Mantereen Tila, Finland – Saturday 10th to Friday 16th June
When we were accepted by a WWOOF host in Finland we were over the moon. Then a couple of days later our host told us that they were having a party on the night we were due to arrive. And, one of her friends from Helsinki could give us a lift out to the farm! Oh, and there might be naked people – it’s a sauna party.
So, with not a little trepidation, we awaited our pickup in the hot sun outside a metro station in Helsinki.
Ansu and Antti pulled up at the allotted time, and they instantly put us at ease. Once again, the stereotype of the closed Fin proving unfair. So, after a relaxed two hour drive, with a booze stop at the Finnish equivalent of a Tesco Extra, we turned down a dirt track and pulled up to the farm.
Picturesque doesn’t cut it.
The stunning Mantereen Tila Farm:
Mantereen Tila, which has been in the family for nearly three hundred years, is situated right on the edge of the Liponselkä Lake; surrounded by beautiful fields and forests. Our own accommodation was to be one of the small holiday cottages, right on the shore.
Home, sweet home…
We were swept along in the chaos of party preparations. Hurriedly introduced to our WWOOF hosts, Niina and Philip Mayer, we set to helping out as best we could to make sure the place was ready when the other guests arrived. We were blown away by how friendly and inclusive everyone was. We immediately felt treated like friends, rather than guests.
Dinner was served at a big table in the farmhouse; an amazing meal including roasted organic chickens from the farm!
And then the serious business of sauna-ing could get under way.
Here’s where another stereotype falls away. The Finns don’t seem to take their sauna-ing seriously at all. Far from it. It’s just a casual thing. The saunas weren’t nearly as hot as any other sauna outside of Finland I’ve been in; and pretty much nobody was naked. It’s just not a big thing. And the one or two who preferred to sauna with no clothes did so with total discretion.
Our host, Philip, on the left, doing manly things with friends before the party:
The party went on ’til the wee small hours, and here’s where the first truly weird thing hit. When I went to bed a little after 1:30am it was still light. The sun had set around 11pm but must have been hovering just a little below the horizon as we were still bathed in a gentle twilight. We were experiencing a the white nights of an arctic summer; a totally new and amazing experience for us both. If not a little disorienting.
The morning view from the doorway of our cottage (the log cabin hiding in the foliage is a sauna!):
Waking up on Sunday, we were expecting to be put straight to work. The normal exchange in WWOOF-ing is four hours of work a day in exchange for board and lodging. When we asked, however, Philip told us to relax and take the day off!
Feeling a little like freeloaders we did what we could to clear up the mess from the party the night before, instead. We were being treated to a few glorious days of warm Finnish summer, so we made the most of it and enjoyed the sunshine.
Highland Cows on the gallop:
Unfortunately, this was not to last. We woke on Monday morning to pouring rain. However, the farm doesn’t wait for the weather, so we donned our waterproofs and took to the fields.
Mantereen Tila is an organic cattle farm raising Highland Cows for the restaurant industry, so keeping great pastures is super important to them.
Our task was to rid the pastures of a particularly pernicious weed which the cows can’t eat and spreads like wildfire. There were a lot of weeds, and a lot of field, but armed with a podcast the time flew by, despite the incessant downpour.
Hannah stalks the terrible pernicious weed:
Tuesday brought more of the same. Philip told us that more rain fell on those two days than had fallen in the previous two months! But come Wednesday and Thursday we were out working in the sunshine again.
WWOOF-ing, we think, is a great exchange, as it works beautifully for both the hosts and the volunteers. Our experiences in mainland Denmark, Bornholm, and Finland have been vastly different. But in each case we really felt like we were contributing, and helping the farmers achieve something that would have been difficult to achieve on their own.
There are always a thousand things to do on a farm, but only so many hours in the day. Farmers talk of ‘daily minimum jobs’, and then on top of those there are tons of others to keep the farm up to scratch. This is where the help of volunteers, even without agricultural skills, can be so valuable. We can help out doing simple, time-intensive tasks, freeing up the farmers to get on with other jobs.
For us, the exchange was more than worthwhile. Without WWOOF-ing, we would never have even heard of the places we went, let alone visited them. And a simple visit would never have given us the depth of experience and understanding that we were able to get. We were the first WWOOF-ers Niina and Philip had hosted, and Niina was so happy with us she booked in an Australian volunteer to stay for a month just a couple of days after we left. Perhaps that human connection is the most valuable part of the whole experience.
Hannah, Niina, and the farmhouse:
Our week quickly came to an end and it was time to pack our bags again and hit the road. We’ll leave you with a little video Phil did for Niina and Philip.
Next week we travel south to Turku, and then back to Helsinki. From there, it’s on to Russia!
Hannah and Phil x