1) About the school
The School of Self-sufficiency is starting its operation in Rasimäki, Valtimo, Finland, in collaboration with the folk high school Kainuun Opisto. The School of Self-sufficiency is the first of its kind in Finland.
We will kick off the spring semester of 2020 with construction-related courses, each course taking place over the duration of a couple of months.
We aim to begin the main courses for teaching self-sufficiency in 2021.
For now, the language used for teaching is Finnish only.
The preparation work at the School is in active progress. Welcome to join the voluntary workers at the School of Self-sufficiency!
2) Why is the School needed?
Our modern lifestyle has inflicted severe damage on the environment and ourselves.
The conditions that sustain life are being degraded. People are aiming for change, but the truth seems to be that the ways of our culture are the actual problem to be solved.
We have set quotas on tree felling. We have set maximum permissible levels for pollutants. We have set objectives for wildlife populations. However, nature knows no such thresholds. Every change we make has an effect. And when we actually start approaching the threshold values, the impact is hefty.
Most conflicts in this world are directly or indirectly motivated by access to natural resources. Self-sufficiency will decrease the number of disputes arising from conflicting interests.
The primary change must be initiated by a grassroots movement. The potential of political action is overemphasized.
Technology is advancing in parallel with a society of control. The increasing dependency on technology will also increase the risks that need to be accounted for.
For thousands of years, man has lived in harmony with nature. That is still possible, to a large extent. In a subsistence economy, people do not live in poverty and misery if they are truly able to live according to the principles of self-sufficiency.
Life based on a natural economy allows a human being to see through the noise.
Life can feel meaningful in a future of any kind.
WE CANNOT SOLVE OUR PROBLEMS WITH THE SAME LEVEL OF THINKING THAT CREATED THEM
“Omavaraopisto” means school for self-sufficiency. Our location is in Northern-Karelia in the east of Finland. We are going to start in 2020 teaching gardening, ecological building, handicrafts and lots more, which makes people more independent from destructive lifestyle. The teachings are based on practical experiences of Lasse Nordlund and Maria Dorff over several decades.
In the moment we have many work camps along the years to build the infrastructure for our school. If you like, you are welcome to participate. There are many people sharing the idea of doing something meaningful.
The purpose of the school of self-sufficiency is to provide a broad range of knowledge and guidance for people interested in living on their own terms and working with their hands. To learn and develop alternative models of living in harmony with the finite resources nature has to offer.
At that time the teaching will be only in Finish.
The six month program includes an entire year’s crop cycle.
Starting in May, students learn hands-on how to grow nearly all of their own food in a simple garden. Building and crafts help develop a thorough picture of basic human needs. Teaching is practice orientated. Work is done without machines, manual labor promotes resource wise thinking and helps understand the ecological footprint of communities and the individual. The course will provide insight into various materials, methods, and therein personal physical capabilities and bodily health. A balance of work, mental well being, and social interaction is an important subject matter.
Time is allocated for being together and improving social skills in a group.
The course will include theoretical discourse in the likes of the connection of modern society to energy and finance along with cultural and ethical questions in life. The core of the program is based on the practical experiences of Lasse Nordlund and Maria Dorf over several decades.
The course will cover:
-gardening and composting
-harvesting, storage, threshing and processing of crops
-foraging for berries, mushrooms and wild plants
-basics of log based construction
-building from clay, straw, and natural stone
-metalwork and tool maintenance
-cooking and baking
-different methods of food preservation
-felting, spinning yarn, and knitting
-leather tanning and sewing
-woodwork and utensils
-weaving, crafts from birchbark and wood shakes, rope pleating
-growing and processing flax
-forest use from a subsidence perspective
-self-medication with plants
The learning environment resembles the conditions of a natural economy.
The teaching will follow weather and seasonal changes.
The school grounds are surrounded by woodlands, immersed in nature. At the center are a log house as a schoolroom and congregation space, a sauna, a cellar, wood sheds, and an outhouse which also functions as a compost. The garden and orchard are located in the immediate vicinity. Rainwater is collected for washing and a nearby spring for drinking water.
