10 Fabulous Freak Farms from Around the World


Farms. We rely on them to provide us with food, and they serve as a bastion of familiarity on our often puzzling planet. Yet certain farms represent some of the aberrant and exotic places on Earth. Whether by location, purpose, or function, farms can be freakish. In this account, we profile the most extreme freak farms for a fine harvest of fascinating facts. Get ready for wine growing out of volcanic eruption aftermath, entire farms floating in a lake, and learn what is going on under the ocean in Italy…

10. The Desert Farm Wizards

Desertification may be among the greatest of threats to the future of agriculture in the more arid portions of the Earth’s agricultural regions. But rather than being driven away by desertification, pioneering agricultural works can conquer the desert and alter the very composition of the biosphere. The incredible work of Faisal Mohammed Al Shimmari in growing crops in the Al Ain oasis located within the United Arab Emirates has been aided significantly by the use of nanoparticles created by a literally ground-breaking Norwegian company known as Desert Control.

A desert agriculture project would likely bring to mind efforts to re-route a watercourse or build a reservoir, but Desert Control is enjoying particularly significant results to operate on a molecular scale. The work aims not to gather in large quantities but to make nanoparticles of water stick to the hostile sand of the desert in the form of a mixture with clay nanoparticles. The result is a substrate that holds water rather than losing it. As a result of the work, plants such as okra have been grown in inhospitable desert soils with remarkable results. Surprisingly, nanoparticle capabilities have included a 50 percent decrease in required water usage to sustain crop life where tested in the trials hosted by Faisal Mohammed Al Shimmari.

9. Nemo’s Garden

While farms are typically associated with fields, a lot more than seaweed is growing under the ocean in a certain location in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Italy. Whimsically named, Nemo’s Garden may be located undersea but this facility does not grow seaweed. Rather, Nemo’s Garden stands out as a marvel of extreme agricultural innovation as an experimental farm growing in trapped and carefully controlled high tech bubbles of air under the waves and salt water.

Growing off Noli in Italy, the submerged pods of Nemo’s Garden can produce a variety of delicious land crops at 15 to 36 feet below the surface. Nemo’s Garden is the first undersea garden on the planet but looks extraterrestrial with its acrylic spheres that provide a large pocket of air. Tomatoes are among the crops produced hydroponically.  The project site consists of six plastic pods that are shaped in a manner similar to the bell of a jellyfish, with weighted ropes and chains holding the structures to the seabed. A control tower built on the shore allows operators to adjust the parameters of the undersea farm, stay in contact with divers working on the garden and conduct research as experimental conditions are adjusted.

8. Iceland’s Geothermal Lit & Heated Farms

Iceland might not seem like a good choice for a farming operation, which would at first thought be better suited to a less frozen climate for best results. Cold and dark, the location is opposite to the imagined habitat of most vegetables. Yet family-operated Fridheimar Farm is located in the frigid climate of Iceland with long hours of extended darkness creating a significant challenge to growing project success. Still, this remarkable northern agricultural facility, with rows of greenhouses, produces hothouse plants to a top quality standard year-round in a seemingly out of context environment.

Drawing on direct geothermal energy, the greenhouses provide a sheltered environment for growth with plenty of warmth as well as lighting installations. A café is included on the property, which was established by husband and wife Knutur Rafn Armann and Helena Hermundardottir. They purchased the property and did all of the work of turning the site into a farm amongst inhospitable surroundings. At Fridheimar Farm, delicious tomatoes of four distinct varieties, plus plenty of succulent cucumbers, grow vigorously all year surrounded by cold and extensive darkness for much of the year with powerful lighting and heating that is tapped from the geothermal energy of volcanically active Iceland. What will they think of next?

