While climbing a mountain with his son in the Andes, Jukka Virnala the first and favorite Finnish logger I met, received an important call…well the call was about a forest job someone needed him to do but the ever entertaining Jukka made a smart point about the things, like work, that follow and stay with a person no matter what adventure they may be on.
I am lucky enough to have come to Finland to meet families like Jukka Virnala’s who have welcomed and quickly immersed me in a way of life both familiar and different than my own. I was invited to the Virnala’s lovely home with my host family, the Vuorelas. Jukka made pancakes in their summer cottage and his wife Raija prepared beautiful cakes, and quiche served with leipäjuusto (fancy Finnish oven cheese) and coffee. Jukka joked that if he is not in the forest working, he is usually making pancakes. A thinner version of the American lumberjack style flapjacks, this evening meal is served with sugar or jam rather than maple syrup. I was warmed by their friendliness and the heat of the pancake pan occupying the center of the table in the cozy cottage. Jukka and Raija’s daughter Elina, and son’s Jussi and Antti, new friends I wish I had met earlier on my trip, told me stories and asked me questions. It was so nice to spend some time with such a nice family, hear about their travels and chat with Jukka via translator Liisa about forestry.
Jukka is well versed in Finnish forest management, I first met Jukka when we visited his office, the forest. He was working on a complicated project with multiple landowners making space for a waste water pipe between Kurikka and Jurva. I do wish I could speak more Finnish so I could speak more with Jukka but he promises to know English by the time I return to Finland. Sometimes language is not needed to evaluate how much a person knows, cares and does.
The cut to length system used in Finland and by Jukka’s company is different than the whole-log harvest I am used to in Northern California. The operators, contractors and foresters must be flexible to accommodate the needs of forest landowners and mills as well as the forest regulations and certificates. Finland’s forests are monitored by the international Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC.) This certification program excels at tracking the origin of wood in Finland and the ecological, social, and economical factors of sustainable Finnish Forests. Jukka say the certification system is working well, but mentioned that there are always new challenges and regulations to adapt and manage for. This is a similar issue in California.
In Finland more and more landowners are not working on the forests themselves. The 62% of privately owned forests in Finland are also mostly owned by an aging population. This provides a market for innovation, entrepreneurship, and new tools for the forest industry. I wonder what this trend will bring to Finland’s public opinion of forest management. Without this hands on connection to the forest, to their roots, will the Finn’s who are said to live in the forests have an increased need, like California does, to educate the public about forest management? The health of the forests and this industry need dynamic leaders, like Jukka, who encourage younger generations to work with this important resource. Like my California forestry friends and logging father, he must also successfully navigate regulation changes, forest management and landowner needs.
New technology and standards of forest management are just as important as communication for the future of Finland’s forests. The editor of the local newspaper,Terhi Rintala, wrote a nice article about our visit to Jukka’s company Metsäkoneurakointi (forest machine contractor), our studies in Finland and Cal Poly.
Driving home with with Liisa, we discussed how to best educate people about farm life, about forestry life. How easily a negative message travels, and how perhaps visiting the farm or forest is the best way to show people how farmers and foresters care about their work. I was thinking the whole time how lucky I was to be placed with a family here who has such similar values as myself. Though sometimes language, mannerisms and tastes have been different in Finland, I have absolutely been captivated by the generosity, kindness and warmhearted welcome many Finnish people have provided. As I leave on the train from Seinäjoki I realize how hard goodbyes are.
While I was quite lucky to see the Vuorela family a handful of times during my stay and friends like Jukka many times, even the by chance meeting at the forestry center in Seinäjoki, many people I meet just once. I am impressed by the hospitality and charm with each meeting. How even though I have met them just that day I feel like we are good friends already. I am saddened to leave these friends but value this lesson in maximizing the time we are given with those we meet. Your actions follow you wether you see that person once or hundreds of times. I will do my best to make the people I meet feel welcome. I learned this lesson long ago at home, but really value the cordial nature of the friends I have come to love in Finland.
I am in the forest industry because of people like Jukka, talented, hardworking individuals that care for their family, land and the future of forestry. I am very thankful for the generosity of the Virnala Family and Finland for teaching me lessons in generosity, forestry and their roots. As I near the end of this journey, I know it is the good people I have met that I will remember and hope to see again in Finland. Kiitos paljon (thank you very much) for being my friend.