve things, mixing styles, and using whatever we’ve got to make the rooms and garden nice—that inspires a lot of people. It also scares some off completely! We truly have the “everything goes” attitude at Rosenhill, with both people and things. I often hear that our guests and customers feel completely relaxed here.

Visitors to Rosenhill gather for a meal at a picnic table by the wood shed. / Photo: Patra Jongjitirat

What is it that makes Rosenhill a community gathering place? For you, what is most unique about Rosenhill?

The people who come here to live with us through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program—we call them WWOOFers—have the possibility to try different skills and learn that most mistakes are not catastrophes. Another draw is that there is quite a big variety of people from all over.

From May to October every year, we have some smaller and bigger parties of different kinds, with live music, food and beer; that is always popular. On Sundays, we arrange car boot sales. When the weather is nice and sunny, lots of people gather for those. On ordinary days, people just come to have food and chill out on the veranda or in the garden, look at the animals, pick their own vegetables and fruit, and discover small strange pieces of art and craft. Kids usually have no problems roaming around for a few hours finding stuff everywhere.

Are there characteristics of the space that encourage people and strangers to interact with each another?

There are plenty of small strange items around to start a conversation over; it is a good place to explore. Mainly, though, I think it is the relaxed atmosphere that lets people feel comfortable enough to start up talking with other visitors they don’t know. I think that maybe, in a time of expected perfection, we try to show that things can be great in other ways. For instance, that a weed can be beautiful if looked upon from a different perspective. That doesn’t mean we don´t try to get rid of weeds in the cultivation beds, of course! But we appreciate things for what they are.

Simple, colorful hammocks transform the edge of the woods into a relaxing hangout spot. / Photo: Patra Jongjitirat

Can you expand on your idea of not expecting perfection? How did this idea give you more freedom to build the farm?

Probably it is less of an idea than just stinginess. I don´t like to spend money if I can avoid it, and particularly try to avoid taking out loans and spending money I don’t already have. As a result, we’ve always tried to reuse old stuff when building and furnishing. This has certainly made it possible to build more for less money, and people seem to like this style, of doing more with less in creative ways.

We had some tougher years in the beginning when we couldn’t really live only from this place, so we let it grow slowly and didn’t really have a plan that this or that should be achieved within a few years. Day by day, year by year, things came to be out of necessity or joy. When we got to know about WWOOF and started to receive volunteers, things really changed. Things have worked out, even if not always in the way we thought.

Citizen Placemaker: Lars Sillen on Letting a Place Grow Organically was last modified: August 29th, 2012 by Patra Jongjitirat