Reviving the Wild podcast series




Reviving the Wild podcast series

Reviving the Wild is a four-episode-long deep dive into nature and ourselves.

Every year, dozens of artists from all fields of arts and all parts of the world travel to the Saari Residence in the countryside of Southwest Finland to focus on their artistic work and to exchange ideas and experiences with other residents. 

The residence, maintained by Kone Foundation, aims to be a test platform for a future that is ecologically, socially and mentally sustainable.

The Reviving the Wild podcast was born from our aspiration to deepen our understanding of the environment so that we and our resident artists may live more peacefully alongside the natural world and its inhabitants. The podcast stems from the themes essential to the Residence’s daily ecological activities.

The series is hosted by Miia Laine. For the podcast, we have invited experts whose work we appreciate and value to share their thoughts and knowledge with us about the topics we consider urgent and worth discussing. We hope these talks will resonate with you and offer new ideas for connecting better with the non-human world around us!

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EPISODE 1: How can we treat non-human animals better?

Our relationship with other animals is often a question about value. Is it possible for us humans to create deeper connections with animals we have been exploiting for so long? Consider birds, for example, and all that has been done to them and with them.

In this episode, Miia Laine meets up with philosopher Elisa Aaltola and ecologist Mia Rönkä. The Saari Residence is located right next to Mietoistenlahti bay, a protected area that is well known among nature-lovers and birdwatchers. It’s also a place that wouldn’t currently thrive without human intervention.

Miia: Every year, artists from all fields of the arts and from all parts of the world travel to Saari residence in southwest Finland to focus on their artistic work and exchange ideas and experiences. The Saari residence aims to be a test platform for the future that is sustainable, ecologically, socially and mentally. This podcast stems from themes that are essential in the residences’ daily ecological activities. Together with invited experts, we talk about returning to our roots to restore nature and ourselves. My name is Miia Laine, and this is Reviving the Wild.

[peaceful music]

Miia: How often do you think about birds? Of all animals, birds are the species I see most often in my everyday life. They are always present, but I rarely think about them or notice them, unless it’s in a negative way. Seagulls stealing my food or pigeons congregating on the pavement and being in the way. We don’t really regard birds as something worth noticing, something worth respecting.

[peaceful music and birds singing]

Miia: Elisa Aaltola is a philosopher specialised in animal ethics, moral psychology and environmental philosophy. If one could sum up Elisa’s fascinating work into one question, it would probably be this one: how can we treat non-human animals better? Currently, Elisa lectures at the University of Turku. I meet up with her in Tuomaanpuisto, a lovely park right next to the university. It’s the beginning of May, and the park is filled with different kinds of birds singing. Black birds, jackdaws, blue tits, great tits, crows and pigeons. You can also hear seagulls nearby, and even one pheasant. In cities, people, myself included, often just walk by birds. Are we missing out on something?

Elisa: Yes, it’s a shame that people often just walk past birds like pigeons or seagulls or crows without noticing them. And that’s because these birds are extremely intelligent, so there’s a lot of research now to show that birds are capable of many kinds of cognitive tasks that primates can’t do. So they in fact excel human beings in many things, and still we often treat them as if they were somehow not worthy of our attention and not valuable as individuals or as species. And I think that we really need to shake things up and make people notice birds more. This philosopher that I really like, called Iris Murdoch, has written about how to become more attentive to one’s surroundings and one’s world, and she uses the example of observing a kestrel in the sky. So she writes beautifully about watching this kestrel just fly around calmly and suddenly realising that she no longer remembers any of her egoistic, immediate goals, but rather just wants to understand the bird better. And this is something that I wish we all could do at least now and then, with also the ordinary species, such as pigeons.

Miia: Yeah, I think a lot of birds are not even ignored, but also seen as a nuisance, like pigeons and seagulls, especially. So if you look, there’s a blackbird over there. What kind of thoughts come up when you’re watching that bird?

Elisa: Well, the first thing is, as is always the case with birds, that it is inconceivable to think that such small creatures who look ordinary, have such extraordinary minds. I read a lot of research concerning bird cognition. It’s something that I’m fascinated by, so every time I see a blackbird or any sort of bird, I feel, first astonishment, and then humility, because I think they’re probably smarter than I am. One interesting question is what is the bird think of me and what do non-human animals think of us human beings, human animals. Because unfortunately, we don’t treat them always in an ethically advisable way and we cause a lot of harm. So next to the fact that they’re so intelligent, I’m also intrigued by how they relate to us and what do they think of us.

Miia: Yeah, I think humans tend to not see themselves as part of nature. But do you have any idea what they could think?

Elisa: Probably many birds are quite scared of human beings and quite apprehensive. So I think that they like to keep their distance, but in parks like these, they also can become more curious and even tame in certain circumstances. Particularly young birds can be quite inquisitive. So they jump from one tree branch to another and come closer and closer. I often work here with my laptop, and the young birds in July and August start to approach me. They want to know more about me, and it would be interesting to know what do they think of such apes as we are. What do they make of us. And I wish that the things that they come up with, the beliefs that they form concerning human beings, were positive, but that would require us human beings, to treat them better, to treat non-human animals better.

Miia: You write a lot about empathy towards other species. What do you think we could do better? How could we treat them better?

Elisa: Well, the starting point is to pay focus on what sorts of things animals are, so particularly their mindedness is vital to notice. We have to eradicate the old misconception that animals are dumb and they don’t have cognitive abilities and they don’t have even consciousness, according to certain very old fashioned beliefs. We have to eradicate that sort of anthropocentric world view where only human beings have minds and capabilities and value. So the first port of call is to recognise the minds of other animals. And once we do that, and once we notice that they also have consciousness, and I mean by that the ability to feel one’s existence as something, so it’s like something to be a blackbird. It’s like something to be a seagull. After we notice that we can also engage with them empathically, so we can feel empathy towards the experiences, and towards their emotions and perspectives. After that comes the normative dimension, for instance, recognition of the inherent value of non-human animals, and perhaps even animal rights.


Miia: Our relationship with other animals is often a question about value. Since the 17th century, Western culture has been very focused on how they could instrumentalise animals as efficiently as possible. That gave birth to animal industries. Before that rural agriculture was quite different. But for example, now in Finland we have poultry farms that have 150,000 birds. So we’re speaking of something that’s industrial. It’s no longer just farming, it’s an industry. I have thought a lot about our complex relationship to non-human animals. Yes, we have pets. They can be our companions, and they’re here to console us. We value dogs and cats and pets in general as individual personalities. Elisa speaks a lot about how we recognise the minds of animals when we don’t need to instrumentalise then for our culinary or financial gain. It’s easy for us to let the poultry industry thrive when we don’t think of broilers, or hens as extremely brilliant creatures. And when we do strive to make use of their bodies, then we have to ignore their minds.

Elisa: There are some scholars who argue that because birds have been utilised so extensively and they are still utilised so extensively, their minds have to be ignored. Broilers are the most instrumentalised animal on the planet. The amounts of birds, boilers and hens that are used is staggering. So in Finland alone, we slaughter 82 million hens and chickens and broilers a year. That level of instrumentalisation makes us incapable of noticing the intelligence of birds. It’s uncomfortable for us to realise that hey, they are in fact like us in many ways. They form beliefs. They have concepts. They have complex communication. Hens for instance have at least 24 different types of signals for each other. Probably a lot more. They have memory, they have learning, they have problem solving. The same applies to wild birds, but with the fact that we use so many broilers comes the fact that we also look down on wild birds often. We really need to shake things up and question why do we perceive birds to be cognitively incapable, when in fact they are so intelligent, and when in fact we have a lot to learn from them.

Miia: I think humans, or maybe we’re talking from a very Western perspective, but talk a lot about the intelligence of animals and how they’re valuable because they’re intelligent. Is there another way of going beyond just intelligence and seeing value of worms or other creatures where we maybe can’t compare the intelligence to our intelligence?

Elisa: I have used the word intelligence a lot here, but in fact I think that morally what’s most important is the ability to feel and to be conscious in the phenomenal sense, which means to feel existence as something. What is it like to be a bat is this famous philosophical article, and it engages with this issue and notices that even if we don’t know what it’s like to be a bat, we can know that it’s like something to be a bat. This is something that we should really pay focus on. There’s a whole hoard of studies to establish and manifest quite vigorously that sentience and consciousness and this ability to feel and experience is widespread in the animal world, and it’s more irrelevant because a stone doesn’t feel anything that I do to the stone but a dog or a pig does, or a bird does. We intuitively accept that suffering is a bad thing and happiness is a good thing, and as sentient conscious beings experiencing creatures, we humans can empathise with the suffering and happiness of other animals. For us, as these sorts of biological creatures that are effective and feeling, for us, it’s self-evident that it would be a good thing if the feelings of also non-human animals were positive rather than negative. But then of course, also other things such as life matters. I research also environmental ethics. There this theory of deep ecology and biocentrism fascinates me, and they approach the issue not from the perspective of cognitive abilities or even consciousness, but rather from the perspective of ecological holes and the value of life in general.

Miia: Could you give an example?

