Grocery shopping in Finland was the first, and overwhelming task the exchange students faced when we arrived in Finland over a month ago. The labels are obviously in Finnish making products a bit difficult to identify. By now we have learned that you weigh your vegetables on a scale that prints a price sticker for you before you bring them to the register. Bread is called “leipä”, eggs “munat” and most importantly that milk is “maito.”
I am unsure if any other country has so many options for milk products. Take a look at the pictures below, these are the dairy section of one store in Seinäjoki and I really don’t think I captured all the aisles. Dairy products appear to be at least double what is offered in an American grocery store. According to Evira, the Finnish Food Safety Authority, “The consumption of milk is higher in Finland than in any other EU member state.”
Often times on this study abroad I find myself comparing what I know about California, what I am familiar with, to what I am learning in Finland and the EU, the unfamiliar. Coming from California, America’s leading dairy state, I was interested in how Finland, how Valio, promotes their dairy products. Like California’s “Real California Milk” campaign that aims to share the story of milk produced in California by California’s family farms, Valio promotes Finland milk, coming from Finnish family dairy farms.For example, Valio has a blog that share’s stories from the farm at http://www.maitoamaalta.fi/ .
Both California and Finland Dairy farms have something in common here. It is not just a job that these farmers wake up to everyday when they head to the barn. Having a dairy farm is having a piece of history, a stake in the future and being part of a community. A dairy farmer has the enormous responsibility of maintaining high quality animal care and producing the best milk possible. Evira says that “More than 95% of the annually produced milk is of the highest quality class.” This is not an easy task economically or politically for a dairy farmer right now whether you are in California or Finland. The best thing is to share how much they care about what they do, and how they do it.
The exchange students were lucky enough to get a behind the scenes tour from Antti Tukeva, the Director of Osuuskunta Maitosuomi at Valio’s butter processing center in Seinäjoki.
The Valio processing center buys it’s milk from Maitosuomi, the milk-purchasing co-operative, “Milk Finland” in english. Maitosuomi’s milk supply area includes 1,350 milk producers in 54 municipalities, including my Finnish Host Family’s farm, the Vuorelas in Southern Ostrobothnia. The basic functions of the co-operative are to help dairy farmers promote and secure ethical, environmental and reliable milk production. In this way Maitosuomi is very similar to the California Milk Advisory Board.
Speaking of my home in California I shared a slice of that with some of my new friends in Finland, an American apple pie with fresh Finnish ingredients. I did not use one of Valio’s distinctive new products which have earned Valio the title of “Most Innovative” for three years in a row at the World Dairy Congress (another reason there are so many options in the dairy aisle in Finland.) But I did use the same butter produced at the processing center we toured that day. This tour was a valuable insight to the hygienic and quality processing center that the milk I helped to collect travels to. This day was a lesson in the path of Finland’s milk, from farm to fork.