When they were still active biathletes, winter was the decisive season for Lars Helge and Fanny Horn Birkeland. Competitions, highlights such as world championships or the Olympic Games, and many stops away from home all took place during the cold months. Now summer is the most important season for them. Since 2022, they have built a strawberry business together. Lars Helge follows the tradition of his family. This has been in agriculture for generations. His sister grows the strawberry plants that Fanny and he plant in their fields. "Neither of us had a plan for after our careers. Most of the time while I was waiting for Lars Helge to finish his career, I worked in the national federation of Orienteering Sport”,Fanny says.
After Lars' career ended, the Birkelands changed their home. During their active time in competitive sports, they lived in Lillehammer to have optimal training conditions. Now they live in Lillesand, almost five hundred kilometers to the south. The small town is located on the coast and is only a 20-minute drive from Kristiansand. Lars Helge grew up in this region. "My parents offered me the fields for strawberry production, and together with Fanny, I then decided that we would give it a try," Lars explains. They have clearly divided the tasks among themselves. Lars Helge takes care of the work in the fields. He plants, waters, and organise the staff who pick the strawberries. His wife organizes the staff who sell the strawberries and do all the marketing work.
Lars Helge's day usually starts at five in the morning. To save time, he has breakfast in the car and then drives to the fields. From six o'clock on, he meets the workers who picks the strawberries, checks the quality of the berries, and drives them to the sales stands. He manages up to three deliveries a day. Meanwhile, Fanny sells the strawberries and drop off the helpers at the various sales stands. After 5 p.m., they must do paperwork like accounting. Most days, their day does not end until 10 p.m. "During the summer months, it's a full-time job. It is reminiscent of time spent in sports. Except that there we could rest between sessions, even sleep. We do not have that now," says the 35-year-old. But there are other similarities between being a farmer and the life of a competitive athlete. "I'm my own boss, I have to be outside in all kinds of weather, and the more effort I put in, the greater my success. If you did not know I was talking about our strawberry business, you would think I was describing my biathlon life," says Lars Helge.
The two describe their collaboration as very harmonious. Each would know their strengths and thus contribute optimally. "We complement each other very well," says Fanny. She likes to get in touch with customers and Lars Helge prefers to work with his hands. In this way, both of them do what they enjoy. Daughter Sylvia is always there, too. The two-year-old loves to snack on the fresh strawberries. Even though her parents spent half their lives in biathlon, right now they cannot imagine swapping strawberry field for biathlon stadium again. In the future, they want to expand cooperation with other farmers in their region and sell even more regional products. And the next strawberry season is sure to come.
Photos: IBU archive, Morten Bietilae, Fanny Horn Birkeland