Elisa: Well, biocentrics think that life in itself is something inherently valuable, and you cannot have a greater inherent value than life. Because of that, also plants have, anything living. Plants, cells, bacteria, anything that is organic, has inherent value. But then there are differences in how we ought to treat different categories of life, because they can come with added capacities. So therefore they argue that because animals can also feel things, we have to treat them differently from trees or bacteria, which probably cannot feel things. Then deep ecology brings the ecological issues to the foreground, and that’s something vital to notice in the era of climate change and species extinction. What we do other species doesn’t impact only that species, but also the other species around it, and ultimately also our own species. And the danger is that we are about to collapse the house of cards and eradicate vital ecological chains, which is detrimental to the future of also Homo sapiens.

Miia: Do you think humans, especially us, that always relate to animals in a relationship of use or benefit for us, be it for eating, culinary or money or then even this kind of more positive use that we get out of pets. But do you think we can ever truly get out of that and live truly in cooperation with animals?

Elisa: Well, that is a brilliant question and using things and beings is unfortunately part of life. Without some form of instrumentalisation, we have no existence as living organisms. But we can try and limit the harm that we cause, and we can combine this necessity with also recognising the inherent value of others. Here it’s crucial to try and focus on others, sometimes through what I call other directedness. So when we are using others, we are self-directed. We think of what can I get from the other. But now and then is good to be other directed. Focus on the other and try and see what their inner reality might be. If it’s the tree, for instance, what their reality is. What is that thing? What is that being? What is it like to be a bird? These sorts of questions are significant. The philosopher that I mentioned, Iris Murdoch, has spoken of this and the necessity of trying to find ways of diminishing or trying to find ways of limiting the influence of our egoistic desires. We cannot completely eradicate them, but we can try and attune them in a way that respects also the inherent value and the realities of others. So in a complex and often perhaps demanding way, but also I think quite possible way, we can try and bring harmony into our needs of using the surrounding reality and at the same time respecting its creatures and things and entities and phenomena. Murdoch spoke of attention in this text where she deals with this issue. Attention is something that one gains when one avoids overt egoism, so as soon as we venture into a forest, for instance, and do that without seeking immediate benefit for ourselves, without seeking to use its wood or use its berries or use its animals in a given way or even without using it for aesthetic experiences and pleasant feelings. As soon as we do this, as soon as we put those egoistic desires on the side for a while, we start to develop a different mode of epistemology, whereby we start to recognise things and entities as they are in themselves. And here Murdoch speaks of noticing the realities of others and noticing that those realities are as significant as are our own. And this is what she ultimately calls love, so attention is the same thing as love. And I have in my own work, emphasised Murdoch’s ideas and brought them forward and argued that we need this sort of attention and love when it comes to non-human nature, but also when it comes to non-human animals and for instance birds. So we should really pay attention to them and notice their realities and ultimately, love them.

[peaceful music]

Miia: After talking to Elisa, I started thinking that bird watching is actually one of the nicest ways to get to know birds. I know it sounds obvious, but I really mean it. Bird watching is all about appreciating birds in their space, which we sometimes share with them. The Saari residence is located right next to Mietoistenlahti bay. It’s a protected area and well known among nature lovers and bird watchers. Mietoistenlahti bay is one of the most important bird wetlands in Finland. It has huge importance, in particular as a staging site for migratory water birds during spring time, but it also hosts an important breeding population. I’m lucky because I can visit the place with a bird expert, Mia Rönkä. Mia Rönkä is an ecologist, science editor and writer, and the chair of the Circumpolar Seabird expert group. The leading interest that guides her work as a scientist, writer, and artist is the relationship between humans and nature. There are a lot of great bird watching sites right next to Saari manor, and one of them are the Silakkari cliffs. On the way there, we walk along wooden planks and see two adders sleeping in the sun. They are still a bit stiff after the winter. We pass by them carefully. After a short forest path, you can see the cliffs.

[footsteps and birds singing]

Miia: This whole area is a nature reserve. How is it being kept like this? Does it need human intervention to be beneficial for the birds?

Mia: There are many different biotopes in this area. So for instance these traditional rural biotopes, they are maintained by grazing, so having cattle to graze here and also mowing. These traditional rural biotopes, they are completely dependent on human presence. They would not exist without human intervention. So they need this grazing and mowing, otherwise they start to grow over and get closed. The natural succession takes over and there will be bushes. There will be trees, eventually, and then these habitats would get lost.

Miia: At the time of this recording, we’re here in early May, so it’s still pretty cold [laughs], but we still haven’t put away our winter jackets yet. But there’s a lot of colours already. The ice is gone. The bay is completely open, and you can see tiny waves on the blue sea. Behind that, you can see yellow reeds and then behind that there’s forest. On this side, there’s forest on top of rocks, and then you can see on the other side some mud flats, as well. Saaren kartano is actually right here on the bay overlooking this whole thing. Is this a special landscape in this area?

Mia: I think Southwestern Finland is very interesting in the sense that the coexistence of man and other parts of nature is very old here. It goes way back several thousands of years, all the way to when the first skerries rose from the sea. Also, this site is ancient sea floor, so the very valuable agricultural lands and mud flats, those are former sea sediments. Also, there is a long history for the Saari manor. It goes back to the 1300s, and the manor itself was established in the 1600s, and it was owned by the Turku bishops to start with, and it reflects nicely, the long history also, of the co-existence of people and other nature in in southwestern Finland and the large effect that people have had on the nature and polytopes here, both in good and bad. So in good, for instance in terms of this traditional rural biotopes that would not exist without human presence and that host a lot of endangered species, for instance.

Miia: And in the bad?

Mia: Well, of course we know what kind of detrimental effects people in general can have on nature, for instance, in terms of climate change, in terms of many forest species and also species inhabiting agricultural environments being endangered and the pollutants, also the destruction of habitats, for instance by different development activities, building and so on. So I think the detrimental effects of people on nature, they are very visible and they should be taken seriously. I think there is an improved knowledge about them, also, and they are all more present in public discussion in media, but then there are also these positive effects that people can have on nature and also ways in which actually each one of us can affect our environment and, for instance, benefit biodiversity.

[birds singing]

Miia: You brought a telescope, which is very exciting, and we can watch some birds now. What can you see today?

Mia: It’s quite a windy day, and I think part of the birds are seeking shelter from the windy parts of the bay. But there is a quite a large flock of pigeons, also teals. There was a flock of about 30 individuals of oystercatchers, also some ruffs feeding on the mud flats here. Some mute swans there a bit further down the bay. Usually you would also see for instance, great mergansers, golden eyes and soft sea ducks here, pintails, but now at this time I didn’t spot any of those species. Also the terns have arrived, and there are some herring gulls, common gulls.

Miia: Yeah. Quite a lot. What’s that? There’s a quite near the mud flat, there’s a quite a large flock just swimming in the water of different coloured birds. It looks like there’s a lot of movement. They’re swimming around. What are they, and what are they doing?

Mia: Let me see. Yeah. So that flock is teals. They are looking for feed. This is a very beneficial place also for dabbling ducks like mallards, teals and wigeons because it’s very shallow, so it’s easy for them to find feed.

Miia: There are a lot of birds here in Mietoistenlahti that come from a long way away that come from Asia or Africa. How does climate change affect some of these species and how they interact with this environment here?

Mia: So climate change affects our breeding and wintering populations and the species that migrate through Finland in many ways, so it can affect the quality of the environment, for instance, in the breeding grounds or the food resources in the wintering areas along the migration route or in the breeding grounds. It can affect the phenology, which is the timing of the different events in the bird’s life or yearly cycle. So for instance, timing of breeding, timing of migration or the hatching times. It can affect the match of the breeding time with the largest abundance of food resources. So there can be, for instance, this mismatch between the breeding times of the birds and the food resources that they need for their young. Did I answer the question?

Miia: Yes, absolutely. So for example, let’s say the birds, of course, want to be here when there’s the most food with their young. So that means if you count back, so that’s maybe in June or now May, June, if there’s the most food for them, so then they need to count back, OK, when do we start to need breeding to have young at that time? So then when do I have to start migration? So it’s an incredible amount of calculation going on as well.

Mia: Yes, and the effects of climate change also depend on whether you are long-distance migrant or short-distance migrant, a resident, in which habitats you live, what you feed on. So for instance, for long distance migrants, it’s much more difficult to anticipate what the conditions here in the breeding grounds are. So if the species is short-distance migrant, it’s easier for it to adapt to the changing conditions or anticipate when it’s beneficial to, for instance, move on in the migration, but if you are a bird wintering in sub-Saharan Africa, then of course they would not know what the conditions are here when they start the migration.

Miia: You just mentioned that the sea has been rising and the hill that we see, the Saari manor, the Saaren kartano where the residencies take place also used to be an island. Saari means island. So that’s really interesting to hear as well. At Saari residence, there are a lot of artists, together with scientists, as well. But what do you see the possibility of art or the role of art, an artist being in this environment?

