Karjalohja: the location and connecting to history

This article is part of Erkki’s Permaculture Diploma Portfolio (2nd article).

Previous article: 60 Degrees North, 23 East


 (Erkki Pöytäniemi)

The map of Karjalohja ex-municipality is still in front of the old ”kunnantalo” municipal house.

Karjalohja, where Iso-orvokkiniitty is located, is situated in the western Uusimaa region 85 km west of Helsinki, south of the main E18 motorway between Helsinki and Turku. From Iso-orvokkiniitty it is 70 minutes drive to Helsinki. The closest town and the municipality to which Karjalohja belongs is Lohja to the east which has a population of 47000. The former Karjalohja municipality  (merged to Lohja  in 2013) has roughly 1500 inhabitants although the population is said to triple in summer season due to high number of summer cottages. To the south is Karjaa which belongs to Raasepori municipality (population 28000). To the west is Salo (population 53000) in Varsinais-Suomi region. Looking from the east Karjalohja is ”behind” the Lohja lake at the border of Uusimaa and Varsinais-Suomi regions and just north of the Swedish-Finnish language divide (i.e. main language in Karjalohja is Finnish).

The Karjalohja village – 2 km north from Iso-orvokkiniitty – is relatively well preserved. Most small towns and villages in Finland were spoiled in the 1960’s to 1980’s by modern buildings and demolishing the old but the main road through Karjalohja village is well preserved.  The history of Karjalohja has been studied quite extensively and there are a few good books available (1) (2). As newcomers to Karjalohja it seems natural to study the local history and thereby try to become a bit more connected to the place. History is also very much about land use and food supply and therefore in my mind very relevant to a permaculture analysis of a location. In the following I try to highlight some points of the local history relevant to farming and land use.

 (Erkki Pöytäniemi)

Two recent books about Karjalohja’s history. On both books the old stone church from 1860 is on the cover.

Finland was inhabited after the last ice-age over 10000 years ago by unknown hunter gatherers. Several Stone Age findings have surfaced in Karjalohja. Iron Age starts in Finland about 500 BCE and continues until 13th century (3). There are 2 Iron Age fortress remains in Karjalohja from about 11th century (2).  However the population in Uusimaa was much scarcer than in Varsinais-Suomi (to the west) or Häme (in the north) and the region seems to have been hunting grounds for people from Häme and also from Estonia. Maybe also Vikings made the coastal region unsafe for permanent settlement. Finland was integrated to the kingdom of Sweden as ”Österland” (Eastern Land) from about 12th century onwards and the coastal areas were colonised by Swedes who settled there in the 13th and 14th century (thereby the name Uusimaa, Nyland in Swedish = new from the Swedish point of view)(4). Karjalohja was a part of Raasepori (castle built in the 14th c.) and documentation related to taxes are found from 14th century onwards. In 1413 there were 1011 tax paying houses in Raasepori which consisted of pretty much what today is western Uusimaa (2). In 1460 there was 98 houses in Karjalohja, in the southern part Swedish speaking but mostly Finnish (1,p24). Apparently Karjalohja (Karis-lojo in Swedish) was formed as a parish of the peripheral areas between Karjaa (Karis) and Lohja (Lojo) in the 15th c. under the Karjaa parish.

Originally land was claimed by using it as field, meadow, slash-and-burn, fishing or hunting. Eventually the borders of villages had to be defined and forest, hunting grounds and fishing waters remained in collective ownership of the village (jakokunta). This change happened in Southern Finland in the 14th and 15th centuries. In early medieval times fields were cultivated with barley every year and animals were kept for manure but fed with hay from the meadows. Milk could be produced only in the summer. The change to a 2-year rotation (barley + fallow) happened in West Uusimaa in the 15th c. which also meant adapting a open-field system (sarkajako) whereby the village’s fields were divided into two sets of narrow stripes. Each villager received an amount of field stripes based on his mantal number (based on the productivity of his farm and ability to pay taxes). While the farmer was responsible for farming his field stripes the system required a collective farming system whereby all farmers farmed the same way. Forest land remained in the collective ownership of the village. The open-field system was adapted in areas where fields were predominantly clay (so it was not adapted in Eastern Finland’s glacial till soils). The draft animal that adapted best for plowing the long stripes of heavy fields were bulls. Towards the end of medieval times rye became the main grain crop. In NW Uusimaa including Karjalohja slash and burn cultivation was still used parallel to field cultivation in the late medieval times. Even then Western Uusimaa was not self-sufficient in grain. It was imported from the Baltics which meant that other income sources had to be developed. (8)

