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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Environmental regulation: Ideal vs. Real

Something that is impossible to overlook when spending time in Finland is how much of the natural landscape functions for human use.  Agricultural land and productive forests account for about 75% of Finnish land.  As an Environmental Management and Protection Major interested in impact analysis, it piqued my curiosity how much environmental regulation is in place to guide management practices.  Considering how closely forests and fields are cared for, the common drainage trenches that bisect them, the numerous bodies of water they flow into and the vulnerable wildlife that relies on these freshwater systems there has got to be a laundry list of measures taken to avoid inhibiting natural cycles.  For a long time it was hard for me to find answers to my questions about land regulation and at one point I wasn’t even sure there was much in place at all.  Of course, that is not the case, but the initial mystery and what I eventually learned about land management in Finland might be the biggest culture shock I experienced during my time here.

Since Finland joined the European Union in 1995 they have been subject to its agriculture litigation system.  There are limits to the amount of fertilizer spread on fields as well as manure and when it may be applied.  Farmers must submit chemical composition of soil samples, fertilizer purchases, book keepings and field photographs to municipal offices for analysis every few years to ensure proper practices are being followed. Every year 5% of Finnish farms are checked on by municipal officers in charge of enforcing EU regulations.  Blueprints for animal barns must be approved by the Ministry of Agriculture before building begins and there are many strict policies aimed at preventing the spread of livestock diseases.  If farmers adhere to the EUs policies, they are eligible for substantial government subsidies that help keep their farms running. If a farmer was found guilty of breaking the law, they risk their subsidy and livelihood.

Finnish forests are also subject to EU restrictions but there are also many regulation policies in place by Finland’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.  I have been impressed with the fluidity of the forest industry in terms of efficiency as well as sustainability. We have been told many times, “Finns live in the forest,” this saying is evident in the valued relationship we have seen between the people and forest.  62% of forest owners in Finland are private families, usually with other jobs and family forest tending is a productive hobby. The state only owns a little under 25% of managed forests and industrial companies about 9%.   Yearly forest growth increments exceed commercial fellings per year, meaning Finnish forests are always producing but live wood material is continuously on the rise.   Forests are regarded as a strong economical prospect in Finland, but also an environmental champion providing opportunities to sequester atmospheric carbon and supply products that are reliable, renewable, biodegradable, and readily available.  Finnish forests are generally well cared for, routinely thinned and harvested for optimal regeneration.  Technology is constantly improving the care and efficiency of forest management and proper practices are rewarded with government subsidies.

One thing that concerns me about forest and agriculture management is protecting water quality.  The many flat forests and low-lying fields in Finland require drainage ditches to keep soils unsaturated. Numerous forest plots are old, drained peat bogs that naturally collect water.  Keeping forests and agricultural land productive requires redirection of a lot of water via these trenches that terminate in lakes causing sedimentation and chemical problems. When waters are too muddy, fish habitats and other wildlife suffer.  A man Valerie talked to recalled buying a summer cottage when the lake was crystal clear. Now he can’t see his feet when he wades in. This is the kind of environmental impact that concerns me about all the managed land in Finland. Water insoluble humus and excess phosphorus and nitrogen in runoff threaten biodiversity and water quality. Many agriculture fields line rivers and lakes.  Once I rode on a “shit spreader” with my host brother who was delivering manure to his fields.  I asked him how this practice affects the lake 100m away, a lake many fields and homes neighbor.  He explained that the buffer zone and riparian vegetation make it okay to fertilize and spread manure on the fields in moderation.  This is legally valid, but I was not convinced of how environmentally responsible this was, especially factoring in the lake’s reputation as being not a good place to swim. 

Though agriculture fields have fertilizer limits and wetland buffers, soils and waterways still reflect runoff damage in the form of eutrophication, excess ammonia and acidification from industry and cheese production.   Finland is starting to realize the impacts of their practices in nature as well as groundwater supplies.  Additional regulation and more strict policy enforcement are hotly debated issues among farmers, foresters and lawmakers in Finland.  The exchange students were lucky to meet with the Mayor of Southern Ostrobothnia, Asko Peltola, an incredibly friendly and knowledgeable politician and organic farmer on his sixth year in office.  As a man holding high office in the food province of Finland, he is proud to have, “dirt under his fingernails,” as a farmer and is closely involved in the agriculture sustainability movement. 

