Experiencing circularity first hand: Master thesis research in Finland

April 8, 2024

The Finnish landscape is a unique one. Wherever you go, you can be quite certain to find three distinct elements. One of the 200,000lakes, grand glacial boulders and fern filled forests. As part of our Master ‘Resilient Farming and Food Systems’, we had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in this beautiful environment as a part of our thesis projects on Finnish agriculture.

Enjoying some crispy Finnish air on a rowboat

We had the chance to do our theses with the researcher and Finnish lighthouse farmer, Kari Koppelmäki. Much like in the Finnish landscape, the lighthouse farm at Palopuro, Finland, is an innovative symbiosis of three elements; food, feed and fuel. This trio is produced on Palopuro farm minimising competition for land and resources which makes the farm a net producer of both food and bioenergy. This has inspired Kari to further research the recycling of nutrients, biomass and energy, not only at the farm level, but at a national and global level.

Coffee and trykorvapuusti (cinnamon rolls)

We were thrilled to join Kari and his colleagues from the Ruralia institute in Helsinki. We noticed that our coffee consumption increased considerably, to meet the normal standards of a Finnish office. We also enjoyed frequent visits to pastry shops and cafes to trykorvapuusti (cinnamon rolls), a specialty of the Finnish patisserie. We were warned before we left, of the stereotypes of the cold Finnish personality, but experienced the contrary: warmth and hospitality wherever we wandered. We were often met with surprise from Finnish nationals when we admitted we willingly came to Finland in October and November, a time of year that is notorious for its dark and wet weather. We didn’t have time to worry about that gloomy weather because our days were packed with a range of activities. Kari took us along to agricultural conferences, academic workshops, farm visits and introduced us to many experts in the field of sustainable food systems.

Millie getting insights from Markus Eerola at Knehtila Farm

Next to the many connections we made, we enjoyed our thesis research. Millie researched the opportunity to integrate beer and beef production on Palopuro farm to improve the resilience of the farming system. For that she worked closely with Markus Erola, Kari’s farming counterpart at Palopuro. Millie found that there was potential to integrat ecattle and beer production to ecologically increase food production and diversify the farmers income. Jana joined Kari in two of his ongoing research projects and investigated the potential to reduce farm greenhouse gas emissions and increase farm circularity. Jana found that farmers were facing lock-ins that prevent them to transition, but that there were also farm-specific entry points towards more circular farming.

A Finnish dairy farm at winter

Our time in Finland was short but rewarding in so many ways. We were inspired by how Palopuro pushes the boundary on sustainable farming and how the concepts of circular food systems, we had studied, were put to practice. We felt this special experience was a highlight of both our personal and academic journeys of our Masters. Now, back in the Netherlands, we dearly miss the cinnamon rolls, saunas and colleagues at Helsinki. Nonetheless, we are both happy to continue working on circularity in food systems and we are curious to where this experience will take us in our future endeavours.

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