Hannele Levävaara has always been an advocate for responsibility and sustainability. This is her story, of her journey to starting her her business, Nukula, and of how her innate responsibility became part of that business as well.
I have had the opportunity to do things in my own responsible and sustainable way for several decades now, and I could not be happier. Writing this at the end of May, I have recently been digging into the turf, sowing and planting, and even weeding my lawn. Some of the dandelion buds have been boiled and fried to go into salads, but some of the plants have unfortunately had to come out. For the next year, I know I will be feeding on things I have organically grown myself: vegetables, tubers, herbs…
I have not always been able to do this, especially when I lived in a block of flats in Helsinki. My childhood and youth were different. Even as a little girl living on a farm, I would trawl through nature, collecting anything people had dropped and I could carry: plastics, screws, bottles… I would try to make my mum glad by taking what I found to her. She must have appreciated it! While working on the garden, I had a hard time rooting out the so-called weeds I thought so beautiful, never mind the excess healthy sprouts. Even today, it feels tragic to just yank out a fertile plant. That is why when I cultivate my garden today, I will often collect excess plantlets such as carrots or beetroots, give them a wash, and use them for filling in a veggie pie.
When I was a teenager, people started to spray weedkiller in the fields in my home area and I was just shocked. This has really left a permanent trace in me. I simply cannot use herbicides or pesticides. I feel ill when I see a tractor’s tracks on a springtime field among the shoots. I know it is good to have cereals that are free of unwanted seeds and thus the crops are more bountiful. But what about the insects?
It was as a student I first became consciously aware of my concern for nature. At that time, however, I did not know how to make a difference. There was no Internet or Google! And none of my friends were interested in the matter, let alone shared my concerns.
But I only grew more worried. I graduated as a mathematics and physics teacher, and that gradually gave me some financial resources. So, in the mid-80’s, I decided to take action. Living in Helsinki, I made the suggestion in a tenant committee meeting that the house acquire a big composter, so we could all take our household waste there and yield fertilizing compost for the flowers in the yard. I was laughed and booed out of that meeting, and that killed my enthusiasm for the moment. So I had to keep mum thereafter, but I decided there would be a point when I will have my own red house and a potato patch.
In 1991, I met my future spouse, and in 1995, my dream of that red house came true, as we bought a decaying farm, Piililä, in Central Finland. The farm at that time had just an outhouse next to the barn. Our first step was to build an indoor bathroom in the main building. “It’s going to be a dry toilet”, I told my husband firmly. After a bit of digesting the thought, he agreed to that suggestion. At last, I could be as responsible as I wanted without pressure from the outside. I have no idea where this came to me, but probably it is a mental imbalance of some sort.
That dry toilet installed in 1996 was the beginning of the sustainability and responsibility story of our business, Nukula. Initially we made do with what was to hand, but today, we plan it with reference to the theories and concepts of sustainability.
We built our business on the foundation of our fabulous nature, our historic buildings, and the valuable countryside milieu they constitute. Initially, there was some conflict. I demanded we recycle any and all dismantled material that was the least bit usable, while my husband would rather have worked with new materials. Little by little, our ambitions melded together, and we decided to use old materials anew. All in all, I think I became our unofficial sustainability director, who my husband has had to submit to as time has gone by.
Our journey together has been marked with respect for all living things – and many things most would not consider so living. Nature, from its tiniest bug or pebble all the way to the Earth and the wide universe itself is the constant object of our respect. Our effort has not been so specific as to especially target things like climate change mitigation, circular economies, or biodiversity promotion. As a “side effect” of our work, however, we have contributed to solutions to these great questions.
Almost 10 years ago, we enrolled 15 % of our forest area into the METSO forest biodiversity programme. It is a way to protect and supplement the natural diversity of our lands year by year. Changes to forestry legislation in 2017 allowed us to switch from intensive forestry to a system of continuous cultivation, which further contributes to that goal. Our carbon footprint was cut to a fraction of its former self when we replaced wood pellets with a geothermal heating system. Today, our business is entirely carbon neutral. All our premises, including our private apartment, have dry toilets, which save water and, like other biological waste produced, yield compost to fertilize our fields. Already while living in Helsinki I would sort my garbage, even knowing I unfortunately usually needed to take them into one big bin.
It is never easy to be ahead of one’s time. It is a struggle, being laughed at and put down by others, and most of all, banging your head against many walls. Right now, however, I am very content. This road, though very rocky at times, has been worth walking. My sustainable story will continue, and I am happy to invite you along.
Written by: Hannele Levävaara
This story was originally published in 2020.