I had some questions for Asko when we met in the Regional Council’s conference room near the end of my time in Finland. Coming from California, where land use and development are highly litigated, I was surprised to see how little physical monitoring there was of agriculture and forestry in Finland.  Although fields are checked on every few years, once blueprints for animal barns are approved, there is no further supervision to ensure proper practices are being followed.  Improperly managed livestock waste could do a lot of environmental damage.  Additionally, forests almost seem to run themselves.  Asko explained that this is a region marked by its diligence, uprightness, courage, seriousness and devotion to keeping promises. When deals are made, it is often people do not even sign a contract because people trust each other so much.  People typically follow the law and many farmers could not afford to be found breaking the law in terms of vitality of their farm and pride in their work.  Clearly I am not in Kansas anymore.

I asked about the challenges associated with implementing stricter environmental policies in Finland. Asko had a diplomatic but candid response.  There is certainly a drive towards more sustainable land use practices in Finland but the sparsely distributed population gives this movement a varied set of difficulties.  The average age of farmers and forest owners in Finland is around 60 years old, many of whom operate a family farm that has a tried and true routine for production.  When new laws are put in place, farmers often drag their feet in regards to changing their practices. If a municipal officer were to come tell a farmer he was doing something wrong, it might be considered an attack on the farmer’s pride and ability to farm well.  Older farmers might not have the technology, training or willingness to compile documents proving their efforts to limit environmental impact.  Changing the way a farm runs can be extremely expensive and in a county where agriculture is so important to citizens and the economy it is important to consider the livelihood of farmers and their ability to continue producing under new laws.  Issues of sustainability and ethics also depend on consumers. The global demand for food (and good food) will only increase in future years so there must be a way to reconcile what is ideal and what is real if this movement is to be successful.

Finland already has a new Water Quality Act, Forest policy program, and ample research underway to keep the country on track towards sustainable land use. It is amazing to me how the different structures of California and Finland pose different challenges towards implementing and enforcing land regulation.  Things like the landscape, resources, values, history, governments and level of impact on our land make our take on the whole green movement entirely separate though we both seek a common goal.  At the same time, there is also much in common between us.  Most of our populations reside in cities, away from where natural products are made, and it is difficult to send the right message to these voters about what is needed in the agriculture, forest and energy industries for the sake of the economy as well as the environment.  Finding the balance between what is ecologically ideal and what is feasibly achievable and real is something The United States and Finland are still working out. From my perspective, it seems like we’re both on the right track towards limiting impact, we just need to figure out how to synchronize the moving parts towards sustainability.  Globally, we have a long way to go towards safeguarding future resources and natural cycles, but I take pride in being part of the push in the right direction.  I’m very thankful for my time abroad and the opportunities I have had to learn about resource management in a new setting,. I’m curious to see how my outlook on the California landscape and regulation practices have changed once I return home.

"Get power?"

As available oil supplies dwindle and demand for new sustainable technologies rises, the viability of energy resources has become a global concern.  There are many complicated steps that must be taken towards environmentally responsible energy production and though every country faces a unique host of obstacles, they also have their own artillery of resources and opportunities to excel at using them wisely.

I have been impressed by Finland’s dedication to energy sustainability throughout my time here.   This small but mighty northern country keeps a close eye on consumption in homes, agricultural production and industry. Although energy use per capita in Finland is a little higher than the European Union average, Finns still use 30% less than Americans.  There are a couple reasons why Finland uses more energy; the need for heat in the cold north and the powering of paper mills.  Industry accounts for about 50% of total consumption with heat taking about 20% from the total.  Finland has a colorful energy palate featuring 25% oil, 11% gas, 16% nuclear, 15% coal, 21% wood and 6% peat. A quarter of energy produced is renewable, mostly coming from industrial byproducts from saw mills, paper plants, thinned forests and waste water.  Most homes have wood stoves for heat we well as baking and many have wood fueled boiler systems that heat water and plates beneath the floors. There are almost no radiators in Finnish homes these days. Additionally, the Finnish government subsidizes green technology.  

On the topic of Finnish wood burning we had a teacher tell us once, "Finns love to burn wood... in the house, in the forest, in the sauna... everywhere except in the car."  A hilarious truth and outstanding quote.  

Efficiency is another strong focus in terms of environmental mindedness. Precision and tact in agriculture and forest production is a point of pride in Finns, as is the willingness to use new technologies that increase productivity. Feed efficiency for livestock is a true science analyzing nutrient utilization and perfecting the percent of feed that makes it to the final meat product.  This helps reduce wasted grain and grasses while ensuring the health of the animals.

