Pieta Hyvärinen, winner of the EUR 25,000 Vuoden Tiedekynä prize, studied mushroom pickers in clearfelled forests

This year, the Vuoden Tiedekynä prize awarded by Kone Foundation goes to doctoral researcher Pieta Hyvärinen for their article Mushroom-foraging on Northern Tree Plantations: Diverse Forest Economies and the Problem of Plantationocentrism. For their study, Hyvärinen interviewed false morel pickers in clearfelled areas, thinned forests and on forest roads. Through the pickers, they unearthed new ways of seeing foraging as part of the diverse economies in place in forests.

Published in the journal Alue ja Ympäristö, Pieta Hyvärinen’s article opens up an alternative view of the significance of forests in Finland by observing mushroom pickers. Wood production has defined the way forests are used in Finland for decades.

“It is not customary to include food picked or caught in the forest, or time spent there to promote well-being, as part of the forest economy. In economic terms, forests are still primarily seen from the point of view of wood production,” says Hyvärinen, a doctoral researcher at the Faculty of Social Sciences at Tampere University.

In their research, Hyvärinen has created the concept of plantationocentrism, which is based on feminist economic geography. It is well suited for describing the formation of the Finnish forest economy as plantation-like and profit-seeking wood production heavily based on clear felling and as production that marginalises other forms of forest-based livelihoods, such as berry and mushroom picking.

In their article, Hyvärinen suggests that forestry can also be understood as a broader whole than plantation-like wood production.


Mushroom foraging increases well-being and livelihoods

According to Statistics Finland, around one third of the country’s adult population pick mushrooms each year, and nearly a half pick berries. Outdoor activities and hiking in forests have grown even more popular during the coronavirus pandemic.

In their ethnographic field survey, Hyvärinen finds several motives for mushroom foraging: it is a way to obtain food, extra income, get incidental exercise and support one’s mental health. Mushroom picking also has a social dimension that increases well-being, as it is an activity people often engage in together with family members or friends, and sometimes involves sharing the mushrooms or exchanging them for something else. In addition, mushroom foraging can support self-sufficiency and help people make a living outside paid employment.

The all-encompassing presence of wood production in forests translates as constant uncertainty for mushroom pickers, not to mention the forest’s other biotic communities. At the same time, however, mushroom pickers and forest industry operators live partly in productive interaction, as forest roads and the ruts made by wood harvesters make it easier for mushroom pickers to get to the forest. The thinning of trees may even promote better berry harvests, and false morels, and later raspberries, can also be picked from clear-cut areas.

According to Hyvärinen, taking over clear-cut areas as places for picking false morels is an extreme example of the perseverance required in foraging and the ability to make use of unforeseen opportunities. Mushroom pickers find ways to make do not only with forms of production that ruin habitats, but also regardless of them and after them.

“Hyvärinen’s article is exceptionally topical at a time when many Finns have rediscovered the forest due to the disruption to their customary city lives. The importance of this article also stems from the key socio-political and environmental challenge of our time: we must prioritise the protection of biodiversity alongside climate protection,” says Professor Emerita of Social and Public Policy, Marja Järvelä, who selected the winner of the Vuoden Tiedekynä prize.

“The article shows that, by highlighting a small part of the world – such as the false morel and its picker – a skilled writer can unfold a critique of an entire scientifically thought-out form of production so that the pieces click into place in a balanced way.”

Vuoden Tiedekynä is an annual award for academic articles that demonstrate exemplary use of the Finnish language. The aim is to support and increase the appreciation of academic writing in Finnish. The award’s focus alternates annually between writing in the humanities, social sciences and environmental science. The prize was awarded for the 11th time this year.