Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sharecropping and vice versa

I live on the northern edge of Helsinki in a suburb called Torpparinmäki, a community clustered around a hill that barely rises above the flat bottomland of the slow-moving Vantaa River.  The name Torpparinmäki translates in English to “Sharecropper’s Hill”, which gives a clue to the earlier tenants of this quiet neighborhood. 

View toward Torpparinmäki at harvest time.
While on the subject of Finnish place names, many of them, when translated, would fit perfectly with some countrified spots back in the States.  I used to live near a part of Helsinki called “Buckwheat Ridge”, which evokes a certain nostalgia for bygone Americana.  No doubt, there are scores of prim, upscale, gated communities across the US called “Buckwheat Ridge”. 

The Tuomarinkylä Manor house, built in 1790.
The name “Sharecropper’s Hill” perhaps doesn’t carry the same kind of cachet, but it’s still a nice place.  This used to be part of Tuomarinkylä Manor, a large farming estate, something close to what back in Georgia we would call a plantation.  This stretch of rich agricultural land at the confluence of the Vantaa and Kerava rivers was already a prominent estate by the mid-1700s.  The sharecroppers who used to work this land are long gone, but the “big house”, built in 1790, still stands today, restored as a museum.  And the land, or at least part of it, is still being cultivated. 

Checking out the livestock at Haltiala.
The Haltiala Farm, which butts up against the backyards of Torpparinmäki’s row houses and single-family homes, is apparently the last working farm within Helsinki city limits.  It’s owned and operated by the city and is a popular spot for families who want to briefly treat the kids to the sight (and smell) of farm animals.  At Easter, the public is even allowed into the stables where the newborn lambs are kept. 

Bikers welcome.
Haltiala also operates a small café that has been doing extremely good business all during this summer, especially – for some reason – with motorcyclists.  The farm is a big attraction as well for the flocks of geese that have been flying over our house lately to feed among the stubble of wheat and rye. 

Associating with the locals.
Some crops have been sown especially to be reaped by a different type of two-legged visitor.  Along the road leading to the farm are fields of peas, sunflowers and assorted other flowers that members of the public can help themselves to at harvest time.  In the past, I would get at least a bag or two of peas this way, but sadly I haven’t been paying enough attention in recent years and have noticed the fields are open for harvesting only after they’ve been trampled down and mostly picked clean. 

Searching for that last pea in the field.
Still, it’s a nice touch, I think, that in Helsinki even city slickers have the opportunity to share a slice of Torpparinmäki’s history and be a pea-picker for a day. 


  1. Interesting stuff. Do you ever visit Finland's National Parks? I've done a little reading on them and there are some interesting ones there, despite the nation's lack of mountainous terrain (which I always look for).

    One of my friends is a writer who is second generation American-Finnish. Rick Hautala. He writes horror and he tells me that his family name translates to "graveyard" which is appropriate, if so. His family uprooted and moved away from stony, cold, pine-covered Finland to...stony, cold, pine-covered Maine. You have to laugh.

  2. Finland has pretty good national parks, though understandably nothing on the scale (or variety) of the parks in the US. (BTW, the park system is something I really miss about the US). Near Helsinki there's a park that we visit now and then and that I'm planning to do a post on a little later.

  3. The University has a very working farm within Helsinki city limits in Viikki.

  4. It's true, there is at least one other working farm in Helsinki, as I've come to realize. Viikki is another example of how, with Helsinki, there's also some country in the city.

  5. The University also has fields for testing various crops all over the city.