Mia: I think art in general has a huge potential in addressing different ways of seeing, of looking at different things at different views of different topics, so a possibility to look at things in another way, or to experiment on different futures to have this what if aspect. So I see art as kind of this experimental laboratory in looking at ways differently and exploring different future. It also holds a huge potential in communicating different topics and also raising empathy for other parts of our environment and evoking this emotional level also in terms of nature conservation, because it’s not only facts that we base our decisions on, it’s actually more, or the emotional level can be more effective than the facts in raising awareness and in evoking action.

Miia: Mietoistenlahti bay is a great example of a place that couldn’t thrive without human intervention. It’s a very delicate balance of biodiversity that is being maintained there. This shows once again that we are one species among many, and it’s not just other animals we share our space with. In the next episode of Reviving the Wild, we talk about trees and forests. My name is Miia Laine. Thank you for listening.

EPISODE 2: Learning the language of the trees

Even though forests cover more than 75% of Finland’s land area, only 3% of Finnish forests are in a natural state. But what defines “naturalness”?

In this episode, Miia Laine takes a deep dive into trees and forests with arborist Riku Parkatti and archipelago-focused ecologist Panu Kunttu. They talk about the fragility of modern forests and the meaning of trees. What would our life in the cities be without them?

MIIA: Every year, artists from all fields of the arts and from all parts of the world travel to Saari Residence in southwest Finland, to focus on their artistic work and exchange ideas and experiences. The Saari Residence aims to be a test platform for the future that is sustainable ecologically, socially, and mentally. This podcast stems from themes that are essential in the residence’s daily ecological activities. Together with invited experts, we talk about returning to our roots, to restore nature and ourselves. My name is Miia Laine and this is Reviving the Wild.


[soft electronic music]


MIIA: Close your eyes and imagine a city environment. Not the centre, more like a suburb, a residential area. There are blocks of flats, a small shopping centre, people walking by, the sound of cars and bicycles. It’s a summer day, and the sun is scorching hot, but there are also trees. It’s mid-June and they are vibrantly green. They give shade and dampen the noise of the traffic. What if you think of the place without the trees, with just concrete? Think of how loud all these sounds would be, how hot the sun would be, how much dust there would be, because trees also filter small dust particles in the air. They are definitely there to soften the edges of cities and streets.


[soft electronic music]


MIIA: The person who takes care of trees, especially in these human built environments, is called an arborist. The word arbor means tree in Latin. A big part of the work of an arborist is climbing trees. One could divide this work into two categories. First, they do removals. There might be tight spots with buildings nearby, so you can’t fell the tree in one go or use machinery. Basically, the only way to do the felling safely is to climb the tree and take it down piece by piece. And then there’s the other side, which arborist Riku Parkatti prefers. That is the pruning and taking care of trees. While climbing trees, Riku thinks he’s privileged to be there. He describes it as a place between heaven and earth.


RIKU: I get to experience something that I don’t think everybody gets to experience. It’s kind of a trust relation with the tree. You have to be humble enough to understand that it’s the tree that carries you, and at the same time, you need to trust it, because once you climb up in the canopy, and let’s say that there’s a bit of a wind and the tree starts to sway back and forth, and you might be scared a bit. Then you just have to give up and understand that let the tree carry you. You can’t really do anything about it anymore.


MIIA: That’s very beautiful. So, our work is to take care of trees that are not able to take care of themselves, maybe?


RIKU: Well, no, I wouldn’t go there. Trees don’t need us. We need trees. So, in a normal cycle of trees’ life, they sometimes drop a branch, they drop parts of them away and they start to decay, and for the tree itself, that’s not a problem. It’s normally more of a problem for human. So, arborist is kind of working in between man, the trees, and the infrastructure, and trying to figure out some kind of a compromise, so that we could all live together in as safe as possible situation. We try to minimise the risks that maybe an older tree might cause, or sometimes, if we’re doing younger trees, we prune them so that they would grow in a way that they’ll fit better to the surroundings. Let’s say that there is a street close to a tree, so, the tree can’t have branches that are too low. They would hit cars or be in the way of a bicycle rider, so we start to do this pruning in a way that we try to take away the smaller branches when they are too low and try to kind of guide the tree to grow in a way where it doesn’t come in the way of man or the buildings or the infrastructure around. Yes, sometimes we need to cut them, but we try to cut as little as possible and give them a better chance to stay in the same space with us.


MIIA: But it is kind of that we are the humans who make the decisions, and then the trees need to fit into our lives and our infrastructure and our cities.


RIKU: Pretty much so, yeah. I was talking about the cycle of the tree, the life cycle of a tree. It gets problematic when the trees get older, and that’s quite often when we have to interfere, or we feel the need that maybe the tree needs to go. It might be out of fear, so somebody is afraid of an old tree that it might fall or cause some kind of damage. Then we try to make the tree safer so that we wouldn’t have the need to have any more drastic measures, so to say. But yeah, the tree doesn’t need us. Sometimes there is this thought that, or I might be asked the question, how do you cut the tree so that it’s best for the tree. My answer is don’t cut it. It will handle it own, it’ll just drop branches that it doesn’t need, or if a storm breaks something, it will fix it itself as well as it can. Whenever we are cutting a tree, we are doing because we have the need. Either it’s visual, we just want the tree to look somehow, I mean, we might have this thought that certain trees ought to look like, to have a shape, some kind of a shape, but to be honest, the tree grows as it wants to, if we don’t mingle with.


MIIA: When you say that a tree can be a threat or a problem, it’s only a problem to us, not to other trees or other species or to the tree itself?


RIKU: Well, actually, yeah, that’s true. I’d take it even further. If we have the tendency to avoid decaying trees, we are actually compromising the biodiversity.


MIIA: Can you explain that a little bit more?


RIKU: In tree’s life cycle, a young tree gathers energy and biomass to itself, and when it starts to decay, it starts to give some of it away. So, a lot of fungi, decaying fungi, they feed from the tree’s biomass. Then there’s insects that feed out of the fungi. And then there’s birds that use the insects as their nutrition. If we let the cycle run full, that means that the tree still gives to the environment even when it’s dead. It starts to decay and it becomes food for other species. If we are always taking the trees down before they are old and decaying, we are actually, yeah, we are going more towards this kind of a monoculture than a full biodiversity. That is actually one of the things that in Saari mansion is one of the ideas, that we try to let the cycle go full, as long as it’s possible in a safe way.


MIIA: Let’s talk a little bit more about Saari manor. How are trees treated there and how is your work as an arborist there maybe different to other places?


RIKU: We try to give the trees a chance to, yeah, have the natural cycles. As an example, there were some old spruces, and some of them were decayed, and there was a danger that they would fall and there was buildings and structures close to them, also, the road was close to the trees. So, a decision was made that we need to reduce the risk. So, few of those spruces were taken down, but instead of felling them directly and taking all the tissue, all the matter from the trees away, it was decided that we left seven to eight metres long poles standing on the roots, and they can stay there. They are then safe, they are so small that they won’t be falling anytime soon, and we let them decay over there. That creates a habitat for birds, insects, fungi, et cetera. So the idea is that over there, we try to have as safe environment as possible with the biodiversity as big as possible, but also, respecting the fact that it’s not a forest. It’s more or less old agriculture area, so there’s been agriculture for hundreds of years, and that also means that there’s different kind of species of birds, insects and plants. The idea is that it’s going to be kept as such. Sort of 1900-look to it, so there would be fields, there would be animal pastures, there would be some short grass, and the old trees, and they can stay there as long as we can, once again, figure out the safe compromise.


MIIA: Are there any special trees that you think of when you think of that area, or are there some specific trees that you have some certain relationship to?


RIKU: I have to think about old oaks. The tree, oaks, that are kind of in the front yard of Saari mansion, they are my favourite ones. The biggest one, of course, is the favourite one [laughs]. They are old trees, they’ve been there, I don’t know the exact time. Nobody probably knows, but my best guess is that they are over 200 years old. They will be there after me. Kind of gives you the different kind of perspective on time. They’ve been there before me, they’ll be there after me, I just get to visit them, I try to be humble and respect the trees, try not to damage them. If I do have to do some kind of reductions or so, I’ll try to do with the best knowledge that I have, so that I wouldn’t be doing stupid things as a little man to big trees that are bigger than me.


[electronic music]


MIIA: At the Saari Residence, Riku can easily spend six hours pruning an old oak. He climbs up there, and six hours later, he comes back down. Speaking of time, maybe we can learn something from the time perspective that trees give us. The near future for us humans is just the blink of an eye for trees. Short-term planning with trees might be 10 years ahead. My short-term plan might be what I’m going to eat tonight. So we do run on a different timescale. When you’re working with trees as an arborist, you do always have to plan ahead, and also, keep in mind that you might not be executing your plans because the tree will most likely outlive you. Riku is trying not to interfere too much in the natural cycle of a tree. He talks a lot about living side by side with them.


