A pedagogical process on Ecology & Democracy

Last year I have often been asked, how is Oma Maa doing? A question which as time went by, became only harder to answer in a nutshell. Oma Maa is-so-much. Therefore this new year’s attempt at a (unavoidably yet again partial) write up regarding this systemic change alternative.

A good start would be to use what I have so often used last year, and what has been motivational for my own engagement and what is at the heart of Oma Maa: ”Food is a core societal thing.  Food is first of all what joins all of us. And in whose hands the control of our food system is, including of course water, in those hands the control of society lies. In other words, people can more govern their own lives, if food (the food system) is in their control. In that sense, all efforts done to get food back under the control of people is very important for the development of society, and only by addressing this, we can change our society into being more just and fair. “ as our Oma Maa farmer Jukka Lassila put it in a wonderful interview with Jukka Peltokoski for KSL.

In this, and beyond this, Oma Maa takes us further.

Democracy, commoning @Oma Maa

Oma Maa coop consists of different parts. Oma Maa’s heart and core lies in Tuusula, the land of Lassila’s tila, a family farm, which has over the years kept its arms open to Oma Maa cooperative to develop itself on its premises. Oma Maa coop’s daily presence on the farm saw this year the working together of a new group on the farm, which of course had to use a considerable amount of time in the getting to know of each other, each others skills and capacities. On a daytoday basis 6 people work at the farm, whilst the coop had also a good number of trainees and other volunteers visiting the farm, for varying periods. This includes working with the animals (cows and chickens), working on the land, in the greenhouse (which running through its first full year),in the edible forest (which was worked at again this year after an intermezzo), in the kitchen (in ‘Rannankoukku’, a rented former laboratory industrial kitchen 2min away from the farm) as well as with the coops communication, administration, and financial issues. Some of the farm team live on the farm, some commute daily from Järvenpää as well as from Helsinki.

Cooperation this year was renewed with another founding member in the cooperative, Kaukon tila, whilst cooperation continued also with different smaller farms in the Tuusula area. The latter sell some grains to the farm, and by doing so do need not to sell out to big players. Farms often do not stand on their own, but are part of cooperative networks making them collectively stand stronger.

Beyond the farm, but in a direct link between the farm and the towns of Järvenpää and Helsinki, lies the further membership of the coop, involved in different ways and to varying degrees in the workings of the coop. Some members order foodbags, some come regularly to the farm to take part in communal works, other members take part in the handing out of the foodbags two days in the week, yet other members have this year become deeply involved in admin and communications, marketing issues or take part in events organized on Kaarlenkatu 15. In Helsinki Oma Maa has its physical space on Kaarlenkatu 15, a membership space, which has also seen this year the first steps of the development of not fine, but beautiful farm dining (see below).

The whole of this myriad of flows between the farms and the city constitute multiple formal and informal points of the exercising of commoning around our food commons, of practice and democracy, from coffee morning meetings on the farm to a more substantial discussing of the week ahead on Fridays, the deliberations of communications and admin groups in WhatsApp, the discussions during the ”satojako” (handing out of the foodbags), the monthly open board meetings over Skype and live in Helsinki, the reflections and deliberations over dining, and of course the annual coop meeting.

It has come to my mind, that it are these instances in this very fluid design of democracy in our coop which are a most valuable experience of what it means to exercise and shape every day democracy.  Following the different kind of uprisings globally in recent years seeking change, reflection has taken place on whether these uprisings have given rise to conscious movements. In Finland we haven’t seen such recent mobilizations, but have seen an formal installing of “participation” which has left many question marks in how far it enables empowering, structural change in our societies, allowing citizens to (re)build according to their values and not that of capital.

I have then come to see our coops daily exercising of deliberation around concrete needs as most valuable instances, which, whilst dealing with the challenges of power, of too little or too much leadership, of knowledge transfer, aims at the empowering of everyone to take informed decisions. And taking part in this has brought to the forefront how fairness, a fairness based on each others equality, is a fundamental core value in our commoning. Total hard work, totally worth it!:)

Future Food (bag) @ Oma Maa

Also in 2018, Oma Maa continued to offers its members food bags. They typically contain readymade products, products from the greenhouse and from the land. In the bags there will typically be some 8-9 products. Every week the bags will be different, and one can order them every week, or every other week. (Your order you can also be shared with friends, with third parties). But otherwise, they mainly consist of products from those three categories and they are always the same for everyone receiving a bag on a given bag day (whilst someone always has the possibility to trade a particular product from the bag with products having been put for trade on an ‘exchange shelf’).

Ever so often the question gets posed as to Why? Why do we always offer the same bag to everyone, and why don’t we give our members the possibility to order just that what they like (for instance the bread and the falafel, but not the oat yoghurt), or what is easy to use (for instance only those ready-made products and not those peas we still have to cook ourselves etc.)

