The Movement of Small Estonian Farms Cropping up in the Wake of Globalization

Theme: Revitalization of Rural Heritage Landscapes

by Ms. Nichole Michelle Weimer
HeritageForAll Intern (Call 2019) from Hawaii, USA and lives in Tartu, Estonia
Internship Program “Rural Heritage and Traditional Food”
M.A. candidate in Folkloristics and Applied Heritage Studies Program, Tartu University

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There exists a great variety of landscapes that are representative of the different regions of the world. Combined works of nature and humankind, they express a long and intimate relationship between peoples and their natural environment

(Cultural Landscapes: UNESCO, n.d.).

Within UNESCO, there are now a handful of geographical locations that have received the honor and recognition of their importance and uniqueness, despite the fact that preceding 1992 submitting agricultural heritage landscapes for UNESCO recognition was a strenuous process due to the lack of frameworks for which to operate in. (Mitchell & Barrett, 2017) The framework can now be understood to be “a type of ‘organically evolved continuing cultural landscape’ retaining ‘an active social role in contemporary society closely associated with the traditional way of life, in which an evolutionary process is still in progress’” (Mitchell & Barrett, 2017). However, for this article I do not intend to focus on UNESCO recognized landscapes, but rather to turn attention to the everyday landscape in which humans are in constant interaction with. For it is also the everyday humble landscape that also facilitates and sustains our livelihoods as creators and living beings that so often is overlooked which poses as a challenge to preserve and maintain these spaces. But what is landscape? And how does one define it?

The terminology of landscape in the Merriam-Webster American Dictionary defines it as “a picture representing a view of natural inland scenery; the art of depicting such scenery; the land-forms of a region in the aggregate; a portion of territory that can be viewed at one time from one place; a particular area of activity” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). But the study of landscapes has only just begun and in the last few years the study has been gaining traction within the academic field, as well as within the governmental sector, through policies and increasing the general public’s awareness through rural tourism. Landscape studies are often interdisciplinary, covering a wide range of fields such as ecology, economic and cultural disciplines (Kizos, Primdahl, Kristensen & Busck, 2010). In the article Introduction: Landscape Change and Rural Development , the authors quote the definition of landscape defined by the European Landscape Convention in hopes to incorporate the multifaceted notions and approaches as:

a zone or area as perceived by local people or visitors, who’s visual features and character are the result of the action of natural and/or cultural (that is, human) factors. This definition reflects the idea that landscapes evolve through time, as a result of being acted upon by natural forces and human beings. It also underlines that a landscape forms a whole, whose natural and cultural components are taken together, not separately.” (Kizos, Primdahl, Kristensen & Busck, 2010).

Drawing from the vernacular pattern within the following readings utilized, landscape can be inferred to be a space in which stimulates the human interaction through food, language, biodiversity, traditions, culture and identity. Food and cultural identity will be the main focal points for this article when understanding common, everyday heritage landscapes.

Without land, there would be no food. But what is so important about the landscape in regards to food? Nina-Marie Lister, in her article Placing Food: Toronto’s Edible Landscape , speaks on the changing relationship between humanity and the land and the effects of the changes. The majority of the world, particularly the cities within the Western world, now consume foods that have traveled to their local grocery stores and homes from distant lands. The modern everyday consumer now has a variety of vegetables, fruits and other delights at their fingertips that denies the “laws of nature;” seasons cease to have power over what we can have in autumn or winter because the apple, avocado or banana comes from different countries (Lister, 2007). The author delves into this topic utilizing the phrase “placeless food;” foods that consumers buy and consume with little concern of the “origin, growing, and production” of these foods (Lister, 2007). While there are positive aspects to modern technology and global connectedness, there are multiple risks at hand that could lead to dire consequences for future generations. Nina-Marie Lister quotes Barvara Kingslover who warns of getting “[cheap food] at a price…not measured in money, but in uninstalled debts that will be paid by our children in the currency of extinctions, economic unraveling, and global climate change” (Lister, 2007). There are environmental risks that are impacting the planet through the usage of fossil fuel in the farming industry as well as the many forms of transportation that is bringing out of season food to different places. Corporations also are monopolizing the farming sector by driving small farmers to sell out or be engulfed in their business. As mass production continues, “loss of soil fertility and genetic diversity” will eventually lead to extinction. There is also the threat of biodiversity. As Nina-Marie Lister states, food security is growing more and more dangerous as “95 percent of cabbages, 94 percent of peas, 91 percent of field corn, and 81 percent of tomato varieties no longer exist” (Lister, 2007). The loss of these varieties is due to mass production and industrialization. Biodiversity within vegetable and fruit crops are important because there are particular breeds that are intended to flourish in certain regions of the globe under certain environmental conditions. Without these, the production and cultivation of these foods become increasingly more and more reliant on pesticides, fertilizers and human interference. “As we simplify our food system, we are attacking the environment’s capacity for evolution and adaptation to inevitable change” (Lister, 2007).