In the first years the accommodation will be in tents. 4-5m wide standing height bell tents are homely and equipped with a wood burning stove. As the program progresses we will build small cabins with students and volunteers. The congregation space will have solar panels and charging spots for charging the individual batteries for the tents and cabins. LED-lighting and phone charging will be available in all accommodation spaces.
Cooking is done outside in an open-air kitchen with a roof. On schooldays students will cook their own food together under instruction. Most of the food will be produced by the school itself. The diet is mainly vegetarian. Fishing is possible in a forest pond 4km away. The actual fishing instruction will happen during a separate 2 week period at the Kainuun opisto main campus. Students will have 5 days of instruction a week, some of which may be done independently. Weekends will be free.
There will be plenty of opportunities to focus on personal interest, during both instruction and free time. Morning and weekly meetings provide an opportunity to walk through work plans and address questions and concerns. Social and communal issues are open for discussion. After the course students can remain in the school’s peer support network to take advantage the knowhow and experiences of others.
The course will take place in a forested, natural environment in the region of North Karelia, near the border of Kainuu in the municipality of Valtimo, in the village of Rasinmäki. The main road between Joensuu and Kajaani is 3 km away with functioning public transportation in both directions.
4) On the Nature of Teaching
The aim of the School of Self-sufficiency is to show a way into a more self-sufficient way of living. As well as concrete skills, we need time to explore new perspectives. The meaning of ‘self-sufficiency’ can be interpreted in many different ways. ‘How we learn’ can also be challenged at the school.
We aim to show that our ‘material standard of living’ can be significantly lowered and that nonetheless, we may experience a greater sense of well-being. This transition works when the basic needs of life have already been satisfied. We wish to use positive experiences to pave the way towards more modest living. Our understanding deepens only once we face things outside of our comfort zone. The greatest challenge of the School of Self-Sufficiency is to create a safe learning environment within which true learning can continue.
We have grown up in a particular era, in which we live out countless habits which we take for granted in our daily lives. However these habits are a result of the resource-abundance which has surrounded us. In this situation, before we can begin to learn new approaches, we also need to re-evaluate and unwind many of our preconceived notions. Even during times of restlessness, we tend to hold onto our previous understandings rather than questioning what we take for granted.
Some of the central challenges to creative thinking is thinking of things as opposites (not beautiful = ugly, good vs. bad, etc.) In this way, our thinking can easily become very locked up. But when we begin to deal with first-hand information, with first-hand experiences themselves, then our thinking settles onto a more authentic basis.
The Breadth of Teaching
For comprehensive self-sufficiency, a single person needs a wide variety of skills. One needs to know about plants, farming, knots, resource management, timings, weather, the strength of various building materials, etc. There are many different things that one needs to understand sufficiently. The price is that one can have only very basic skills in many different fields. One should not set one’s targets too high. Nowadays, being good at various things is not appreciated as much as specialist skills. The same dilemma applies to interdisciplinary research.
Modern learning favours specialisation. Thus the very apex of skilled ability – virtuosity – can be seen and heard in the play of a violinist, in the metalworks of a blacksmith and in the care of a doctor. We are easily impressed watching these people practising their craft. By comparison, the skills of self-sufficiency may not show as clearly. A master in self-sufficiency simply takes good care of his life’s basic needs. What this means in a learning environment is that the student is faced with a different situation than what he or she has been used to at school. The teacher is not the wizard of one particular skill, and this can be confusing for the student. While the maths teacher draws upon the long, developing history of mathematics, the teacher of experience has less proven facts to refer to.
The Importance of Practice
Based on feedback we’ve received, we’ve learnt that many students find it important to keep practising new skills as opposed to doing new activities only once. A student can easily drown in a stream of new information. But practical repetition can transfer previous lessons into ‘muscle memory,’ and hence free the brain up to receive new information. It has been said that people’s patience to repeat something that they’ve already learned has decreased in recent times. Yet it may be a surprise to find how inconspicuously and quickly practice makes us skilful.