[sound of footsteps]


RIKU: I think most of us somehow feel the vibes from the trees. We may not understand it. It doesn’t come through as a thought, but yeah, somehow trees calm us down. Forest calms us down. And yes, there’s also people who hate trees. They might think that all the leaves and all the little branches just fall off, they are kind of littering the yards. But I think even a bigger issue is fear. Sometimes we feel that big trees are a threat, so if they fall on somebody, someone’s car or someone’s house, or on somebody, it’s thought as a threat that we are afraid of. And most of the time, the fear is without no reason, it’s just more of a thought of someone’s mind. But then again, we have to respect the fact that the fear for the person who feels it is real. Sometimes, it might be my job as an arborist to have conversations about why a tree is a threat, why something needs to be done, so there is a risk factor in it, or sometimes, that the risk is practically non existing, so there’s no need for the fear, so, that should not be the cause or the reason why we take the tree down, as an example. Yeah, once again, trying to figure out some kind of a compromise. Infrastructure, human, trees, and also be able to converse, I would actually say that, okay, this is a lot [laughs]. This is the best way I can come out with it. I think sometimes, I try to be the voice of the trees. I know that’s a lot. I mean, don’t think that I’m, I’m really thinking that I’m some kind of a Treesus, but yeah. But in a sense of trying to explain what trees are, to people who are not dealing with trees. In that sense, sometimes I think I’m, interpreter is maybe a better one than the voice itself.


MIIA: I think that’s brilliant, being the voice of the trees. What can we do, as people who are not arborists, to try to imagine being a tree or try to hear that voice a little bit louder?


RIKU: I would say or give as an advice, just give yourself some calm time, go under a tree or go into a forest and just calm yourself down and let your senses be open. And you will start to see and hear and feel all the things that are happening around the trees, or all the birds, all the insects, the wind blowing, we’ve got some nice wind here, I wish there would be more leaves on the trees, so we could actually hear the wind blowing in the leaves. Kind of just feel them. That would be my best advice. Or if you are afraid of a tree, sometimes, when it’s really stormy, like really heavy winds, go and see how much the trees can actually handle. Once you see the trees really going from one side to another, bending a lot and still not breaking, and then you understand that they’ve been here. Let’s say, a tree has been there for 100 years, so, how many storms has it seen? How much wind, how much stress out of all those winds? So, you really think it’s going to fall tomorrow?


[electronic music]


MIIA: How many trees does it take to make a forest? Forests cover more than 75 percent of the land area in Finland. Measured by the proportional share of forest land, Finland is the most forested country in Europe. But only three percent of Finnish forests are in a natural state. One of these forests is located in Kemiönsaari, in the southwest of Finland. The Kulla area is an old growth forest, which has not been cut for 150 years. In 2017, Kone Foundation established the Kulla Nature Reserve and is now restoring the area to protect the biodiversity of the forest, and dead wood plays a crucial role in that. Forest management in Finland has removed dead wood from the Finnish forests for a long time, and it’s a catastrophe for biodiversity. In Kulla, too, dead wood has been collected and taken away from the forest in the name of forestry. I visited the Kulla Nature Reserve with Doctor Panu Kunttu, who is an archipelago ecologist and a forest expert. First, we walked through old commercial forest land [sound of footsteps on leaves]. There’s lots of pine trees and overall it looks and feels very dry. But suddenly, we come to the edge of the old forest, and we can see the variety of different tree species. Spruce, pine, aspen, and birch, and many generations of them. Here, there’s much more shade and the ground is wet. It feels like a swamp. I noticed that I definitely picked the wrong shoes for this walk, but I keep that to myself. Panu tells me that this is where the real forest starts. All these factors are important for biodiversity. And there’s also a lot of dead wood.


PANU: We try to speed up the process of getting the natural state here all over and get more habitats to the species which are depending on old growth forests or dead wood or certain tree species. So far, we have added, increased the amount of dead wood here. We have transported here hundreds of trunks, dead trees, which are habitats for insects, beetles, mosses, lichens, and fungi. And then we have blocked old ditches. Here is over five kilometres old ditches and they have dried these forests. Here are also mires in this area. So, these are not anymore in natural state, so when we block these old ditches by building dams, manual way or with the excavator, or putting the land masses to the ditches, so the hydrology can be as it should be, in the natural mire.


MIIA: So you mentioned dead wood, you brought dead wood here from other places. Is that something that is common when you’re preserving forests?


PANU: No, it’s very rare action. I have heard that only in few cases in Finland, people have used this kind of method. The starting point here is that here is on average, only five cubic metres per hectare dead wood, and in the natural forest, there are over 100 cubic metres per hectare. Therefore, all species which are depending on dead wood are decreasing, and many of those are red listed, so they are in danger to go extinct from these areas. So, increasing the amount of dead wood is a very important action. In general in Finland, around 5000 species are depending on dead wood, so it is one of the main characteristic in Finnish forests.


MIIA: So the second thing you mentioned was the dams and the ditching that has been done in many forests, and we’re actually standing next to one of the dams that have been hand built by you and your team. We can see these tiny kind of rivers, standing rivers of water, next to the dam. Can you tell me a little bit more about what’s happening right here?


PANU: Yeah, we want to stop the moving of water here in mires. So here are spruce mires and pine mires. In other words, those are peat lands, and when these ditches have been built a long time ago, so these mires have dried, and all the peat layer disappears. Peat contains a lot of carbon, and it is important to get back the peat here, and the sphagnum mosses here back, because it contains so much carbon. That’s the idea. In addition to getting the biodiversity back, so, this carbon aspect is also very important.


MIIA: Great. That was actually something that I was interested in as well, to ask how does climate change affect these kind of forests in Finland and making this into a nature reserve, what kind of consequences does that have?


PANU: Yeah, old growth forests are very important carbon storage, and they continue the carbon sequestration also when the forest is old. Both these aspects, the big trees and old growth forests and these peat lands, all together, they contain so much carbon, that this nature conservation area is a big climate action also.


MIIA: And would you say that there’s no negative effects of climate change? If you would make more forests into nature reservoirs, that is a climate action, but are there any risks involved or any kind of negative effects?


PANU: Yeah, we have to be carbon neutral. We have to get that situation in Finland in 10 years. So, it’s very important to preserve all carbon storage now. When we protect a forest or when we restore a peat land, so it affects quite fast, so it’s a carbon storage already now, and it is also that in the future, when the carbon sequestration continues.


MIIA: Can you just for our listeners explain what carbon sequestration is?


PANU: It means that, it’s a carbon sink, that the carbon goes into the trees or it goes into the soil or it goes into the peat land, and it is there until some big process or human intervention release it.


MIIA: For example, cutting of trees, burning of trees.


PANU: Yes.


[sound of footsteps]


MIIA: If we’re thinking of, there’s this 20 hectares of very old growth forest, and then you mentioned over 100 hectares of forest that has been used for economical use, so it has been cut and drained and all of these things you mentioned. And now, it’s all become part of one nature reservoir. How is it from the perspective of the forest now these two different areas, they will grow together into one, is there something you could tell us about the journey of a forest becoming natural again? And especially with this distinction of how does it affect a natural, already untouched forest and an economical forest, and is there something, can they help each other?


PANU: Yeah, this is like a mosaic now. So, different kind of forest patches here, different kind of forest types and different stage of age here. In the future, of course they will be better network together, and the species which are living, at the moment, only in this old growth forest area, in the core area, they can spread and use also other parts of this conservation area. And when the dead wood, amount of dead wood will increase also in the other parts, so for example these dead wood depending species can find a new habitat, a growing site, growing place for elsewhere. And also, at the moment, economically used part of this area, there it’s quite simple, there is only some tree species and they are in the same generation, so there is no this very important variation in the forest. But when the storm comes or strong wind will blow trees down, so they will be also new trees. So, little by little, the variation will recover.


MIIA: If we think about the human aspect of this, it needed, I mean, yeah, humans destroyed it and then humans have made it into a nature reservoir, and you’ve made all these actions to help make it natural again. Is the plan that there will always be some human intervention or monitoring maybe? What is the role of people here?


PANU: Yeah, old growth forests, they don’t need human. It’s better the human keep a distance to these valuable places. But when we have this starting point in Finland that only three percent of Finnish forests are natural forests, all others have been suffered by forest management, so, we have to restore as much as possible, because there is so much endangered species in forests in Finland, at the moment. But when we start this process, so after that, it’s enough to follow up and do the monitoring.


[sound of footsteps]


MIIA: I think a lot of people feel this calm in going to a forest. What would you say is the well-being aspect of forests and do you know more about that, for human beings?


PANU: Yes, forests are very important for health. Many people feel better when they are in forest, and especially according to scientific research, we know that the old growth forests and untouched forests are the best places to get these health effects, and people recover best in such environments. So, it would be extremely important that everybody has access to the real forests, so old growth forests should situated near everybody in Finland, so we could get these well-being effects for everybody.


[electronic music]


MIIA: After talking to Riku and Panu, I started to think about my own personal relationship with trees. Often, when I’m in a public park, I would love to go and touch a tree, but I feel too embarrassed. Somehow, tree huggers have a bad reputation. But recently, I have stopped more often next to a tree, in a city environment, for example, and touched it or leaned on it for a bit. And I’ve tried to listen to them. In the next episode of Reviving the Wild, we talk about food, wild herbs, snacking your surroundings, and the future of food production. My name is Miia Laine, thank you for listening.