We have identified different reasons why we offer the same foodbag for all. Shortly put – The bag is wanting to promote comprehensive food system change and is thus not to be seen as ‘pick and choose shopping’, is holistically wanting to address health related issue resulting from our no longer eating of local produce, wants comprehensively to address the carbon footprint of food production, is about food culture change (challenging also the illusion of freedom when buying from a grocery store in comparison with the bag), and is about the democratising our food production and with this also importantly a democratisation of our work.

Oma Maa’s foodbag as such also wants to stand for Good Work.  Which will also in the context of Oma Maa refer to our possibility to carry out meaningful and enjoyable work. This includes a healthy balance between different types of work, work which allows for self-development, is as fair with respect to everyone’s equality in the collective carrying out of the work and is good for one’s well being, which in the case of Oma Maa of course should also include the possibility to work close to nature, and to be ‘getting your hands dirty’. This then in concrete terms relates to for instance how many days in the week anyone of us will be working in our Rannankoukku kitchen, in order for other peoples to not do so. The fact that Oma Maa foodbag contains some ready-made foods, but also ingredients from which to prepare your food, is then good for all alike. This coming to closure on ”who does/starts what, when” is in itself a constant deliberation – sometimes based on a needed time efficiency, sometimes because of a wanted rotation and learning. Never without a conscious thought.

Its this openness which has brought an incredible amount of new doings this year, to name some things:  I have become a planter, caretaker and harvester, a caretaker of cows and chickens, a shuffler of real shit, have gotten insights on the ways of the natural world which totally have been out of sight for me until now, a maker of falafels, bread, wheat yoghurt and a waitress, have become acquainted with packing material, building material, retail/stock houses on industrial terrains I had no idea of existed, and certainly got already a part of what I asked for at the beginning of this year – to understand what it means to run a coop – the financial and the administrative, and have made a total come back with regards to the doing of basic maths. (When they say farming is counting, it’s not a joke. My mind still goes at it feels a third of the speed compared to our farmers, but I intend on catching up. :)) I think my memory has totally started to fail me this year because of the overflow of total change – and I have loved this overtake, this overtake of the doing, of making something happen.

As our cooperative develops itself, so do our foodbags. Oma Maa wants to challenge how global markets have determined what was being grown in Finland. There used to be pineapple grown in Finland some 100 years ago. Whilst it’s not about the pineapple, realising this gives a whole new ring to the sound of what future food actually could really be about.  From a concrete, short-term perspective, our aim this winter is to develop new processed-products in addition to the familiar falafels, seitan and yoghurt. Oma Maa will also be experimenting with the cultivation of mushrooms (oyster mushrooms). On a more longer term, Oma Maa is wanting to integrate local and traditional methodology (not because of nostalgia but because of its efficient resource use) with global practices and tastes (grown for instance in our edible food forest), and with it address the issue of what can and should be the food of our future.

Experimental pedagogical co-learning @Oma Maa

I have learned from my comrades that Oma Maa is also in many ways (the daring to be) experimental. New happens all the time. A new variety gets planted, a new something gets made for the foodbag, a new methodology gets tried, a new person joins us for some time. Whether it concerns the land, the greenhouse, the edible forest or any future plans perhaps with besides food also ecological building, whether it’s wanting to figure out the material, the financial or the carbon footprint of anything we make – the aim is to try, to test different scenarios and learn to do the maths ourselves. Goal is to empower by doing and co-learning.

Learning as such continues to happen also in cooperation with beautiful local partners as Eetti, Ehta Raha and other Finnish CSA’s (I hope we will come to set up a Finnish CSA umbrella as well as a common Food Manifesto in 2019!), and importantly as part of a global movement, of global movement building. Last year we had a good number of comrades visiting us or doing things at Oma Maa’s premise in the city as part of different movement process, as around solidarity economy building (RIPESS members were over for a first Nordic Solidarity economy meeting, as also from Cooperation Jackson in the US), and the commons (with activists from Faircoin, and Commonfare), whilst we participated in Urgency’s community supported agriculture european and global network meeting in Greece.

Many of these occasions were crowned by Oma Maa’s dinners. Beautiful three course dinners, which we have come to call not fine dining, but farm dining, at our sweet membership/restaurant space on Kaarlenkatu 15. During and after the dinner we have talked about the coop, how things are going, have also taken a particular theme at hand. This year we will continue with the holding of these dinners for our membership once a month, whilst also commence our farm dining on a more organised note for wider public.

So perhaps this then is the nutshell I have been looking for. Oma Maa radically addresses the ecological, but not without this entailing a shaping of our radical democracy. Comrades in India have for long coined the term of ecological democracy, but I feel I only now with Oma Maa have come to really internally grasp what it feels like when there is no value of the ecological without the value of democracy, and how that is one big beautiful commoning learning process. Wishing you warmly on board for that! Our possibilities to make for change together are truly endless.

Ruby van der Wekken