A Familiar Formula
Many people have already visited us in the interest of getting to know self-sufficiency and doing things yourself. Guests have arrived from around the world, and so they’ve come to very different surroundings – the forest! Their experiences have been useful to the school itself as well.
Over the years it has become quite usual for some newcomers to feel as if they’ve “come home” when they’ve arrived. A dense and open family-life, which rotates around the daily chores (including farming and various building projects) can create the impression of a homely and safe environment. At the same time, there’s a thoughtful atmosphere. This kind of life attracts many people. Often the newcomer’s initial sense of excitement lasts about a week. After two weeks, a downbeat feeling may have developed, and we might ask gently if everything is alright. The answer is usually that everything is fine. Only on the third day of this new feeling our guest may grasp what is bothering them. If we get to speak about all this, the situation can return to normal, and we can carry on, richer than before. Otherwise the time spent together can seem to drag along very slowly. Being in a new environment can spark emotions that come as a complete surprise. Usually spirits are lifted by talking. Sometimes the guest cannot or does not want to talk about these things and chooses instead to retreat politely, saying for example that they are home-sick. The most important thing is to acknowledge that a person who is going through this kind of undefined anxiety will look for a reason and explanation for how they are feeling. They may even force themselves onto such an explanation. The first available reasons are the circumstances or some other external factor. It’s more difficult to investigate the depths of the mind and the deeper reasons for such anxiety.
At the School of Self-Sufficiency we try to support people who experience this kind of changing situation. Ultimately it is the student who chooses how he or she will navigate through these kinds of challenges.
5) About Self-sufficiency
Self-sufficiency in a Nutshell
In practice, self-sufficiency means striving towards reducing dependency on others – in other words, the process of becoming more self-sufficient. As individuals we can reach full scale self-sufficiency in different areas of life. As we become more self-sufficient, dependencies change. A subsistence devotee needs, in addition to a diverse natural environment, good health and room to deliberate their activities in a holistic manner.
With regard to communal self-sufficiency, it is hard to differentiate between a voluntary division of labour and an individual’s obligation for reciprocity within the community. As an example, a community may be self-sufficient, but at the same time deny an individual’s efforts towards reducing their dependency on the community (authoritarian self-sufficiency).
The most fundamental manifestation of self-sufficiency is probably subsistence farming: the striving towards self-sufficiency in food by practicing agriculture that does not rely on shop-bought fertilizers, uses own seed stocks and relies on work done without machinery. However, the concept reaches well beyond primary production.
Self-sufficiency means independence and self-reliance. We lead lives where the taking care of the basic necessities of our lives has been externalized to various other people. If we are inactive with regard, and unaware of the foundations on which our life rests, are we able to bear a genuine responsibility for our own lives?
The ever-increasing specialization in the area of work creates a network of interlaced dependencies, which are hard to shake off. In the short run it can promote societal peace, but at the same time it weakens a society’s ability to make necessary changes.
A human being will instinctively leave unquestioned those arrangements on which their livelihood depends. On the road to self-sufficiency, as the meaning of money declines, we may also become mentally more independent. We may depart from the masses and find paths where others don’t believe they exist. The individual actions of people constantly create diversity in the world. This is beneficial in changing circumstances.
Self-sufficiency moulds itself into the framework defined by nature, whereas a technological approach aims to rule over it. The risks related to technological solutions are in proportion to the magnitude and width of their applicability.
In our attempts to manage world-wide problems we unwittingly create new problems by trying out newly created solutions. However, we do have historical knowledge about the functionality and harmfulness of certain ways and means. The model of self-sufficiency creates smaller problems and applies more familiar solutions.
Defining the relationship to the problems created by the dominant culture of speed, accomplishment, force and repression is a serious challenge for the model of self-sufficiency. As an approach that uses few resources, its strength isn’t in retroactive mending of errors but in prevention. The dominant culture is able to carry out spectacular rescue operations, but the next problems are already brewing in its subjugated structures. In that state of things, the wisest course of action may be to break free from the cycle and channel as many physical and mental resources as possible away from the dominant culture and towards serving decentralized communality.
