After the ESRS conference in Vaasa, I joined my friend Ella to her place in Sotkamo in the north east of Finland. In Finland Sotkamo is better know as Vuokatti, the ski and outdoor holiday area within the municipality. It makes the center of Sotkamo a rather lively exception in a region suffering from de-population and ageing rural communities. Why would a young generation of farmers take over? A real challenge for Ella’s boyfriend, a dairy farmer in the region Kainuu. Milking 16 cows on 45 hectares party under conservation agreement, he is the only dairy farmer left in his village, delivering his milk to the cooperative a hundred kilometres further. With the decreasing milk price, these are hard times to make a living from this farm.
Alternatives are needed, but somehow, the development of alternative food systems seems to take off very slowly in Finland. Jokinen and colleagues (Maaseudun uusi aika 2/2009) give three reasons; 1) the long distances in the sparsely populated areas; 2) the strongly consolidated food supply chain (the three largest retain chains control almost all grocery sales in the Nordic countries) and 3) the declining co-operative culture in abated rural communities. I was struck by the similarity in reasons/conditions to the American Midwest, where, especially in Iowa alternative food systems do take off – against the odds.
Farmer cooperation, consumer awareness and civic action and organisation are among the most needed ingredients for building local food systems and sustainable livelihoods in Finland. Currently, this intermediary level of organisation is lacking in many places. How to start a positive cycle of development depends on many interrelating and partly unpredictable factors. Good examples – from within Finland or from oversees – might inspire people to invest in their communities and in local food.