Though I commend the way Finns regard energy use, there is one aspect I have a hard time wrapping my head around; the consideration of peat as a renewable resource. Peatlands are saturated bogs with dead organic plant matter and moss accumulated over thousands of years. Though these areas are not suitable for forest or agriculture production, they serve many important ecological and hydrological processes, provide habitat for sensitive species habitats, and sequester large amounts of greenhouse gasses that are released when the peat is dug up. Finland is about 1/3 peatland though about 55% of that has been drained for forestry and agricultural production, 12% is protected and less than 1% is used for peat production.  Impacts of mining peat can be costly and require extensive drainage ditches and sedimentation traps to mitigate the damage.  What’s more, it could take 1000 years to grow one meter of peat; not exactly renewable. I’ll be taking a closer look at the impacts of peat mining in my regulation post. Valerie and I have been asking around trying to find out how effective these mitigation measures are and what sorts of impacts peat mining has left on the Finnish landscape but it has been difficult to coax out the information we are looking for. California would treat peat mining so much differently than Finland, mostly because our strict land use policies.  On top of the weighty environmental impacts, simply the fact that peat can preserve ancient archaeological finds would turn production on its head.

It seems that Finland is starting to realize the implications involved with peat, though many people still see it as the golden ticket for natural heat and electricity. When you consider the alternative to peat, foreign coal, it’s difficult to say which is more costly.  Scientists are constantly playing cat and mouse with the learning curve. It seems every time we think we have found a more sustainable way to power our lives, further research puts us back at square one scratching our heads (see ethanol and the Prius for textbook examples). As consumers it is often difficult to tell whether something marketed as being ‘green’ actually is. One thing that kills me every time – water bottles that use 30% lest plastic. Just get a reusable water bottle. I’m surprised I hardly ever see them floating around Finland, probably because you can earn 20-40 cents by returning the empty bottle.  I’m also surprised by how often I see bottles and cans floating by the riverbanks along with other litter.  Yesterday at the train platform among a group of people waiting for the train, a man finished a Twix candy bar and nonchalantly dropped the wrapper on the ground. Forget the trashcan 20 meters away. I was floored.

If people won’t take the time to put their trash in a garbage can, how are we supposed to convince the public to support shifts towards environmental responsibility?  Social values hold a large stake in the way sustainability is navigated. Should we install a grid of wind turbines or is it not worth the damage to the scenery? Should we build a nuclear power plant down the road or would it be too large a human hazard?  I’m concerned that in America, unless the population shows its support for green efforts by voting accordingly, our politicians will continue to focus on other things.

Economic aspects also play a large role in the feasibility of applying new technology.  Systems that are more efficient must eventually pay for themselves if they are to be seriously considered by consumers.  The market potential for products is also a concern. In California, we have abundant wood resources and many forests that need thinning. However, obtaining a thinning permit makes pulling teeth look like a walk in the park and even if we started producing wood for bioheat or electricity, those systems aren’t very popular or readily available.  Considering how cheap electricity is we won’t be switching to biofuels for a long time.

 An area’s ecological potential for energy use is another determinant for production.  Coming from California, I’m impressed by the utilization of wood resources in Finland, but worried about the peat and confused about why a country with so many lakes and rivers doesn’t use more hydroelectricity.  In sunny California, solar panels are becoming more common but we still rely largely on natural gas and coal, most of which is imported from other states. Different landscapes also come with separate sets of natural disaster concerns that effect production. Finland often harvests tree stumps and root systems for bioenergy production in suitable areas. This would not happen in California for purposes of soil disturbances and potential for erosion on our mostly sloped forests.  What works well in Finland might not be as suitable in California and vice versa. I think there is a lot to be said about using what is feasible and readily available in the area. Isn’t that what being resourceful is?

It’s hard to fairly compare Finland and America. The Unites States is a world superpower federation that runs on a representative democracy and constitutional republic, hosting a wide variety of cultures and landscapes. Finland is a small but proud, subarctic country with a population less than 2% of America’s and it runs on a parliamentary republic with social democratic influences. Our governments have distinctive sets of proprieties and though the people are not all that different, I sometimes feel like we are focused on different things.  I hope in the future America might look towards its naturally available resources for energy use and seriously start considering ways to phase out fossil fuel dependence.  I’m also interested in seeing how peat production in Finland changes in future years, if at all.