A self-sufficient household/subsistence economy is a highly energy efficient system of production compared to the industrialized society, which requires a wide societal infrastructure in order to produce food and goods. That is why it has been able to support us for thousands of years.
Self-sufficiency has an important role in times of crisis. However, a more significant attribute is its ability to prevent crises. Self-sufficiency survives on few and local natural resources, so there will be fewer conflicts over resources.
The independence created by self-sufficiency reduces the creation and corruption of structures of power. Societies that have become centred on power, such as our own western society, need a sizeable governance and balancing system, in order for the society to function. In a crisis, this need makes the society vulnerable to (also green) totalitarianism. A society that is decentralized/based on self-sufficiency can more easily be democratic and is not as vulnerable to global swings.
A way of life based on self-sufficiency enables perhaps the only form of economy which supports the unrestricted sharing of knowledge and skills, because it is beneficial for all. The dominant market economy, in contrast, favours exchange facilitated by payment and motivated by personal gains.
Ownership is an unresolved dilemma between human and nature.
Do-it-yourself know-how boosts self-confidence and reduces fear. This stabilizes interpersonal relationships especially in times of tension. Being self-reliant is not the same as being selfish. A person who is mentally and spiritually well is in a position to share.
A reduction in the material standard of living in the future feels unavoidable. A peaceful descent is psychologically very hard, because diminishing resources will not be divided equitably. People experience increasing inequality, and this creates hate, which is seeking a way to manifest itself. Our minds tend to blame other people rather than complex societal structures – a strategy favoured especially in populist politics.
A decentralized society based on self-sufficiency is self-limiting. It is not represented by a person who draws other people’s resent. The drop in the societal standard of living (the ability to utilize resources) can easily even go unnoticed by a practitioner of self-sufficiency who runs their household well.
The migrations of people have come to stay, and borders will not stop them in the long run. Would the development of self-sufficiency give better opportunities for the integration of immigrants? The solution would be akin to the settling of Karelian evacuees in Finland after the war. Over 400 000 people evacuated from the ceded territories in the Karelian provinces were settled all over Finland. Farmers, who formed the majority of the evacuated population, were all given homesteads, which were partitioned either from state-owned lands or privately owned larger estates and farms, which received financial compensation for this.
As we move towards self-sufficiency it is beneficial if our neighbour is also doing well. Networking is a natural way to develop non-aggressive economy around natural resources, across the boundaries created by people. It has to be remembered, however, that keeping in touch and communication also make use of vast resources. In Finland, a vegetable garden with the area of 500 square metres supports one person all year without bought-in food. This is very efficient and only requires a few hand tools.
Thank you for being.
7) Guidelines into the future
“I don’t know which is the greater task: to decentralize a top-heavy civilization or to prevent an ancient civilization from becoming centralized and top-heavy. In both cases the core of the problem is to discover what constitutes a good civilization, then proclaim it to the people and help them to erect it.”
FoundationsOfOurLife_3_2010 (Here you find also the berry conservation receipt)
Are you inspired? Do you like to translate into another language?
A number of people have already joined the effort to bring the School into reality. Please get familiar with the founders:
For my entire life, I have been inspired by garden farming and various crafts. Around the turn of the 21st century, I embarked on a personal expedition into an ecological lifestyle involving WWOOFing, community activities, farming and making things with my own hands. This rewarding journey of ten years towards self-sufficiency has been a great teacher to me!
So much time has gone by. It doesn’t feel like a long time ago, however. Back in the day I was a nerdy city-boy but I started to shape my life according to the principles of self-sufficiency. The change stemmed from my difficulties in adjusting to the mainstream way of life. I decided to follow my own path, much to the horror of my parents and other family members.
Not giving up easily, I managed much better than I had even dared to expect, over the course of 30 years. This far I have done great without a bank account or a phone. Even the ID papers have been missing for decades, now 🙂
I want to share what I have learned. That is what has made my life so rich.