...Greenland, a self-governing province of Denmark, was settled by the pugilistic Viking Erik the Red in the 10th century, after his murderous ways got him ejected from Iceland. Legend has it that he called it Greenland as a way to entice others to join him, and, in fact, it was.
It was relatively green then, with forests and fertile soil, and the Vikings grew crops and raised sheep for hundreds of years. But temperatures dropped precipitously in the so-called Little Ice Age, which began in the 16th century, the Norse settlers died out and agriculture was no longer possible.
Climate is a delicate matter in a place like this. A degree more of warmth here, an inch less of rain there; these can have serious repercussions for a farmer eking out a living raising sheep on the harsh terrain. But while temperatures here in the south dipped in the 1980s, they have risen steadily since. Between 1961 and 1990, the average annual temperature was 33 degrees; in 2006, it was 35 degrees, according to the Danish Meteorological Institute.
Winter is coming later and leaving earlier. That means there is more time to leave sheep in the mountains, more time to grow crops, more time to work outdoors, more opportunity to travel by boat, since the fjords freeze later and less frequently.
Cod, which prefer warmer waters, have started appearing off the coast again. Ewes are having fatter lambs, and more of them every season. The growing season, such as it is, now lasts roughly from mid-May through mid-September, about three weeks longer than a decade ago. “Now spring is coming earlier, and you can have earlier lambings and longer grazing periods,” said Eenoraq Frederiksen, 68, a sheep farmer whose farm, near Qassiarsuk, is accessible by a harrowing drive across a rudimentary road plowed in the hillside. “Young people now have a lot of possibilities for the future.”
Scattered reports of successful strawberry crops in the odd home garden are heard, although it helps to keep them in perspective. As Hans Gronborg, a Danish horticulturist, put it, laughing, “They know whether they’ve harvested 20 strawberries, or 25.” He works at Upernaviarsuk, an agricultural research station near Qaqortoq, one of the largest towns in the south. Like everywhere else, it is accessible only by boat or helicopter. As a rule, no roads connect Greenland towns.
As if visiting the zoo, people come from all over to gape at the varieties of grass in the fields and to see what is growing here, among other things, 15 strains of potatoes and, for the first time, annual flowers: chrysanthemums, violas, petunias.
Mr. Gronborg plucked a head of cauliflower from its nest of leaves. It had a rich, almost sweet flavor — the result, he explained, of slow growth, long summer days of 20 hours of light, and wide swings in temperature from day to night. “It’s small, but it means you get all that flavor concentrated in one-third the size of a regular cauliflower,” he said.
Mr. Gronborg loaded a dozen trays of vegetables into a motorboat to take them to the supermarket in Qaqortoq. Soon, he said, restaurants will serve Greenlandic vegetables beside Greenlandic lamb and reindeer.
“Greenlanders are hunters, and it takes time to change their way of living and being,” he said. “But I am confident that things can grow in south Greenland.”
The Netherlands has someplace to go to when the waters rise, but only if no one finds oil there.