A side note: I was trying to think of a catchier title for this post than "Energy Use" and I couldn't pass up another funny quote from my time here. When Valerie or I would ask Seppo, the very helpful man at the school's front desk, to unlock the gym he would hold up his arm as if flexing and ask, "Get power?" We loved it so much we're thinking about working it into a future Cal Poly Logging Team shirt design. It's also a great working title for this post. 

Finnish Energy Resource Use - Borrowed from a powerpoint by Jussi Esala,
a SeAMK Administrator and Energy specialist

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ilmajoki Thanksgiving

During our last full week of classes the exchange students had the opportunity to host a farewell dinner for friends and teachers at the Ilamjoki campus. In honor of the season, the Americans decided to make a Thanksgiving meal as a way of sharing a few traditional dishes, a treasured national holiday, and our gratitude for the people who have made us feel at home in a new place for the last few months. 

Shopping for our dinner was an event in itself trying to find the ingredients we wanted (many of which were not available, such as canned pumpkin) and portion for 30-35 people.  Some sacrifices and substitutions had to be made in order to fit our budget and ambitious dish plan.  Turkey is a central piece of the Thanksgiving meal but, as many of us know, it is not cheap and there is an art to cooking it that is rare to perfect in an unfamiliar oven.  For these reasons we decided to do chicken drumsticks and pork instead; a practical decision that I think contributed largely to the overall success of our dinner.  Instead of pumpkin pie we made sweet potato pie but I swear we could have passed it off as pumpkin! We made a few apple pies, too, a standard American dessert many of our friends were excited to taste.

The day of our Thanksgiving (one week before the real one on November 22nd) some of us started prepping at 9am peeling apples and drying bread in the oven for stuffing.  We assumed a room in the school kitchen at 1pm sharp giving us four hours to cook.  Sara was the pie prinsessa (princess in Finnish), Valerie made stuffing, Chase made corn bread and mashed potatoes, Sarah made green beans and carrots, and I prepared the meat.  The Czech exchange student, George, was of course included and made Bramborák, tasty garlic potato pancakes to represent his home country. Though this was the basic structure of our dish plan, we all had our fingers in each other’s pies helping gather ingredients, prep, find spices, man the ovens, find food containers and utensils, etc.  We were cranking hard the whole four hours cooking our dishes with love and familial influence.  Though it was strange cooking in the school kitchen where we didn’t know where anything was, often could not read spice containers, and felt bad for the school cooks who had to work around us, the ladies in the kitchen were incredibly helpful to us. They answered our millions of questions and showed us things we needed all while doing their own work.  I have held jobs in the food industry and I have worked in a kitchen; I can’t imagine how challenging it must have been to help six foreign kids cooking Thanksgiving for four hours while trying complete regular work duties.  They went above and beyond for us; we cannot thank them enough.

Our teachers and friends gathered promptly at 5pm for our dinner while we scrambled to get everything ready to serve.  Before dinner we explained the American Thanksgiving tradition; how the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth rock after a deadly journey over the Atlantic and arrived in the new world without much food or knowledge of the landscape.  The Native Americans taught them about the land and how to cultivate crops, helping save them from starvation. (In hindsight, this reminds me of how the school cooks helped save our friends and teachers from hunger by teaching us about their kitchen!) The fourth Thursday of every November is Thanksgiving; a celebration of the harvest and the blessings in life.  I thought this a fitting holiday to share in the agricultural region of Southern Ostrobothnia to brighten the shortening days. Word on the town is that Marraskuu (Finnish for November – translates literally to the dead month) is generally a drag.  Sometimes it is easy to forget that there is always something to be thankful for.

Dinner was served and it felt so good to recognize how much these people have meant to us during our time in Finland. I must say I’m proud of the exchange students for pulling off this dinner without a hitch. It was not easy but it was truly a team effort that turned out a smashing success.  There was plenty to eat and everyone seemed to enjoy their meals. There was even a special performance by two teachers, Juhani and Heikki, who sang a couple Finnish songs that provided wonderful entertainment between dinner and dessert.  There was a hilarious song about Marilyn Monroe and another about Finnish farmers feeling nervous talking about love but calm in their fields. I can’t say which I found more interesting. After the songs, we were enlightened with some silly jokes, also in conventional Finnish humor.