[electronic music]


EPISODE 3: Snacking our surroundings

Foraging for wild resources is the major food trend of the moment – a trend that was practiced thousands of years ago. How can you support biodiversity in your cooking or eating?

Sami Tallberg is an award-winning chef and a long time lover of foraging. Together with Miia Laine they visit the wild green supermarket next to the Saari Residence. Later in the episode, environmental researcher Ville Lähde discusses the most urgent topics concerning food security. Should we shift our global system towards more localised self-sufficiency?

MIIA: Every year, artists from all fields of the arts, and from all parts of the world, travel to Saari Residence in Southwest Finland to focus on their artistic work and exchange ideas and experiences. The Saari Residence aims to be a test platform for the future that is sustainable ecologically, socially, and mentally. This podcast stems from themes that are essential in the residence’s daily ecological activities. Together with invited experts, we talk about returning to our roots to restore nature and ourselves. My name is Miia Laine, and this is Reviving the Wild [electronic music starts]. What do you think when you hear the term luxury gastronomy? I would name items like truffle, lobster, or caviar. You know the really fancy, tiny portions you eat in a high end restaurant off a pristine white plate. But what defines luxury? Is it the ingredients themselves or the passion and integrity we have towards them? Sami Tallberg is an award-winning chef and food writer who is known especially for his wild food and mushroom focused books. And he cooks weekly in the Saari Residence. For Sami, eating is one way to interact with our surroundings. He is an advocate and a long-time lover of foraging. A forager is a person who collects edible plants or fungi from the wild for consumption. And for Sami, the real luxury of gastronomy are local, seasonal ingredients.


SAMI: I’ve been doing this now with attention, with love and passion and with guidance, for almost 20 years. My very first connection with foraging was in UK. I was running a restaurant in Shoreditch, and this hippy looking guy just came out of nowhere and asked me if I want to buy some sea kale. And I said I would love to buy, what is it? It looks great. And long story short, it’s basically, that plant blew my mind, and I went to do foraging in Kent with this guy called Miles Irving that happened to become my mentor in foraging, and we were forging some sea kale and wild fennel and wild watercress in the UK. And then, I still stayed there many, many years, and using foraged ingredients became staples in my cooking, in my philosophy of cooking. Then when I returned to Finland, I was a little bit disappointed, because I had no forager there, I didn’t have my private forager here, like I used to have in UK, Miles Irving. One of the top foragers in the world, actually, happened to be my private forager. And then after that disappointment, I quickly realised that actually, the whole Finland’s food culture is based on wild ingredients. So, I had to do my work and dive into the wild, and plant by plant, I’ve now discovered and engaged and created a relationship between 123 plants [laughs].


MIIA: That’s a lot of plants.


SAMI: And this seems to be the job for rest of my life in this incarnation. Yes [laughs].


MIIA: That’s very beautiful. How has that affected you as a chef, as well? You talked about, you’ve been in these luxury kind of, more traditional kitchens, and then done a lot of engaging with nature. How has your outlook on food changed as well?


SAMI: Dramatically, basically. I used to, back in the day, like a long time ago, to idolise five-star hotels, three-star Michelin places, but now, since I’ve been discovering this nature and being part of nature, never above it, but being one with nature, I realised that instead of five stars or three stars, I can do this foraging and gathering the ingredients for cooking under five billion stars [laughs]. Yeah, I’m happy as Larry to do this. And I’ve been also writing about this ethos and my philosophy, about well-being by foraging and being one with nature. Including this springy, wild herb season and then later in the summer, the berries come out and in autumn the mushrooms come out, and this whole foraging season in Finland is basically, it’s not just a little thing to do in a short period of time, but it’s actually a way of living, because we can start foraging often during the last week of March. The birch sap usually starts flowing that early. And you can still forage some of the wild mushrooms Christmas Eve, because some of the varieties, they can handle a little frost. So it’s basically like nine months out of every year, you can do foraging. It’s not just something that you can do in the springtime and pick a few herbs and sprinkle on top of your cake, but it’s more of a way of living and really living the Finnish life.


MIIA: It’s also interesting that people would assume that Finnish people are very knowledgeable about foraging because nature is such a big part here, compared to, for example, London. But then again, you discovered foraging in London. So you didn’t have this connection here, or do you have any ideas about why it isn’t more of a part of life here?


SAMI: Yeah, that’s a really good question, thanks for bringing this up. Yeah, for me to get involved with foraging in London, in Shoreditch, that’s surreal. And I love that aspect how I came across this foraging. Basically, in Finland, this way of living, of being in touch with nature and using these ingredients, this is the real core of our original identity, but it’s been cut off, basically, after last war, when all this food that now we’re discussing here had this, they were stamped, that it’s for poor people. It kind of has this sound that it is for people who can’t afford to go to shop to buy these mass-produced ingredients from around the globe, trafficked here via ships and cool trucks and put into shop shelves with plastic wrapping and plastic labelling, and so on. This is basically, the situation is outcome of partly because of that, and also, industrialization and this urbanisation, where this connection to nature has been also stamped as something old fashioned, not so cool. But as we all know that nowadays, what we’re now discussing is actually cool because we humans, we’ve come from wild to tame, and now it’s time to go back again.


[sound of footsteps]


MIIA: We were just walking along, and you took something and put it in your mouth. What was that?


SAMI: I have to think what was it. I recognised it and I automatically grabbed it. This is basically raspberry leaves.


MIIA: Very young, small.


SAMI: Yeah, very young, sweet, fragrant, taste like raspberries, these green leaves.


MIIA: So you’re basically snacking as you walk through the forest.


SAMI: Yeah, exactly. And that’s a great way of refining the tune between the nature and yourself. If you keep on snacking, and I’ve also realised that the more we eat wild, sometimes you can’t do it heavy amounts, because they are full of nutrients and this information, only like a handful of salad is enough for a week, but the more often we do it, and as time goes by, the more we eat, the deeper we get. So the snacking is kind of a natural instinct I have. I’m just deepening the connection for this vintage 2022 [laughs].


MIIA: It’s going to be my new way of hiking, snacking.


SAMI: Yeah, exactly, snacking the wild.


[electronic music]


MIIA: Even though me and Sami are talking about snacking as we walk through the forest, I would like to remind you, do not ever taste anything that you cannot identify 100 percent. There are a lot of poisonous plants, but when you have identified something as edible, for sure, feel free to snack your surroundings. Safety is important, and many foragers also want to underline the ethics of foraging. How can we make sure that with our foraging, we support and learn about biodiversity in nature, and not just take, take, take, like we’ve done with mass-produced food. Sami thinks that one should always approach the wild green supermarket with gratitude and humility. Take what you need and what you can use and nothing more. For example, if there are some patches of rare plants, you should only collect a maximum of 20 percent of that particular patch. The more we spend time in nature, the more we become aware of it and what it has to offer us. For me, as someone who’s not very familiar with all the different wild herbs, it looks like there’s not much growing here. But is that true?


SAMI: Oh, really? [laughter] Excellent. I can hear it growing. I’m in the middle of this five-dimensional reality. I’m in it, I can hear the trees grow and I can hear the wood sorrel growing. But yeah, I guess it takes a little bit of effort to start understanding when the growing season is happening for each plant and so on. But basically, you don’t need to go deep in the woods, because these plants are absolutely everywhere. Funny enough, the diversity of plants, like how many different plants you find from, let’s say, one foraging trip, is often higher in amounts of the quantities of the varieties in the cities, where people, the human active life actually makes them spread even more. But then it’s different feeling to gather the food from the woods.


MIIA: Absolutely. So what can you see right now?


SAMI: We can see some, funny enough, we can see some black currant, we can see some wild raspberries. They are both at the leaf stage, very early leaf stage now, and the spruce shoots are coming out. You can’t see them, but I know that they’re coming out, because I can sense it [laughs]. If you go right next to it, you can see that there’s some shoots coming, spruce shoots. There’s some bilberry leaves, actually not just yet, but soon. And here the rowan buds I mentioned. You can taste this.


MIIA: I’m just eating a tree bud.


SAMI: It’s lovely to pick these herbs from the ground, but also, when you touch the trees and sometimes you can eat straight from the tree, these buds. It’s just wonderful, isn’t it?


MIIA: It tastes so much like almonds. That’s amazing, wow.


SAMI: Yeah, and it’s at the very early stage, so you can get the aroma and the vibrancy, the energy of the plant, but it’s only going to get stronger.


[sound of footsteps]


MIIA: We in Finland are allowed to go into any forest and pick certain types of plants. Can you tell us how this started and how is this a special law, or can you find it around the world?


