Organic without the middle-man

Via the organic co-op of the University of Turku, food from local producers finds its way directly onto the plates of members. For many people, one important reason for joining the group is the cheap price of the produce.

Sanna Ahvenharju’s son Veikko Veivo often comes to help the co-op members on distribution day.

The monthly produce distribution day for the organic co-op of the University of Turku is buzzing with activity. The tables are loaded with bread, eggs, root vegetables and different kinds of flour. Members of the committee are on hand as well as ordinary members of the group. Each member is obliged to help share out the produce once a year.

– Organising the logistics of the products is a massive task. Last spring there were only 6–7 active board members but that has now increased to thirteen. With that many it runs smoothly as it isn’t too much work for any one of us, says organic co-op expert, Sanna Ahvenharju, in charge of the distribution event.

The operating principle of the co-op is that everything is based on voluntary work. When no one is taking out their own financial share in between, the members only pay for the produce the price that goes straight to the producer. Orders are placed online once a month and products are delivered as ordered. Most of the products come from Southwest Finland but some foreign produce is also included.

Easy when you know how

Maria Anttila buys most of her dry goods via the organic co-op. She buys especially vegetables from the shops.

Maria Anttila who has come to pick up her own order from the university has been an ordinary member of the organic co-op for over five years now. For her, the most important reason for joining was the easy availability of organic products via the group.

– This way you get organic products at a really low price, it’s easy and there’s a wide range, Maria Anttila praises the system.

She buys all her eggs and flour via the co-op. She also uses it to order about half of particular dry goods such as beans and pasta. The availability of vegetables depends on the season, so she tends to have to top up her vegetable shopping in the shops.

Initially it took a while for her to learn how to order via the co-op. There was such a wide range of produce available that she would have liked to try everything but it was hard to work out how much would get eaten in a month. Now though the orders are just part of her routine.

Maria Anttila is a student but intends to stay a member of the co-op even after she has graduated. About 40 percent of members are not students.

– You can now get organic produce from other places. Supermarkets already have a good range, for example. But compared to shop prices this is cheaper, Anttila points out.

Straight to the table

According to Sanna Ahvenharju, the better availability of organic produce has reduced the membership of the organic co-op over the 16 years it has been running. At the moment, there are 160 members, while there were about 280 when it was at its height.

On the other hand, it has become even more important for consumers to know where their food is coming from and get it to the table as directly as possible. According to Sanna Ahvenharju, some of the members also appreciate the fact that the organic co-op offers an alternative to the big supermarket chains.

– To me too it’s great to know the person who grew my food. It’s genuine somehow. For me and many other committee members, one reason to be involved is that this is something we feel strongly about. I want producers to be able to sell as many of their own products as possible.

Teksti ja kuvat: Jaana Tapio


Results of the local food survey

In 2014, the Local Food Programme and the website produced a joint local food survey in different parts of Finland. Questions tackled what local food is and where people want to buy it.

Answers to the survey were collected at the Local & Organic Food Fair at the Helsinki Expo & Convention Centre on 11–13 April, at the OKRA farming exhibition in Oripää on 2–5 July, at the Herkkujen Suomi event in Rautatientori in Helsinki on 21–23 August, at the Elonkorjuu event in Kuopio on 29–30 August and at the Slow Food Festival in Fiskars on 4–5 October. A total of 1,151 responses were received. This large an amount of responses provides indicative results, although not everyone answered all the questions and some had selected more than one answer to some questions.

herkkujensuomi  fiskars

Awareness of the website still needs a great deal of improvement. On average 75% of respondents had not visited the website. Awareness of the website was lowest in Fiskars and Kuopio. A third of respondents want to use the website to find information on places where they can buy local and organic food and about the range of products businesses sell. 44% of respondents at OKRA wanted to find information about the range of products available from businesses, which is more than at any other event. A quarter of respondents wanted to see the location of businesses on a map. About one in ten respondents also wanted information about food tourism.

In the view of respondents, local food is food produced in their own region and using ingredients from their own region. This is the view of the majority of respondents, in other words an average approximately 45%. At OKRA and Herkkujen Suomi, almost half of respondents were of this opinion. At the Local & Organic Food Fair, at OKRA and in Kuopio, a third also answered that local food means Finnish food. In Fiskars, 21% of respondents saw local food as food made in their own region, whose ingredients could come from elsewhere. When asked what local food is, in Kuopio and in Fiskars there was support for food based on the food traditions of the local area. It must be borne in mind that in responses Finnish food and food made from ingredients from one’s own region can mean the same thing.