As everyone headed home we were a little sad to start our goodbyes but we are confident we will stay in touch with our fresh Finnish roots. I hope some of our friends come to visit California so we can return their hospitality. It would also be great to see our friends and teachers at Cal Poly, perhaps for a few months!  One of the most touching moments of the night was having our teachers thank us for dinner but for also teaching them a little during our time together.  It was a rewarding day of diligent work, a lighthearted dinner and bittersweet goodbyes that I will never forget. 

Over the years it is interesting to see the different things you particularly appreciate on Thanksgiving.   Certain things always come to mind such as friends, family, happiness, food, simply being alive… but this year, in Finland, we have a whole new list of things to give thanks for; the wonderful chance we have had to study abroad, the terrific Finns who have helped us adapt in a different place, the enhanced education we are receiving, and the joy in sharing who we are with new friends in a foreign land.  I’m also thankful for home in a brand new way. Traveling abroad has been an exciting, eye opening experience but there is no place like home.  I have so much love for my family and friends who have stayed in touch with me during my time away.  I look forward to being back home over Christmas to catch up and share my trip with them.

To everyone at home.... have a great Thanksgiving! Don't forget to appreciate life and the people in it. 

Proud exchange chefs

George got into it


Pie Prinsessa

Having fun!

Technical difficulties

Chopping garlic for days... good thing there was a secret garlic press!

Wonderful faculty (Heikki and Helena missed the photo)

Some of our good friends

Let's eat!

Juhani and Heikki serenading us

Enjoying the entertainment with the help of Laura and Helena's translations

Props for a joke. What do you think these poles are for?
Kiitos, äiti! (Thanks, Mom) The exchangers with Anna Tall, our incredible international coordinator. 

So Happy our Finnish Language instructor, Helena, and the multi-use man
at the front desk, Sepo could make the dinner.

More friends!

A sweet magnent on Anna's fridge

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Finnish holiday in Estonia

After getting to know our host farm families and other people in the agriculture field (pun intended) I’ve noticed an interesting trend.  These people work so hard everyday on their farms cultivating, tilling, caring for animals, thinning forests and often all these things on a regimented schedule.  With the help of their employees and municipally granted holiday workers these families have a couple opportunities a year to take a few days off the farm.  Usually, at least one of these breaks are used to visit other farms in foreign countries or large exhibitions of new machinery.  This hardly seems like a ‘vacation’ in the way Americans might idealize but it is a hallmark of Finnish farmers’ dedication and love for refining their craft.

This week the exchange students were included on a trip to Estonia with SeAmk’s first year students. This seemed to me a fitting ‘Finnish Holiday’ where we enjoyed each other’s company and let loose a little, but in between visits to various Estonian farms, learning about how they function.  The journey started with a bus ride to Helsinki where we boarded a ferry to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.  It was a small marvel to me that the charter bus we took to Helsinki was loaded onto the boat and came to Estonia with us! Though the ferry only took a few hours to reach Estonia, just 80km across the Gulf of Finland,  we slept in cabins on the boat to rest up for the next day. We got back on the bus at 7:30am to head inland towards the center of the country. The architecture throughout the country seemed split into three styles. There are new, modern buildings with simple design, square build and large glass windows. There are very old structures with rustic cobblestone and brick that held an air of timeless charm despite the weathered appearance.  Lastly there are remnants of the Soviet Union; very plain cement blocks with uniformly patterned windows and little color. Many of these buildings are still used as apartments.  Estonia officially gained independence in 1991 and joined the Euripean Union in 2004.  Quality of life, infrastructure and the economy of Estonia have improved greatly over the last couple decades and it now has the highest GDP per capita among the former Soviet Republics, though it is one of the smallest.