In 1571 there were 260 cows, 33 bulls, 218 sheep, 25 pigs and 98 horses in Karjalohja. Tammisto and Immula, the biggest farms, both had 10-11 cows, 2 bulls and 2 horses. Typically a farm had 2-3 cows, a horse and a few sheep (2,p60). Our property belonged originally to Immula, the main buildings of which are just 700 metres from Iso-orvokkiniitty. Even now Immula farm borders Iso-orvokkiniitty on three sides.The road on which we are, Varkalahdentie, was originally Immulantie (Immula road).

By the end of the 17th c. the number of houses had decreased to 69 due to hardship caused by continuous war with Russia and the cooling of the climate. In 1696-97 one third of Finland’s population died of famine because of severe crop failure. (Finland’s population just before the famine was c. 500 000, compared to 5,4 million today.) In the end of the 18th c the ”Great Partition” of the fields was implemented (Isojako, Storskiftet). Earlier every farmer in Sweden (and therefore in Finland) owned several long stripes of field split equally about the village. In the new system every farmer owned a connected piece of farmland. The purpose was to increase efficiency and production but as a side-effect it also made possible the tenant farming system. In a sense it could also be thought of as a ”privatisation” of farmland and de-collectivisation of farming, whereby all farmers didn’t have to collectively synchronise their farming operations anymore. This gave more room for independent innovation. Also tight villages disappeared as farmers moved to where their farmland was. The Great Partition applied also to forests so the collective ownership of forests was largely abolished.

In 1809 Sweden lost Finland to Russia. It was actually a relief for most of the population because it ended the military recruitment that had been going on for centuries. Finland became an autonomous part of Russia where Swedish legislation largely remained in force. In 1850 the number of farms in Karjalohja was back to 78. However at the same time the number of tenant farmers had grown to 165 (’torppari’ in Finnish – a system of tenant farming in Sweden-Finland where the farmer who owns the land leases some land with long-term lease to a torppari who pays the lease with daywork. However the torppari was not tied to the land like in a feudal system. In Finland the system was terminated in 1918.). Also the landless population increased. Slash and burn farming was still practised in the 19th century in Karjalohja but in 1830’s only 15% of produced rye (the typical slash&burn crop) was from slash and burn (2). The late 18th century was a warm period in Finland but 19th century weather was again difficult. The last big famine in Finland (or Europe for that matter) was in 1867, however it did not affect Karjalohja severely.

Swedish King’s military map from 1783 shows that Iso-orvokkiniitty’s fields were already fields at that time (on the west side of the peninsula going into Puujärvi). The closest house was Immula, which even today owns land on 3 sides of our property. (5)







In the early 20th century 8 farms in Karjalohja had more than 100 ha of cultivated area. One of them was our neighbour Immula which also had a water-powered dairy and mill. Kattelus farm in the south had 60 milking cows. A typical wealthier ’torppari’ tenant farmer at the same time might have had a horse, 4 cows, 2 heifers, 6 chicken and a pig (2,p179).

The 20th century was hectic. Finland gained independence from Russia in 1917 in connection with WWI and the Russian revolution. But independence was immediately followed by an ugly civil war in 1918 between ”Reds” and ”Whites” with a total death toll of 38000 people (of a population of 3 million). 75% of the dead were Reds, mostly after the war, executed or died in prison camps of hunger and disease. One reason for the tension that erupted in the civil war had been the tenant farming system and the increasing landless population. In the 1918 legislation (torpparilaki) – enforced right after the civil war –   right of redemption was granted by which over 90 000 tenant farmers got their own farm between 1918 and the WWII (over 900 000 ha farm land)(6).