There are social implications with place-less food as well such as the previously mentioned small farmers and lack of economic sustainability against large monopolies. Socially, these small farmers are essential to the rural heritage and lifestyle. If they were to be pushed out completely, we face the possibility of a cultural distinction, one that is important for mankind as agriculture has been essential to our evolution as social creatures. At the very core of these complex issues and risks lies the “simple question of value. If a society does not value its farmers and farm land, then it does not value the capacity to grow its own food and both will eventually be lost” (Lister, 2007).

Landscapes have the power to influence people’s ideas about themselves because of the history that has unfolded on them

(Salmón, 2012)

Common landscapes through the cultivation of food also stimulates and facilitates a sense of self within place therefore fostering heritage and cultural identity. Enrique Salmón hones in one these aspects in their written work, Eating the Landscape: American Indian Stories of Food, Identity, and Resilience . What is unique about the relationship between the landscape and humanity is that the land sustains the biological needs of a human which then transcends into becoming a vehicle that culminates memories, built upon generation after generation, as well as a cultural knowledge of the land. “The food itself, and the landscape from which it emerges…activates in us an encoded memory…land and food then become a source of knowledge and history” (Salmón, 2012). Throughout the centuries, people of a particular region propagated foods specific to the geographical location and climate which were then harvested and intrinsic to the affair of creating cultural dishes. It is this process that employs tangible heritage foods to represent and reflect the intangible heritage of a people; it is not only the dishes that encompass heritage and culture but the processes as well, “the processes interconnect family, landscape, collective knowledge, story and an encoded library of cultural and ecological knowledge, all of which sustain and revitalize a sense of self and place” (Salmón, 2012). Nora J. Mitchell and Brenda Barrett’s argument in their article Exploring Agricultural Heritage Landscapes: a Journey Across Terra Incognita, supports and parallels Enrique Salmón’s written work by stating that “agricultural heritage landscapes produce food and other products in a manner that is shaped and sustained by local and indigenous communities interacting with their natural environment. The result of this interaction has been called a ‘biocultural landscape’ defined as ‘an intertwined holistic system that has been shaped by human management over long periods of time’

Establishing these foundational elements and definitions of landscape in terms of cultural heritage is essential to conceptualizing the Estonian revitalization of rural heritage landscapes. Within Karin Ojasoo’s thesis, they reiterate the statements made by the previous written works of this article: that rare and unique landscapes are valued while everyday common agricultural landscapes are so often dismissed or overlooked but with the dismissal of these agricultural heritage landscapes follows the threats of losing both productive vitality and the cultural heritage stimulated by these geographical localities (Ojasoo, 2014). Before proceeding further into Ojasoo’s research, the perception of traditional heritage landscapes by Estonians themselves is essential. The conducted questionnaire included 44 respondents, all of whom aged between 9 to 57 years old, who lived in different localities [villages, cities and the rural countryside], encapsulated both men and women with different levels of education ranging from primary school to higher education. The author focused on the topic of the ever changing traditional landscapes in Estonia, both physically as well as the perceived changes. For the questionnaire to be credible in the application of the collected questionnaire statistics, creating a foundation was paramount in which the author had asked their respondents to describe what a traditional Estonian landscape is, to them. One respondent is quoted:

