Asking the second largest municipality in Finland to grant permission to start a small farm on government property with one of the highest levels of legal protection in the country isn’t exactly something people generally do.
As you might have guessed, I’d never done such a thing before. So when it came time to “put something together,” I decided that the best and only way forward was to be completely honest about who I am and what I wanted to do.
In other words, I needed to prepare a design brief. I did my best to succinctly describe my current situation, intentions, offer an initial site evaluation, and then present general agroecology patterns overlaid onto the landscape that reflected the conclusions from those findings. The link below will take you to the brief itself (right click and “open in a new tab” if you don’t want to download it):
The point wasn’t to present a final idea, but to enthusiastically pitch a robust concept while being upfront about the scale of changes.
Our initial meetings went quite well, if I must say! I was prepared to do some selling on the idea, but everyone involved was ready to get started immediately. Even the most dreaded part of the meeting- how much all of this would cost me in terms of rent- was turned upside down.
After a year working with Jan over at Stadin Puutarhuri, I had a general idea as to how much I would be willing to pay the city in order to use this property. It turned out that the city reps felt rent paid to the city (recall, the second largest in Finland) was not exactly what they had in mind.
Espoo has an initiative called “Our Park” (Meidän Puisto”) that allows for citizens to apply to take care of local city green spaces. My farm would be Meidän Puisto taken to another level, a natural evolution or option for the city, if you will.
Given that I planned to rejuvenate the entire property- largely at my own expense and effort- they felt that such work, in conjunction with the planned educational aspect of the farm, was enough to constitute a fair deal.
Can you imagine how dumbstruck I was? Permaculture as rent? In Finland? And it wasn’t me who came up with the idea, but the city? There I was, almost begging the government to take some money and they responded by saying “your work will be valuable enough.”
Now, let’s be clear about a couple of things: 1) I had made quite the promise to the city and 2) they have their own plans. You know, master plans like turning the local area into a hub of sustainability and circular economy innovations for Finland. So while I was preparing for a more or less hard sell, city planners and citizens had been paving the way for me through years of hard work. What I was planning simply fell into their current paradigm. This, more than anything else, told me I was in the right place.
Getting back to the promise I had made about Lillklobb’s potential: I believe it helped quite a bit that I approached this from a business perspective. The whole concept of Lillklobb Permaculture is that it will be economically sustainable- profitable- so that I can reinvest surplus into the land and build this dream over time. With some help from the city- like appreciating the value of this work as such and not pecuniary in terms- to get me started, I’d be more or less implementing their master plan for them. The more successful I become, the more I’ll be paying in taxes, and therefore, the more Espoo will receive. Everyone wins.
It also helps that as a legal entity, there is someone to be held responsible if things go sideways. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is plenty of room for community led initiatives, but a project of this size (2 hectares) is a wee bit larger than most community gardens. As such, having a dedicated entrepreneur who is willing to put it all on the line added another dimension to the proposal.
Of course, even with everyone agreeing to move forward, that didn’t mean that I would be moving in the next day. There were still quite a bit of questions for me to answer, to better flesh out the proposal, and to secure all the necessary permits and permissions.
Optimistically, we hoped that a contract could be ready for signatures come January.
(Note: now that winter appears to be here, Part 3 will be coming down the line a lot faster than this one did!)