This in part explains how the nation unified from the civil war until WWII and was able to defend itself. However Finland lost the war and 12% of it’s land area in the east to Russia (mostly Karelia) and 12% of the population was relocated in the remaining country. The 1945 land reform legislation (Maanhankintalaki)(7) had huge implications for agriculture in Finland. The farmer population from the lost territories but also soldiers returning home had the right to get land from existing farms (55%) and the state (45%). Farms with over 25 ha field could loose 10% of their land, over 100 ha 45% and over 800 ha 80%.  In practise the law eliminated big farms from Finnish speaking Finland (Farmers in Swedish speaking municipalities could buy land from Finnish speaking regions to compensate. This was because of language sensitivity). And the law made the countryside’s landless population (returning soldiers who were not land-owners) into small land owners. A lot of the farmland was claimed from forest especially in eastern and northern Finland. In Karjalohja after the war 20% of the population was Karelian – i.e. from the lost territories. The combined effect of the 1918 and 1945 land reforms was that Finland became a country of smallholder farms most of which – especially in the north and east of the country –  depended on forest work (man + horse) for additional income in the winter season.

The number of farms in Finland was its highest in 1960’s, appr. 300000 farms. The tide changed very fast by mechanisation of farming but even more by mechanisation of forestry work whereby smallholder farmers lost their winter income. This again led to huge outflow of population to cities and even to Sweden from the 1960’s onward especially from eastern and northern Finland.

Agricultural policy in Finland after WWII had the aim to offer the farming population an income that was comparable to industry workers and to maintain self-sufficiency in food. This lead to a system where the domestic market was protected against imports, agricultural products had a guaranteed market at a guaranteed – and ever higher – price and the government covered the cost of exporting the over production. It led to an intensification of farming in terms of chemical inputs and machinery. Farms were family farms and their size grew only slowly as there was no real incentive. From the 1960’s on the government tried to decrease overproduction by schemes whereby farmers were paid for not farming a part of their fields or for planting fields into forest. This was called ”packaging” fields (peltojen paketointi 1969) and often was implemented on the same land that had been cleared from forest in the -50’s.

By the time Finland joined the EU farm-gate prices in Finland were double average EU prices and 4 times world market prices. Joining the EU agricultural policy system overnight was a dramatic change for farmers. The drop in farm-gate prices was covered by the EU and national subsidies that amounted to 40% of the farming sector income. Despite that and growing farm sizes the profitability of conventional farms has decreased year by year.

Trends in Finnish agriculture since the early 1990’s have been:

  • Decreasing number of farms that have grown in size.
  • The active farms leasing increasing acreage from the inactive farms.
  • Decreased usage of chemical fertilisers compared to pre-EU levels.
  • More farmers with additional income outside the farm or non-farming entrepreneurship.
  • Decreasig income and profitability of farms.
  • Dairy production moving north and east in the country.
  • Southern Finnish farms focusing in cereals, pork, poultry and speciality crops.
  • Bigger animal production units.
  • Increasing organic production.
  • Increasing direct sales from farms.

While I couldn’t find statistics about the development in Karjalohja the same trends have been true here. The number of active farms has decreased, very few of them have animal husbandry and many are organic. Most – if not all – active farmers have additional income from other sources like machine work, cottage rental and employment outside the farm.


Karjalohja has an interesting recent history as an ”alternative” community, which begun in the 1970’s with a few families establishing family caring for mentally handicapped people (4). In the 1980’s these families initiated the founding of a small Steiner School inspired village school which started it’s first class in 1984 in Heponiemi. Over the years after that tens of families have moved to Karjalohja and Sammatti (small former municipality north of Karjalohja also merged to Lohja) in order to put their children in the only countryside Steiner school in Finland. The school is called Sammatin Vapaa Kyläkoulu. It has been said that becoming ”karjalohjalainen” or local in Karjalohja takes a lifetime. However now, due to the diversity of the population, it is much easier to integrate in Karjalohja than in most rural communities in Finland.

