Author: Karoliina Tuukkanen, City of Tampere.

Karoliina and the zucchinis_photo by Merja Urponen

This is a very personal account of a FUSILLI project manager. There is a very good reason I applied to be the project manager of FUSILLI for the city of Tampere and it has to do with my past work experience with food but also with my personal experiences. Sustainable and healthy food has been an integral part of my life since young. As a child, I lived in a house with a large garden and my parents cultivated vegetables, berries, and fruits. Summers were full of sweet carrots pulled straight from the soil, lovely turnips, succulent tomatoes and of course different berries straight from the bush.

As I grew, I got interested in producing my own food. I started with some herbs on my window sill, moved to tomatoes growing in a bucket on my balcony and finally progressed into renting a city owned gardening plot. These plots are scattered around the city, so all interested citizens would have the opportunity to grow their own food. These plots are handled for the city by an NGO called 4H. They rent out the plots (for a very reasonable price) and they also give farming advice, take care of soil enhancement (plowing etc.) and other plot related activities. In 2021, more than 800 citizens took part in urban farming in the city owned plots. This is also a beautiful example of the cooperation the city has with NGO’s. Over the years, the number of plots around the city has grown, as the demand is ever growing. In late years there has also been more demand for perennial plots. As many of the plots are “one year plots”, it means you cannot grow any perennial plants (such as an all-time perennial favorite for us Finns, the rhubarb). The 4H Ngo is constantly discussing with the city about new possible areas for cultivation and the city takes this into account in its land development.

Karoliinas cottage in Nekala in the spring_photo by Karoliina Tuukkanen

So, back to my personal story. Indeed, in the summer of 2013, I managed to rent out a plot from 4H with a friend. At that time, there was no water point on the plot, so we had to walk about 300m to a lake and get irrigation water from there. It was a very dry summer and I remember distinctly, that we got one of the worst plots in the area (there were about twenty-five 10mx10m plots in that area). This meant, that the soil was very hard, almost clayey and to our great disappointment, we did not manage to produce anything green. The only thing we grew well that summer, was a bunch of broad beans, which I then realized, I hated. Now, this should have been enough to establish an aversion to urban farming, but strangely it was not. I think, it was because all the people in that plot were so encouraging, shared their harvest with us and urged us to continue. And indeed, the next summer we rented yet another plot, from the same place. That summer was a bit more rainy and we also worked a bit harder to enhance the soil with horse manure etc. We managed to grow lovely greens and other yummy edibles and from then on, I was bitten by the gardening bug.

Now, the story could end here, and this would be a very good example of what the city offers to its citizens in urban gardening. However, a few years after my experiences in the plot, I was invited, as a part of my then job with the Global Dry Toilet Association of Finland, to visit the allotment garden area of Nekala. Allotment gardens are something very traditional in Finland, built on city land and run by the allotment garden associations. They were first established by the city after the wars to give citizens a place to grow their own food. First, they were just garden plots with small sheds for tools. Little by little, as well-being increased, people would start building small cottages on their plots. Over time those cottages became nicer and soon allotment gardens were the summer cottages for those Finns, who could not afford to buy one from a lakeside. There are all together 4 allotment garden areas in Tampere, the largest being Nekala with 311 plots. All of these are built on city land, which the city then rents out to the allotment associations.

My visit to Nekala was supposed to be about their impressive dry toilet system build for the use of the gardeners. We were presenting an award to the association and to its cottage manager, who was responsible of the dry toilet system implementation. As I started to chat with the cottage manager, he got a weird glimmer in his eye. He told me, that I should buy a cottage from the area, that I was the perfect candidate to be an allotment gardener. Now, this was my first visit ever to an allotment garden and I had never even thought about the possibility of owning one. As I was trying to tell him, that I am indeed the wrong person, I found myself being led towards a cottage, that was being quietly sold as the owner had died. Now, I am not a superstitious person, but when I walked through the gate of that garden, I was mesmerized. I could not leave it behind and so, 5 years ago, I became the proud owner of a beautiful red cottage and garden in Nekala. I cannot help but think that this is one of the reasons, why I am today a project manager of FUSILLI project. Food and producing it has been such an integral part of my life for so long, that it has seeped to my professional life as well. We will also be implementing urban gardening related actions in FUSILLI in the city of Tampere and I can continue with a theme I truly love.