We were lucky to have gorgeous weather during our two days in the country. The flat landscape similar to Finland gave wide view of the blue sky and sprawling fields. Driving to our first destination I noticed less managed forestland than I see around Finland. It seemed for a while there were less agriculture fields as well until we got to the center of the country. We stopped at Kure Mõis-tila, a farm with 1200 hectares of crops and 580 dairy cows; a good example of the average sized Estonian Farm. The average Finnish farm might only have 35-40 Hectares and 30 dairy cows so this was interesting to see, especially in a country with a quarter the of population of Finland and less than 15% of the area. The farmer who showed us around had come from Finland to work on this farm that has only been operating about 20 years but had some barns still that dated back to Soviet Estonia. I was shocked that they only had one (very cool) CLAAS combine harvester for their hundreds of hectares of crops. They milk twice a day in their 24-stalled herring-bone style parlor and feed with mainly corn, though they grow grass as well to compensate if the corn has a bad year, such as this rainy one. The dairy they produce for is only 550 meters down the road, which fetches a lot more profit than transporting their milk long distances. Better for the environment, too! However, I was a little shocked to see that a vast stretch of crop fields were located about 100 meters away from Lake Peipus. Although building a summer cottage on the lake would be illegal for construction damage and waste impact purposes, structures and crop fields can be located as close as 100 meters from the shoreline. Additionally, there are no regulations on spreading manure or fertilizer on Estonian fields. The farmer said the 100m buffer would filter out the chemical runoff but considering the hundreds of hectares of crops around this lake, the largest in Estonia though only a few meters deep, I have my doubts.  In Finland many fields neighbor lakes, obeying a similar buffer rule, but there are limitations on fertilizer and manure spreading.  There are also mandates for wetland plants in the buffer zones to absorb the excess nutrients… but this is still very different than watershed management in California. Look for an environmental impact regulation post coming in the next week or so, I have one brewing but I want to get it right.

After Kure Mõis-tila we had a nice lunch and visited the research farm at the University of Tartu. We talked with a girl from Finland who studied be a veterinarian at the school and decided to stay.  She was obviously very worldly, intelligent and friendly. We were impressed by her grace transitioning to a new country and welcoming visitors.  After the school farm we went to Parna Talu, a stable where Estonian horses were bred and trained for jumping, dressage and carriage. The Horses were beautiful and clearly well trained, as were the young girls showing us the horses and helping interested students ride a little. After a day of bussing around visiting farms the Finnish students were excited to relax and have a nice night in Tartu. We went to dinner at an Irish pub called Big Ben’s where we enjoyed cheap food and beer compared to Finland. After a fun night out we called it a night in the stylish Hotel Dorpat and woke up early again the next day for one last stop before the harbor.

The Olustvesi School of Agriculture and Rural Economics is a pre-university facility where students can learn about raising animals, cultivating crops and practicing handy crafts. We were led by a retired teacher who showed us the animal houses, the craft shop and a couple old museum rooms including a taxidermy zoo and traditional carriage models.  Like much of the trip, the English spoken was only from our friends and teachers but we enjoyed looking around and admiring the old-style buildings. Some of them had been renovated from as early as 1600’s. After a delicious three course meal in the elegant summer cottage we got on the bus for Tallinn. Before leaving the harbor we stopped at ‘Super Alko,’ an alcohol outlet store where the Finnish students stocked up on cartfulls of cheap alcohol. Many of the Estonia trip veterans had brought their own dollies to wheel their purchases home. It was quite the sight seeing everyone load their purchases back on the bus before boarding the ferry back to Finland.

After arriving in Helsinki, were on the bus at 9pm to continue our journey back to school. The exchange students realized a few interesting things about Finnish culture simply in transit. One point was that Finnish people are rarely ever in a hurry and rarely continue a single activity (such as driving home) for longer than 90 minutes straight without a coffee or cigarette break.  Another point was that Finnish students will party all night. It doesn’t matter if they only had three hours of sleep the previous night or how haggard they are in the morning, they will run on a reserve battery of terrible music and party on. Between the abundant leisurely breaks and incessant noise we were very glad (and utterly exhausted) when we finally arrived home at 3:15am.

Overall, we had a very fun and eye-opening trip to Estonia. The language barrier was not as heavy as I expected, we are very thankful for the people who willingly answered our questions as well as the Finnish students who translated for us. The teachers who went on the trip, Anu and Kirsi, have a level of saintliness that is only matched by their cool, along with our hard-working bus driver.  This Finnish vacation was definitely one for the books.

A bunch of California kids who never thought they would be in Estonia
Our cozy boat cabin

Machine yard at Kure Mõis-tila

Combine harvester

Getting left behind by the tour group

Milk truck!

Fashionable hygenic jumpsuits

Kure Mõis-tila fields

Lake Peipus (you can almost see Russia!)

University of Tartu Research Farm

A window into the cow's rumen (grey circular window on the black cow)
Cows being cleaned by the round brush (between the brown and black cow)
A cow having its hooves trimmed (cow in the red box)  

Parna Talu

In the stables

Olustvesi School of Agriculture and Rural Economics

Log transport model

Transporting peat for heating 

Ice transport

Beautiful summer cottage at Olustvesi