7. Canary Island Volcano Ash Farming

Volcanic activity may pose a threat to farming operations, yet its aftermath can have the opposite effect. Rich in nutrients, volcanic ash can support rapid plant growth. If carefully utilized in situ to create a farm, a volcanically enriched landscape can create a farm that is not only surreal and bizarre but also exceptionally successful. Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, is home to one of the most unearthly farms in existence. The surreal scene consists of the results of great ingenuity where carefully cultivated grape plants emerge from the aftermath of volcanic eruptions. Bedded in volcanic ash, dry growing grape crops–meticulously arranged–grow green against the dark ash fields. Many years passed before farmers realized the benefits of growing grapes for wine in volcanic ash. The resulting product has become known for its quality. Even US president Thomas Jefferson is known to have requested the product.

Three scales of elements–in the form of the imposing volcanic landscape of mountains in the background, the volcanic soil in which the plants grow, and the molecular structures that support fertile soil for growth–come together with careful attention to produce quality crops. A prime example of Canary Islands volcanic farming is a scene of perfect harmony, volcanic soil in which bright green grape plants grow is terraced by meticulously placed walls made from stacked chunks of volcanic rock. The scene represents a high level of order among elements that came from disastrous chaos, producing mineral rich wine directly from the volcanic ashes.

6. Floating Farms of Myanmar

A farm typically consists of land to which water is commonly added in the form of irrigation to address the ever-present problem of having a sufficient water supply to nourish crops. Alternatively, plants may be grown in shallow standing water, as in the case of rice paddies. In bold contrast is a farm in a form which few agricultural enthusiasts may have seen or even imagined. This bizarre innovation is the floating farm, in which natural resources created by unusual processes of evolution have been harnessed on a grand scale. Inle Lake in Myanmar is home to floating farms where crops grow on the lake, taking an ample supply of water and nutrients in a bid to produce large quantities of quality food crops for the populace.

The floating farms are not created through a high tech process or even artificial material. Rather, the floating farms consist of modified water plants. The farms are created by squeezing bulbous water hyacinth plants, which have natural spongy, pith-like floats below each shiny leaf to allow the plants to float on the water’s surface into massive vegetation mats. These water plant mats float on the lake, and upon them, crops are grown. Sediments are piled onto the weird and wonderful mats, making floating islands of agriculture. Upon them crops like eggplant, squash and, most significantly, tomatoes are grown.

5. Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Being one of the planet’s top staple foods for an extraordinary number of the global population, rice is the subject of some of the most impressive works of terraced agriculture in existence. Closely associated with East Asian cuisine, rice not only shapes popular ethnic dishes but also dramatically influences the landscapes in countries where it is cultivated on a grand scale. Amongst the global rice landscape, Yunnan Province in China is famous for holding the world’s largest rice terraces. China may be known for its rice growing and cuisine that includes rice, but the Yuanyang rice terraces are no ordinary rice paddies. The giant complex of rice terraces is set in a meticulously constructed, ancient, and vast complex of water holding terraces on hillside and cliff environments.

Resembling giant glass artwork pieces from the air, or a series of shiny ribbons winding along in parallel, the enormous flooded rice terraces manage to cover a variety of elevations as they hold water on slopes, hilltops, and valleys. The agricultural works not only catch the eye due to their immense size and intricate form. The site of waterbodies perched at various angles not only in low lying areas but on top of mounds and hills while surrounding by cliffs, slopes, and valleys creates a most spectacular agricultural vista that is unparalleled in scale.

4. Russia’s Moose Dairy Farm

Milk may be associated with cows, while the world’s largest deer may be symbolic of Canada. Yet female moose (the world’s largest deer species) are in fact technically referred to as cows and produce excellent milk. The world distribution of this huge animal species goes far beyond Canada, as they are native to diverse northern regions including Scandinavia and Russia. A remarkable moose farm in Russia is dedicated to the raising of moose and offering of moose milk for sale. A little different? Yes, indeed. The history behind the moose farm is more than a little bizarre, placing the strange and exotic farm in an unusual context.

