The first year class of students from SeAMK School of Agriculture and Forestry traveled a mere 80km in the Viking Line ferry, across the Gulf of Finland, to the small country of Estonia. 1.3 million people, about the population of San Diego California live in this country that is also bordered by the Baltic Sea, Russia and Latvia. As I started to write this post, I made a call to my best friend using what I didn’t even know was an Estonian developer’s creation Skype.
This neighbor to Finland is influenced by the Nordic countries, the port we sailed into Tallin is Estonia’s largest city and was once part of Sweden. The influence of Russia, Germany and the occupation by soviets during WWII has shaped the culture, landscape and economy of Estonia. They gained independence in 1991 and joined the European Union in 2004. The economic issues in Estonia where described to me as a combination of the global economic crisis, adjustment to the euro and recession with internal devaluation (major wage cuts) and an economy sort of abandoned by Russia. The Helsingin Sanomat, Helsinki’s newspaper describes the employment relationship between the two countries, 40,000 Estonians live in Finland and many more commute weekly on the ferry.
That said, Estonia’s land prices and environmental regulations make their farms much larger than Finland’s but the trip was also an experience in a different culture, language, government and class bonding. This trip is offered every year for the first year students and provides a good background for working relations.
We visited a dairy farm with 580 milk cows, and 1200 hectares of fields. This is an average farm size in Estonia, but would be one of the largest farm in Finland. The farm called Kure mõis-tila is owned by a Finnish man named Arto Auer. From what I can tell this farmer is fairly active in environmental and agriculture policies and gives many tours about his farm.We were grateful for his excellent English explanations about how while the crop is unpredictable they can often grow corn there while SeAMK’s location is too far north for productive yield. Arto described some of the buildings mentioning that some are old, and ugly but “that is how it is.” Estonian history, and, the different political and economic regimes are clearly shown by the farm buildings through the barns built by different countries, during the depression, days of soviets and today. The finest of the old buildings on the farm were destroyed in WWII, but included a castle like manor house that the farm name Kure mõis-tila describes. One of the largest fields was a bomber landing strip.
We left the first farm and traveled to the University of Tartu, Natural Science Research Farm. Our tour guide, Jenni Jarkko, is Finnish but studied to be a veterinarian in Estonia. She said the program was easier to get into than a Finnish Veterinarian program but much more difficult to graduate from. She enjoys working in Estonia because she know she is making a difference in Estonia where animal welfare must come second because the Estonian people’s rights are still so low. She said the University farm is not perfect but is still making good research in the science behind feeding and milking the cows with technology like the milking robots and several cows being studied for feed and digestion directly from the stomach. She said she is constantly working to improve the care, conditions and opportunities for better welfare for the animals and the people.
We traveled next to a horse farm called Parna talu that exports and trains many of the special Estonian horse breed to Finland. Since it gets dark at about 4pm here now it was foggy and a bit erie walking around at the barn. The translation hereafter on the trip was from Estonian to Finnish to English, so we didn’t get a lot of the dialouge. We met some friendly horses and could take a ride if we liked.
Our second day in Estonia we visited Olustvere Teenindus- ja Maamajanduskool, the Olustvere School of Rural Service and Economics. This campus was brimming with beauty and the buildings also were a mix of eras. The school was started in 1914 and provides pre and post high school vocational training. Like Cal Poly and SeAMK they emphasize hands on learning in agriculture, arts and career training. The campus had an interesting museum of taxidermy featuring all types of wildlife from Ilmar Tilk a 1933 graduate from the school. Another buikding was wall to wall coated in a collection of carved wooden horse figurines representing nearly all methods of horse work from Voldemar Luht, a man who studied and worked at the school ,hiding in the woods for 1 and a half years to prevent joining the Red Army in between those times.
The oldest buildings were built in the year 1000 and the compound was continuously added to. Thankfully the Soviet era did not destroy some of the beautiful buildings, but merely added some starkly contrasting architecture. We ended our time in Estonia with lunch at the beautiful Russian summer “cottage.” Had Finland not won their freedom in WWII their country might be a lot like Estonia. The trip was quick glimpse Estonia, which has been carved and constructed; striving to emerge from aged foundations.
Today, November 11th is Veteran’s Day in the USA. This timely visit to Estonia has me thinking more than ever about our Veteran’s. Thank you to my friends and family reading this that are currently and have served in the US Military. While within our own country, and beyond our borders, there are different opinions on the US military presence there is no question that our soldiers have provided peace and progress for our country and others. I extend my graditude to our men and woman of uniform, those that are brave and selfless, thank you.