SAMI: Yeah, we have this every man’s right, nowadays it should be called everyone’s right, every person’s right, really, of course. It’s a bit old fashioned name, but as far as I know, these incidents that happened just over 100 years ago in Savo region in Finland, where this lady called Irma Lindgren was picking lingonberries with her two friends, and they suddenly got thirsty and they went to knock at the door of this hut they found in this little island. Just to ask for a glass of water for each of them, because they were thirsty. And then these two blokes, brothers opened the door and realised that all these ladies were carrying a bucket full of lingonberries, and they got cross with them, saying that, oh, these are our berries, give them back to us. And Irma Lindgren was one of them, the head the lady trio, was saying that actually they’re not yours, we’re just picking this just to have these lingonberries for ourselves to eat it and to preserve it for the winter. But the brothers insisted and took those buckets, and Irma wanted to fight for her rights and their rights, and she basically took these guys to the court. And it took three rounds, like all stages of court, totally six years, to get the final result that actually, these lingonberries weren’t property of these guys, even that they owned the land. But after that incident, we have these legislations, actual laws in Finland’s official law book, that these every man’s rights should be protected for every person’s rights. And that’s beautiful. Ever since we’ve had actual laws in order to protect this right, and even before that, nobody has ever thought about it. So, it’s something that is quite unique, at least for Nordic countries, not only in Finland, but in many countries around the globe, you can’t go to someone’s land and pick berries and herbs. So that really is that, it’s quite significant reminder that we are really one with nature and it’s something that all humans in themselves, as a skill, to find edible food. And also, I personally think that this wild food is beyond organic. Organic is great, but when you eat wild, from the surroundings where you live, they’re definitely a way for the best possible life and well-being.


[electronic music]


MIIA: You can learn a lot from foraging mushrooms and wild herbs. I myself am a textbook example of someone who grew up in a city, where food came almost exclusively from supermarkets, and not the wild green ones. Only later did I understand the wider perspective of how food is grown, and the different food production chains needed. Since the Second World War, we have been living in a global food system, a system where we are dependent on each other, but also on excessive fossil fuels. So, how can we make the system more sustainable? These kinds of huge questions are at the centre of Ville Lähde’s work. Ville is an environmental researcher at the BIOS Research Unit. BIOS is an independent multidisciplinary research unit which studies the effects of environmental and resource factors on Finnish society, on economy, politics, and culture. I met up with Ville in the centre of Tampere. We walked by the Tammerkoski rapid, which runs through the middle of the city. And Ville is also a gardener. And domestic gardening has an important role in his research.


VILLE: For me, the biggest teacher has always been the compost pile. I take care of the compost and we produce, with the gazillions of little animals and microbes and stuff, we co-produce, say, 30 trolley-fulls of compost every year. And I see that change from food droppings and excrement and grass cuttings into very, very dark and beautifully pungent soil, and that sort of teaches me how the real work in the garden is being done by somebody else than me. It’s being done by all the life around me and by the sun, and I’m just the helper in that process.


MIIA: In your research, you research a lot of the bigger picture of food production. How do you think that this background as a gardener and seeing the compost informs your research?


VILLE: Yes, I’ve been doing a lot of work regarding hunger and food insecurity issues, and recently, with the pandemic and the Ukraine War, I’ve been thinking a lot about food crisis. And the most vulnerable places in the world are places where the local food production systems have been decimated. It’s a lot to do with inability to compete with importation, for example, and the inability to find markets for your produce, because everybody is competing in the same global marketplace, but also, with local problems regarding empowerment, ownership of land, and so on. Even though my home gardening is, well, luckily, a far cry from problems like that, I still understand very closely that small scale gardening, small scale fishing is much more important for the whole world than is commonly assumed. It is not only the intensive agriculture that is feeding the world, actually, small scale farmers and producers are producing more food than those intensive producers, over 50 percent.


MIIA: Really?


VILLE: Yes. That is a commonly held misconception that industrial production is the main feeder. It is the people who are, sadly, also poorer and often less food insecure than the majority of the world population, they are the ones who are at the same time feeding the world.


MIIA: You just said they are less food insecure, do you mean…


VILLE: Less food secure, yes. So the small scale producers, even though they produce over 50 percent of the food consumed by people, they tend to be poorer and less food secure. They are more vulnerable to price changes and all the kinds of fluctuations in their surroundings.


MIIA: So, if we think of going to a supermarket ourselves, where most of us, I would say, get most of our food from, is 50 percent of that made by small farmers like that, or how do we understand this 50 percent figure?


VILLE: No, the small scale producers are most important in the poorer countries of the world, in the so-called underdeveloped or developing countries, they are the ones who are the foundation of food systems, whereas in Finland, a huge percentage of what we eat is produced domestically in Finland. But of course, our farms slowly have become bigger and bigger. They are often family farms, so we don’t have big corporate farms a lot in Finland, but still, the size has been growing, of course, and the methods have been becoming more intensive over the decades.


MIIA: I think in Finland, as you just said, there’s a public image of being quite self-sufficient, there’s a lot of products that are labelled Made in Finland. What do you think people should understand about self-sufficiency?


VILLE: Especially now, with the crises of pandemic and the war, we have to understand that even though looking at the food that we eat, we seem to be fairly self-sufficient, we of course export and import food, but the end result is in the ballpark of 70-80 percent self-sufficiency. But a lot of that is illusionary, since all of our production is faithfully dependent on imported fertilisers, imported fossil fuels, chemicals, machinery, and so on. And with the bottlenecks created by the coronavirus pandemic and, of course, with the sanctions and all the disruptions of the war, we are suddenly finding it problematic to realise this potential self-sufficiency. So we are very dependent on the networks of the global food system, even though we think that we are domestically quite self-sufficient.


[sound of footsteps]


MIIA: Could we talk a little bit more about the global food system? It’s a very big and complex system, a big network, but would you be able to explain or summarise how it works?


VILLE: Yes. In a recent article that we have been writing with my colleagues, we described the network of local and regional food systems around the world as being divided between the centre and the periphery. And basically, what it means is that the food systems in the centre are very tightly interwoven, they trade a lot with each other, and they are more resilient to small local disruptions, because they have the ability to replenish disruptive food production with trade and so on. And the food systems in the periphery, they are, of course, less wealthy, but they have also less trading partners, so they are more dependent on singular importing partners, for example, which can now be seen, for example, in Egypt, that they are very import dependent, they have a lot of poverty, and one of their main trade partners, for example, has been Ukraine. And they are struggling to find both the money and the connections to replenish their food supplies in this situation. But this is one of the big things to understand, that even though all the world has been more and more interconnected in the recent decades, the network is still severely unequal, and it’s making some people and some areas more vulnerable, and some areas less vulnerable. But with the ongoing ecological crisis, all areas are, in the end, becoming more fragile or more vulnerable, because you can have simultaneous disruptions in many parts of the network, you can have, say, a drought in Midwest America, you can have a heat wave in India, you can have locust infestations in Africa. Ten disruptions at the same time, and the whole network can start to break down. So even those countries which are now less vulnerable and more affluent, they can find themselves in serious problems.


MIIA: How would you say this could be mitigated, if you think about the future of food production and global food production, how could we have a stronger system?


VILLE: The prerequisite for having a stronger system is that we don’t cross critical boundaries with climate change and other big environmental problems. If we cross those thresholds, then nothing can stop the disasters. But in addition to that, we need, for example, to build up local food systems in those areas where those systems have been decimated in recent decades, say, in many parts of Africa, northern Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East, some parts of Southern America. So, you need more local food production, so you are not so vulnerable to the disruptions in the international trade. It doesn’t mean 100 percent self-sufficiency, that is no longer possible in many parts of the world, because the populations are bigger, they are more urbanised, and the local natural resources have been severely damaged. But if you just raise the percentage of food that you grow yourself, then you are less vulnerable.


MIIA: Could it also help stabilise global food production if rich countries like Finland put more money into local food production, or would that go more into this kind of nationalist direction?


VILLE: Well, Finland doesn’t need to increase its full self-sufficiency, because we are in the 70-80 percent ballpark, because some international trade is always good. It’s also a safeguard. What we should do, we should try to be more self-sufficient regarding fertilisers, energy, chemicals, and so on, so, change our food production practices in a way that they wouldn’t be so resource and energy intensive. So, make them more ecological in that sense also. That would make us also less vulnerable to the situations like the one we’re in now. But for us to aim for 100 percent self-sufficiency would also mean that we would deprive poorer countries of potential markets. If we could just get the global food trade to be more equitable, those countries who need markets for their produce could benefit, but if we just sort of restrict ourselves in the national borders, that possibility goes away.


[electronic music starts]


MIIA: After these talks and walks with Sami and Ville, I’m reminded once again how connected and interdependent everything is. It’s good to eat locally produced food, but it’s also good to eat food that has been traded equitably, so don’t be restricted to just the local view. Always have the global view in mind too. In the next episode of Reviving the Wild, we talk about healthy soil and its potential. My name is Miia Laine. Thank you for listening.


[electronic music]


EPISODE 4: It’s all in the soil

Twenty-five percent of Earth’s biodiversity is found in its soil — we just can’t see it. No, we really don’t know soil very well. But do we understand our dependence on it? In this episode we discuss the care for soil – and the lack of it. 

Environmental influencer Saara Kankaanrinta has been running the ecologically minded Qvidja Farm since 2014. How has regenerative farming changed the farm’s landscape? 