The former USSR had embarked on domestication efforts following the failure of attempts to use moose as cavalry animals. The bid centered on efforts at Pechora farm, which was set up in the 1940s for moose milk and meat production before the farmers gave up. In 1963, another attempt to farm moose was made when Kostroma Farm was built, beginning with only a pair of calves. Since Kostroma farm was opened, more than 800 moose have been kept onsite. The moose milk produced is sold to a nearby hospital on the basis that moose milk is believed to aid in the alleviation of ulcers. Furthermore, Kostroma Farm offers tourists the opportunity to visit a real moose farm and encounter the giant beasts.

3. Elephant Poop Coffee

Coffee is the second most significantly traded commodity on the planet, coming in second to only crude oil. Yet despite the popularity of coffee, it’s not a normal coffee that is the most expensive on the planet. The fact is, some truly ardent coffee connoisseurs who are not at all squeamish will pay a mini-fortune for the chance to drink coffee that is literally poop, and therefore seen as especially good quality. This apparent contradiction is the exact situation seen in Thailand, where a well-organized and superbly weird farming operation sees elephants offered coffee cherries mixed in with their food. After the elephants eliminate, the coffee cherries are sifted out by workers and washed (boy, do we hope it’s thorough) before being processed into extraordinarily expensive coffee.

The literal dung coffee is the most expensive in the world in fact, at $198 for just 1.2 ounces of “Black Ivory Coffee” that is available at luxury hotels. The large quantity of food that elephants are able to ingest and eliminate increases the quantity of Black Ivory Coffee that industrial coffee workers are able to process. The Thailand-based operation pays workers at a premium to extract beans from dung, offering what equates to $10 for 15 minutes of dung sorting. In contrast, rice farming may only pay $6 equivalent for a full day.

2. Malaysian Swift Nest Farming

The most unusual way humans utilize birds is not by eating a chicken or the egg but, in the case of a certain small bird species, where the nest itself is the focus of culinary activities. With a demand for such a product, it is no surprise that efforts to procure the product would turn quasi-agricultural in lieu of reliance upon simple gathering. Farming chickens for eggs will look old hat in comparison to a bizarre twist to bird product production fueled by the popularity of saliva nests of small insectivorous birds in the Asian delicacy known as bird’s nest soup.

In George Town, Penang State, Malaysia’s capital, tiny birds that are related distantly to hummingbirds known as Cave Swiftlets that produce saliva nests by spitting and moulding actions are being “farmed” through efforts to attract them en masse to urban locations, harvest the nests and then entice them to return. As with any farming effort, increasing the numbers of a single species at a given site may create the opportunity for disease to spread as waste levels increase and numbers of individuals in a limited area grows with time. The efforts to “cultivate” the bird nests have led to the presence of so many tiny, pooping birds that health risks are considered to be a significant concern.

1. Crazy Cactus Farms

Some farms may be a little prickly when it comes to their design and purpose, and you definitely would not want to casually wander through these most extreme of farm fields. In New Mexico, cactus is eaten like a fruit or vegetable in great quantities. A certain number of entrepreneurial farms like Bach’s Cactus Nursery in Arizona and Red Rock Ranch in California are braving the desert and the prickle multitudes to mass cultivate awesome and succulent cacti for either most exotic aesthetics or for large scale human consumption.

Of course, farming cacti presents some interesting practical considerations. Firstly, it is important to provide the correct irrigation system as cacti may be desert plants but they still require sufficient water to develop their succulent components. Additionally, spines are indeed as sharp as needles and do present a very tangible risk of serious injuries if a worker were to fall into a cactus patch or carelessly grab hold of fresh product. For the prickly pear cactus in particularly, great challenges emerge because of nature’s tendency to produce finely adapted life forms. The cactus may be a plant of harsh environments, but while Prickly Pear Cactus has adapted to limited water quantities, it depends on selenium rich soils, limiting opportunities to establish prickly pear cactus farms.

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