As I’ve grown up and live in an area where there has been intensive agriculture, the landscape of Estonia for me is this: cultivated fields, here and there a bit alder bushes, farm houses located separately and somewhere on the horizon, good and strong mixed forest

(Ojasoo, 2014)

Utilizing the collected data from the questionnaire and photos sent in by the respondents, Ojasoo concludes that the majority of Estonians perceive the Estonian traditional landscape to conjure perceptions of “rural landscapes with fields and forests…typical Estonian villages[s] with old farm building. Grain fields located on the roadside, pasture land farther away…” (Ojasoo, 2014).

In Ojasoo’s questionnaire were two particular statements that stood out to be rudimentary to the discernment of Estonian landscape. The first statement was “landscape has an important role in regional and local cultural patterns development. Landscape carries a significant part of the European natural and cultural heritage” (Ojasoo, 2014). In total, 57% of the respondents completely agreed with the proposed statement while 30% rather agreed and 14% of respondents remained neutral (Ojasoo, 2014).

Landscape has an important role in regional and local cultural patterns development. Landscpae carries a significant part of the European natural and cultural heritage. (Ojasoo, 2014)

The second statement hones in specifically to the Estonian framework. The second statement proposed to Ojasoo’s respondents was “traditional rural landscape needs protection-preservation” (Ojasoo, 2014). Again, 57% of the author’s respondents completely agreed with the statement while 25% rather agreed and 16% remain neutral. 0% of respondents answers “rather do not agree” or “do not agree” with this statement, as seen below in the graph.

Traditional Rural Landscapes needs protection-preservation (Ojasoo, 2014)

An article written published by ERR (Eesti Rahvusringhääling, which translates to Estonian Public Broadcasting) in 2014 talked of the need to provide more incentives and “gifts” for the young Estonian population that were willing to move into the rural countryside and take up an agricultural career. Juhan Särgava, who is the head of the Central Union of Estonian Farmers, stated that the percentage of young Estonians working in the agricultural sector was “only a tenth of what is needed” (ERR, 2014). At the time of the published article, there were “only 7 percent of agricultural workers” who were under the age of 35 while “one-third are over 65” (ERR, 2014). The article captured the sense of urgency in which young people are needed to revitalize the traditional agricultural sector as it is seeing an ever increasing decline, not just in Estonia but also globally. The importance of revitalizing the rural heritage landscapes not only preserves and sustains the cultural aspects shared between the land and people but in addition, “agricultural heritage landscapes can also make vital contributions to heritage tourism, food sovereignty, and food security” (Mitchell & Barrett, 2017).

Reference

  • Kizos, T., Primdahl, J., Kristensen, L. S., & Busck, A. G.(2010). Introduction: Landscape Change and Rural Development. Landscape Research , vol. 35 (no. 6), pp. 571 — 576.
  • Lister, N. (2007). Placing Food: Toronto’s Edible Landscape. Food, vol. 47 (no. 3), pp. 148-185. Retrieved from www.ryerson.ca/carrotcity/graphics/_pdfs/Nina_Marie_Lister_paper.pdf .
  • Mitchell, N. J. & Barrettm B. (2017). Exploring Agricultural Heritage Landscapes: A Journey Across Terra Incognita. The George Wright Forum, vol.34 (no. 2), pp. 180-194.
  • Ojasoo, K. (2014). Implementing the European Landscape Convention in Estonia: Understanding the Estonian Landscape and the Influence of the Soviet Era (M.A. dissertation). Tartu, Estonia: Estonian University of Life Sciences.
  • Salmón, E. (2012). Eating the Landscape: American Indian Stories of Food, Identity, and Resilience . Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press State Should Provide Free Land for Young Farmers, Says Agricultural Association. (2014, July 24). Retrieved from https://news.err.ee/113219/state-should-provide-free-land-for-young-farmers-says-agricultural-association
  • UNESCO: Cultural Landscapes. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://whc.unesco.org/en/culturallandscape/

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