Carbon-capture is a hot topic in Europe right now, primarily because of the EU Biodiversity Strategy. European Parliament Member Sirpa Pietikäinen is also a longtime member of the Saari Residence’s advisory board. She strongly believes that farmers are not the problem – they are part of the solution.

MIIA: Every year, artists from all fields of the arts and from all parts of the world travel to Saari Residence in southwest Finland to focus on their artistic work and exchange ideas and experiences. The Saari Residence aims to be a test platform for the future that is sustainable ecologically, socially, and mentally. This podcast stems from themes that are essential in the residence’s daily ecological activities. Together with invited experts, we talk about returning to our roots to restore nature and ourselves. My name is Miia Laine and this is Reviving the Wild.


[electronic music starts]


MIIA: Soil makes life possible. It’s a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms. And what does healthy soil look and feel like? You’ve probably seen TV adverts where a person holds a lump of healthy soil in their hands, beautiful brown, rich, airy, moist earth. Maybe a small and vibrantly green plant is growing in the middle. It’s almost romantic, but does this image we have represent the reality of soil and agriculture today? [electronic music] Saara Kankaanrinta is an environmental influencer and the chair of the Baltic Sea Action Group and the Carbon Action platform. She is also one of the co-founders of the Qvidja farm, which is located in Parainen, in southwestern Finland,. Qvidja is a pilot farm with an ecosystem approach. Everything there is done keeping in mind the diversity of nature and carbon capture. Farming at this location, however, isn’t a new thing. Qvidja has been used as a farm for centuries, and the oldest surviving building in the area is a stone castle that dates back to the 15th century. Saara is extremely busy with all her roles and responsibilities, but I managed to meet up with her in a hotel lobby in Helsinki. In Qvidja, they focus on regenerative farming. What is that and how is it different from the main model of agriculture?


SAARA: We’re transforming the farm into regenerative farming, to nurture biodiversity and increase soil carbon in the soil. In general, the idea of regenerative farming is that the more you farm, the better the nature is, or the better state of the nature. And that is a paradigm change compared to the conventional, where we see nature only as a resource, and for me, it’s a question about seeing nature in that sense that it could work with principles that humans think are very effective. But in regenerative farming, the principles are from the ecology, so that’s where I think the paradigm shift goes. It’s good for profitability, it’s good for the farmer, it’s good for the health of nature, but the idea is that nature knows and we learn from nature and we respect the ecological principles that we cannot change. We can change our own actions, but we can’t change the ecology. So, we try to be developing that kind of thinking to farming and do a paradigm change with Carbon Action Network, which is a huge network already. But in farming, in real life, it really means that there’s some principles that we have, there’s always continuous green cover in fields and in forest. There’s living roots, there’s large and functional biodiversity, above ground and under ground. We have animals, but animals we see as partners, we partner with them, they increase biodiversity and carbon storage better than we could do without them. So, we developed this rotational grazing, which is very natural way of grazing the land and just, actually, increasing the photosynthesis from the plant. And what else is there, well, of course, then we have this, everyone knows with the crisis of Ukraine, that fertilisers are limited and very expensive. So, we’ve been doing almost a (decade of the year) [unclear] for recycling the nutrients, so, if we use fertilisers it’s always recycled and organic.


MIIA: Yes, a lot of different methods that you use. Can we talk a little bit more about, you mentioned the natural environment is fields and forests, and that you have animals you are using, you are working with nature and with the animals, rather than extracting from them, maybe you could say that. You’ve been doing this for eight years now, how has the natural landscape changed and the farm?


SAARA: Somewhat seven years, but yes, you can see the change. Maybe, well, in landscape, you can see that when we brought the animals back to the farm, it also brought a lot of different animals. It brought insects, it brought birds and butterflies, so it has increased visible diversity, biodiversity that you can see. In the soil, which is of course 25 percent of all the biodiversity of Earth is in the soil, but we just can’t see it and we don’t know it so well, in the soil you can see it with shovel, that when you take a piece of land or you put the shovel to the field, you can see worms, and maybe the best indicator of life in soil is the structure of soil. So, if the soil is very compacted and hard and you don’t have to be a farmer or a professional to see that this is not good soil, when it’s compacted, and air or water doesn’t go or move in the soil.


MIIA: And you mentioned you’re capturing carbon in the soil, through farming. How does that work, could you let me know a little bit more?


SAARA: That’s the photosynthesis you learn in elementary school. It’s the basic process of nature, but very, somehow, undermined at the moment. We always want to solve things with technology and maybe invent or innovate better photosynthesis. But I think that the billions of years of nature’s work has created so great efficiency there, that you cannot beat that. We try to give space to the photosynthesis and increase it every way we can. Plant takes the carbon from air and feeds it, with its roots and microroots and (-) [unclear], feeds it to the microbes in the soil, and microbes as an exchange, they give nutrients to the plant. That’s how it works, if there’s good life in soil. So that process simply we have to keep alive and as in good shape as possible, because eventually, when the plant feeds the carbon from air, so takes away carbon from the air, and feeds it to microbes in liquid form, and then eventually, when the microbe dies, the microbial necromass is the stable carbon that’s in the soil, so you sort of lock it there. Of course, soil also breathes, it’s a living organism, so it also breathes out carbon dioxide, but the aim is to store more carbon than it breathes out. So, that’s what we’re also measuring in the Carbon Action, that can we increase the carbon storage all the time.


MIIA: I think this is very interesting, because especially agriculture has often been noted as a big polluter and a big emitter, and talking about climate change and agriculture, it doesn’t look very good. Why do you think focus on farming to help curb climate change?


SAARA: Well, first of all, there’s more agricultural land and pasture land in the world than there’s forests, so of course we need to protect all the forests that we can, and absolutely just nurture the forests as much as we can, but we have so big amount of agricultural land that we need to also get the ecosystem working in the agriculture. That’s also where you can maybe move a little bit faster, because you can use, for example, perennial grasses. It’s faster than making a good forest that actually stores carbon. And, well, we need food, so that’s obvious that we will have agriculture, but we need to shift the agriculture to the paradigm where ecology is really nurtured and used. Because if we have the ecology working, you do have more resilience, for example, when climate change brings extra heat or water, or whatever extreme weather, so when the soil is in good condition, when the ecology is working, it actually has a lot of more resilience. You can get crops instead of just losing this year’s crops and et cetera. So, there’s all the benefits that we should go to this regenerative direction.


MIIA: How about farmers that already have a conventional farm?


SAARA: Well, Qvidja was a conventional farm, very conventional. Monoculture, pesticides, artificial fertilisers. But that’s what we’re trying to do also, that we’re trying to test ways of transforming farm from that conventional state to regenerative. And you don’t even have to be officially organic, you can do, you can be conventional farming, but just apply the regenerative methods, in that pace that you feel that you can handle it. You don’t have to do everything at once, you take step by step, and in regenerative farming, you can say the principles probably are the same around the world, but then again, farming is very local, so you need to share local knowledge, and that’s what we’re also trying to support.


[electronic music starts]


MIIA: For example, at Saari Residence, the usage of local knowledge has been included. The surrounding fields are leased to local farmers who are encouraged to use practices that capture carbon in the ground. But how about other cases, fields where conventional farming has been going on for many years or even decades? And as a result, the soil has become dependent on chemical fertilisers, or simply put, gotten bad. Is it possible to use regenerative farming in these places and recover the health of the soil? Saara says yes, it is. She shows me pictures they took in Qvidja before they started regenerative farming. Back then, the soil was very compacted, very dense. The roots of the plants actually made an L shape. They had to change direction because they couldn’t grow any deeper. And then she shows me a picture taken only two years later. The soil looks much more alive, like in those TV adverts. There’s clearly air and water moving inside. To help with this transformation, they used a catalyst, wood fibres. And animals help the soil too. At Qvidja, horses, highland cattle, and sheep are an active part of the farm’s cycle.


SAARA: Horses we have about 25, roughly, because we have the mothers and babies there, and then they live their first two years there, and then they go to training. But horses also help in this carbon sequestration, because horse grazes, and we can co-operate with horse, like we actually co-operate with the ruminants, sheep and cattle. For example sheep, we have a longer life maybe than normal sheep would have, but we consider them that they are partners and they can have a long life, and we try to shift the paradigm in that sense also, that it wouldn’t be so intensive. Because at some point, I think farmers will get paid for increasing biodiversity and carbon. So, if you do that better with animals, that’s also one incentive that could shift things to better way.


MIIA: Absolutely. The farm of Qvidja has a very long history, as you mentioned earlier, and historically, manors and the lands around them formed this social and economic unit in society, and the local life was wrapped around the unit. What is this history of manors in southwestern Finland and how do you think it’s relevant today?