The village has limited services with one supermarket (Sale), a pharmacy, one bank (Säästöpankki) and a service station including a shop selling some hardware and a restaurant bar and a library. The Post office is in Sammatti (managed by the supermarket). There is a municipal health care center and a public school (classes 1 to 9). On the north side of the village is Päiväkumpu spa including a 25 m swimming pool and restaurant and hotel.

Mobility is very much based on cars even though there are bus connections via Lohja to Helsinki 6 times per day on weekdays and 2 times in the weekends. The small supermarket in Karjalohja is surprisingly good in terms of organic food due to the somewhat unusual demographics. The hypermarket in Lohja is only slightly better. The closest hardware stores are in Lohja and Karjaa, both about 30 km from us. The Karjalohja open market is on summer Saturdays.

Lohja and Karjaa are the main locations for services and shops that can not be found in Karjalohja.

The supermarket is only 3 km from Iso-orvokkiniitty and doable by walking or bicycle.


On a more personal note I would like to revert to the subject of history of agriculture. I remember when starting my agronomy studies in Helsinki University we had a compulsory course on Agriculture Politics. The lectures were held in the big main auditorium of the faculty. At some point I was brave enough to ask the professor why we didn’t study anything at all about the history of agriculture. He replied that knowledge of the history was not necessary. I was dumbfounded – and still am. Anybody can check who was professor of Agriculture Politics in Helsinki University in 1981. An other anecdote from that time was the professor of agriculture technology saying that the main problem with horses is that it has no rotating part from were to take out power. I also remember explaining to the professor of plant husbandry why plant root systems leak carbohydrates into the soil. At that time researchers were trying to figure out how to stop it…

In 1986-1988 I was farm advisor of the Biodynamic Association in Finland. In my lectures to farmers I told the history of farming as a continuum from slash-and-burn to cultivating fields with no rotation to 2-year rotations (the open-field system) and finally to a proper crop-rotation. Essentially the no-rotation and 2-year rotation systems were based on importing nutrients from the meadows and forest via animal manure to the fields. Only the innovation of crop rotation with nitrogen-fixing leguminous plants, growing fodder on fields and transforming the meadows to fields enabled a sharp increase in the productivity of agriculture in Europe. This innovation was made in northern France in the 17th century and reached Finland in late 19th century moving slowly north. What happened next was the fossil fuel based industrial revolution which also made production of chemical fertilisers possible. Chemical fertilisers reached Finland after WWII – in the northern parts before crop rotations were ever introduced. In the late 1980’s you could still meet old farmers who had never accepted chemicals in their farming system and considered following the moon’s phases as self-evident. Many of them were attracted by biodynamics.

To me organic farming is a continuum of the crop rotation farming system – and we need to get back on that track. Anybody reading this has lived all his or her life in this temporary cheap energy fossil fuel bubble. Now using fossil fuels needs to end or fossil fuels will end us.  A food system that is based on fossil fuels and which uses multiple times more energy than it produces must change.



(1) Kallio, Veikko. 2005. Karjalohja: Itsenäisen väen pitäjä. Karjalohjan Historiayhdistys.
(2) Tuomo Tukkinen: 2014. Karjalohja entisyyttä I, Karjalohja entisyyttä II.
(3) https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rautakausi
(4) https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uudenmaan_historia
(5) Alanen, T., Kepsu, S. 1989. Kuninkaan kartasto Suomesta 1776-1805. Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.

(6) https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laki_vuokra-alueiden_lunastamisesta

(7) Kaikki kotona Toivossa ja Rauhassa : ammatillista perhehoitoa 40 vuotta Karjalohjalla. 2015.

(8) Suomen maatalouden historia. Osa 1. 2003. Perinteisen maatalouden aika esihistoriasta 1870-luvulle. SKS.

(9) Suomen maatalouden historia. Osa 2. 2004. Kasvun ja kriisien aika. 1870 luvulta 1950 luvulle. SKS.

(10) Suomen maatalouden historia. Osa 3. 2004. Suurten muutosten aika. Jälleenrakennuskaudesta EU Suomeen. SKS.

(11) Jari Niemelä. 2008. Talonpoika toimessaan. 234 s. SKS.



This article is part of my Permaculture Diploma Portfolio.

Previous article: 60 Degrees North, 23 East

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