In all the survey locations apart from Fiskars, there was a desire to buy local food from markets or from local shops close to home. These responses were particularly high at events held in Helsinki and at OKRA. In Fiskars, 27% answered that they would prefer to buy local food straight from the farm, local shops came second and supermarkets only third. For respondents at OKRA, “straight from the farm” came second with supermarkets coming in first place, followed by local shops and local food shops. In Kuopio, 22% of respondents wanted to buy straight from the farm. Food co-ops were slightly more popular than internet shopping but the response rate was about 5% for both. Those who gave supermarkets or local shops as their preferred source also answered straight from the farm and from local food shops and of these the latter response was particularly from respondents in the Helsinki area. On this basis, it can be judged that in a more rural environment buying from farms feels more natural while there have been local food shops in the Helsinki area for longer and they have, therefore, become familiar.

Consumers would like to see local food better labelled in shops. There is a desire for local food labels on packaging but almost just as many respondents wanted to see information shown on the shelves. There was also a certain amount of demand for additional information such as leaflets provided near to products. No one was particularly interested in using new technology yet, as the use of QR codes only received a few individual mentions. Many challenges still remain when it comes to finding local food, as a clear more than half answered that “you can find it but you have to know where to look” and about a third “I can’t really find it although I would like to”.


Lamb straight from the field to the table

Guard dogs Mona and Ella at the sheep farm Oulujoen Karitsa with their flock

The aim is to bring life on the farm and news about the sheep as close to customers as possible, so the farm website plays an important role in direct sales.

Oulujoen Karitsa is a sheep farm in Utajärvi that sells lamb direct to consumers. Sheep farmer Riikka Juntunen thinks it is important that their operations are as transparent as possible, so that customers know what they are getting. Everything the farm does which is visible to the outside world is essential to direct sales. The business has found its customers through the internet and its website.

– Not everyone uses the internet, of course, so newspaper advertising is also important, but the internet is the main channel. People can find out about what we do, through our blog, for example, Riikka Juntunen explains.

At the farm, the growing popularity of local food can be seen in increased interest from consumers. This is why Riikka Juntunen sees the growing number of producers in the area as a positive thing. Cooperation between the different farms is good for everyone and helps to solve the same problems that everyone comes up against in their work.

– I know that there are more businesses starting up in the Oulu area but there’s room for all of us. As people learn how to use lamb in their cooking, its popularity will increase. At the same time, we are able to share transport to and from the slaughterhouse. That means you don’t have to take the whole flock at once, you don’t have to take lambs that are too small or keep lambs until they are too big, Riikka Juntunen sums up the benefits.

From engineer to sheep farmer


Riikka Juntunen originally trained as an engineer. A few years ago, she rented a small part of her uncle’s fields. For pasture, she also uses forest land and different landscape management grazing sites. Returning to the area where she was born and a desire to find work there were what inspired her to switch sector. Learning something new has been a lot of work but she doesn’t find anything insurmountable.

– I was just talking to another sheep farmer about how many bits of paper you have to fill in in order to get a retail permit. It isn’t an impossible task as long as you fill in the forms correctly and make sure that the cold chain isn’t broken.

At Oulujoen Karitsa, the food premises are a mobile trailer. Riikka Juntunen only uses it to collect meat from the slaughterhouse and transport it to customers. Without food premises, consumers have to collect their meat from the slaughterhouse themselves, which would require more staff to take care of sales.

Important to know what you are buying

Riikka Juntunen finds the cooperation between farms constructive. Farmers share tips and nobody needs to learn everything the hard way. The most important thing when it comes to sales is to keep your promises. Busy periods at the slaughterhouse mean that it isn’t always possible to be completely certain of the meat delivery times, although that is the aim.

– It’s important for customers to know when they will get their meat. It’s important to know the slaughter date and the date on which the meat will be delivered in advance. This means the slaughterhouse needs to keep to its schedule too.

As a businesswoman, she tries to bring life on the farm and news of the sheep as close to customers as possible. To Riikka Juntunen, it’s important that customers can visit the blog, see pictures of the sheep and read about them. This enables her to bring their welfare nearer to buyers.


Find sheep farms near you

Text: Saara Kärki
Photos: Riikka Juntunen