SAARA: In Finland, manors have always tried to develop things and be in the front of developing, for example, agriculture. It was always around, of course, tightly connected to agriculture, there’s no manor without agriculture. So for example, I think Qvidja was the first place where there was apple trees in Finland. Or, manors, when you look at the history, have taken a lot of influence from abroad and they have quite good networks. Nowadays, when we’re all very networked and everything is available digitally, it’s of course different. But in history, it was a very relevant thing to be connected to foreigners, for example, or bring some knowledge from abroad. But in general, the idea of trying to develop things and trying to test and bring something new has been relevant in manors, and that’s what we’re trying to do still. We’re trying to test and fail and succeed in these regenerative agriculture practices and science, so that we can actually speed up the transformation.


MIIA: And if we talk about people, just normal people that maybe don’t work at a farm. How can everyone get involved in this whole process, as a consumer of food?


SAARA: I always say that connect yourself to food, connect yourself to food producing. I think actually, that we need to have a stronger sense of food, where does the food come from. Everyone knows that if you grow a potato or carrot yourself, you don’t throw that away and you appreciate it and you see that as a miracle, because it comes from a seed and all this. So, if you’re not growing your own food, then maybe get to know a farmer, or somehow get connected to the food. And then we have, of course, organic labour, that’s the first one, it means that no pesticides, that’s a good start. So, organic farmers and organic food. We do have Carbon Action farmers who already label it, but it’s not officially a certificate. But we do have those who label it to their products, so of course, if you ever see a Carbon Action food producer, just support that.


[electronic music]


MIIA: Once again, I’m reminded that we need to have a more holistic approach. Unfortunately, for too long, we have been in the state of thinking that the earth is abundant and you can just use its resources, because they will be renewed endlessly. As we know, this is not the case. Especially soil has been extremely affected by unsustainable agriculture. And soil is the most vital capital that we have. I meet up with another extremely busy person, Sirpa Pietikäinen, a member of the EU Parliament and the Finnish National Coalition Party. Sirpa acts as the chair of the Saari Residence’s advisory board, and she’s been closely involved with the development of the residence since its opening in 2008. Sirpa points out that this is all connected. The health of the soil, biodiversity, and food production, and she thinks that the shift to organic farming is one of the key things that farmers need to do at the moment.


SIRPA: Actually, what sort of frustrates me is that this is not the news. We discussed it more than 30 years ago already, and I know people before me have been doing it 50 years ago. So there was understanding what is the circularity in food production, and that basically comes to organic farming and understanding how you use the resources, how you recycle them, and how you cultivate sustainably and that matter, if you have meat production, what is the sustainable levels and how you do it. We’ve talked it for so long, and still we do not even have higher targets than 15 or 17 percent of the production to be organic. We should have actually, have the target within 10 years, to turn around 70 percent of our production to be organic and mainly based on vegetables and the roots and all that, that is much more healthy and sustainable way in all matters.


MIIA: Would that be possible, if we’re thinking about soil as the abundant thing that’s just kind of going to be there forever, but I think with the fertilisers that we are using, a lot of the soil has been damaged a lot. So would that even be possible to have 70 percent organic farming?


SIRPA: Well, it would take at least 10 years, because…


MIIA: Only 10?


SIRPA: Yes, well, it depends, but I’m looking very much this kind of a European perspective. Somewhere it might take much longer, unfortunately, because you have (-) [unclear] basically sand as the soil, instead of organic living soil. And you might have quite a lot of contaminants on the ground and so on. But yes, it would be possible, and this is the understanding that, as said, the soil is organic matter, and you have to preserve it, and it is in the connection with what you farm, what kind of fertilisers, and they would need to be organic and recycled on the site you are using. This is the understanding that we should have in place and in our common agricultural policy, as a precondition for any finance, and of course, we need to have longer periods for transformation and support for that. But if you never start, you never get there, and it is alarming how big parts of the soil globally and even in Finland, has turned out to be dead, at the moment. And if you continue with this and with the climate change, it becomes harder and harder to really find a good, healthy soil that you could sort of transplant and get the revitalization processes coming. It was really astonishing, I really need to mention this, that when we discussed about the different kind of pesticides, it’s said that, okay, they phase out, they’re eradicated, there’s no more problem with that. And when we had this kind of a test among other people and us MEPs, as well, and we ate normal or organic food, and we had high levels of pesticides in our urine. And then after that, we discussed with quite a number of researchers and they say, no, and you should sort of get it if Roundup kills, it kills, and it kills also the soil, and this is the point that this is very much interlinked as well, and that’s why you should have this kind of biological linkage of (- and pests) [unclear] starting from micro level to upper level. Actually, using too much of the pesticides, you break the chain and you make the vegetation more vulnerable. So it is a very controversial action.


MIIA: And Roundup is a common pesticide, that is being used, yes. You just mentioned the EU common agricultural policy. Can you talk a little bit more about how does it affect sustainable food production and are there regulations for soil?


SIRPA: This is the key, and we have to remember it’s almost half of the total EU budget we are using, in common agricultural policy subsidies. So it is quite amount of money that we are putting. I think that the farmers really do need and deserve this, in this kind of a global competition, but it is a question what you subsidise and what conditions you put on there. Sometimes, we think that the regulation is born to an empty room, but actually, the existing way of subsidising taxation and regulation is very nurturing to some types of businesses and agriculture that matter. And then it leads to a situation where this has been very favourable for meat production, for big farming, for very industrialised farming patterns, for using chemicals and artificial fertilisers and so on. So actually that kind of structure we have and that kind of farmers we have, and that kind of an organisation to speaking for their favour we do have. So it is no wonder that when you try to change this agricultural policy, you have a huge lobby saying, no, no, no, you can’t do it, it’s difficult for us, I have a farm for 20,000 pigs. That actually happens in Poland, not in Finland. And if you make your structures like this or that, I can’t sustain my business. And then actually, we do have too little people speaking in favour for another kind of structures, and the organic farmers’ associations are very weak. The consumers really hadn’t sort of got on their feet and start fighting to change the agricultural policy, because it’s very complicated, and people tend to try to think, okay, if the farmers say they need this, then, as a politician, you should support it. It’s very hard to fight against it, and that’s why we’ve formed, a bit more than 10 years ago, this kind of sustainable food production group in the European Parliament. It is all of us trying to advocate and learn what that sustainable agriculture actually would be and what you would need to do for this common agricultural policy to make it happen.


MIIA: Yeah, I guess we’re often talking about “the farmers” in these kind of discussions, and you can’t really say that because there’s so much kind of inequality in between the very big farms and smaller, local, organic farmers. There’s also something called the EU biodiversity strategy, which is aimed to hold the loss of biodiversity and reverse the negative trend in biodiversity by 2030. What do you think that the role of agriculture is in this, and is it possible?


SIRPA: It needs to be possible, firstly, full stop. It needs to. Of course, we are talking quite a lot of the climate change, but actually, the biodiversity loss is much more grave and severe threat. And they are of course interlinked, as we know, so we need a healthier biodiversity with climate change, because the climate change is destroying biodiversity by itself. And then again, losing the biodiversity actually speeds up the climate change, and then we lack the abilities to adjust ourselves. So yes, I think that the biodiversity strategy A) should be a law. So, we should have this kind of a biodiversity law in the EU, telling that one third needs to be favourable for the local biodiversity, so supportive to it, and we would need to have the national and local targets. What we’ve actually thought quite a lot, and it was Ilkka Hanski, a very famous Finnish biologist who created this kind of a mosaic protection concept. That means that one third of my slot where I live should be left in natural condition, one third of my area where I live, one third of the city where I live, one third of the county, one third of Finland, EU and so forth. And so you can’t sort of (-) [unclear] biodiversity by saving a huge lot of the forest in somewhere there in Lapland, it needs to happen here and now. That then of course goes that, of course, you do it and you need to do it in housing developments and in cities. But the big part is forests and agriculture. You would need to apply this principle of having one third of natural habitats in all of the slots, and that should be of course compensated, and that should be a demand, a precondition for the subsidies. This would need to be a total turnover for the whole thinking of the biodiversity. We still think that we can use, whatever, 90 percent of the land cover to ourselves, and then okay, you save something percent pristine nature there somewhere, and the deal is done. And no, this is not the way. You need to take it into account in up to small scale to bigger scale. It needs to be present in all of the agriculture, and in the agriculture, it starts actually with the soil and the microorganisms there, because there is the biodiversity too. Then it is what kind of plants and animals you have, and there we’ve lost the biodiversity almost already. There should be the diversity of millions different kind of local tomatoes, or beetroots, or pigs or whatever. And then there should be the diversity of other vegetation, not only what is farmed there, but what is the natural, local habitats.


[electronic music starts]


MIIA: Both Sirpa Pietikäinen and Saara Kankaanrinta work on these issues on a very large scale, but everything goes back to a small scale. Back to the ground, to the soil. Farmers are not the problem, they are part of the solution. In general, there’s a lot of talk about the cost for farmers and the compensation that could help them change to regenerative agriculture. The question about cost is always present. And this is actually one of the key problems. In the world of agriculture, we still tend to think that a healthy environment is something extra, like cherries on the cake. If you can’t afford it, just leave it. So, maybe we should focus more on the cost of non-action. What will happen if we do nothing? Because that cost is something that we as a society, we as inhabitants of this planet, simply cannot afford. My name is Miia Laine. Thank you for listening.


[electronic music]