Finns - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Livestock raising was a major element in the Finnish peasant economy, but always in combination with activities such as fishing, hunting, tar production, and peddling. Wood as a commercial product did not become part of the farming economy until liberalized marketing policies, improved sawmilling techniques, and foreign demand for wood products converged in the late nineteenth century. The precariousness of crop cultivation in Finland, coupled with the emergence of new International markets for butter during the Russian colonial period (1808-1917), intensified production based on dairy cattle. Gradually, cultivated grasses replaced grains and wild hay as a source of cattle pasturage and fodder, and after the turn of the century farmers began establishing cooperative dairies ( osuusmeijerit ). The general shift toward commercial agriculture coincided with the decline of the old burn-beating system. Nonetheless, many farm families in northern and eastern Finland maintained an essentially subsistence orientation into the 1950s. Increased mechanization and specialization in farm production (dairy cattle, hogs, or grains) since the 1960s has occurred as the Finnish labor force has moved into manufacturing and service industries. Less than 11 percent of the labor force is now involved in agriculture and forestry. However, the rural economy is still based on modestsized family-owned farms where marketing of timber from privately owned forest tracts is an important means of financing agricultural operations. Milk is prominent in the diet as a beverage and as the basic ingredient in a variety of curdled, soured, or cultured milk products; in broths used for soups, stews, and puddings; and in regional specialty dishes such as "cheese bread" ( juustoleipa ). There are notable differences between western and eastern Finland in bread making and in the manner of souring milk.


Industrial Arts. Handicraft and artisan traditions were well developed, and some have survived the conversion to industrial manufacturing. Men specialized in making furniture, harnesses, and wooden vessels or "bushels" ( vakka ) and in various kinds of metalwork. The sheath knife ( puukko ) was a versatile men's tool, and it continues to symbolize maleness in recreational hunting and fishing contexts. Women specialized in textiles and lace making. The woven woolen wall rug ( ryijy ) has become a particularly popular art form in Finnish homes, emblematic of a family's patrimony.


Trade. By the Middle Ages local markets and fairs were important in the Finnish economy, the latter often held in the vicinity of churches and associated with saints' days or other aspects of the religious calendar. Furs and naval stores comprised a large share of the export trade at that time, much of it destined for the cities of the Hanseatic League. German and Swedish merchants were prominent in Finland's early Baltic port cities. After the mid-nineteenth century Finland's foreign trade shifted toward Saint Petersburg and Russian markets with lumber, paper, and agricultural products becoming the chief exports. Since World War II, forest products have remained crucial to Finland's export economy, but these are now complemented by sophisticated metal, electronics, engineering, and chemical products. In recent years Finland's trade with countries in the European Community has expanded and is reinforced by its membership in the European Free Trade Association.

Division of Labor. The rural economy positions women as the primary cattle tenders and men as field and forest workers. On the one hand, being a good emäntä (or farm wife) involves a deft balance of cow care, child care, food processing, meal preparations, arduous cleaning chores in both cowshed and house, and ritual displays of hospitality for visiting Neighbors, friends, and relatives. Men, on the other hand, are symbolically and practically associated with the outdoor domain, preparing and maintaining pastures and hayfields, cutting wood, coordinating labor with other farms, and operating and maintaining machinery. However, a decline in availability of work crews of kin and friends and a concomitant increase in mechanization have contributed to some convergence in male and female work roles. A complicating factor is that young Finnish women have left the countryside in greater numbers than men in recent years. Existing farms have aging personnel and few assisting family members, and some farmers are forced into bachelorhood.

Land Tenure. Historically in western Finland it was customary for a farm to be passed on to the eldest son, or possibly to the eldest daughter's husband. In eastern Finland a pattern of dividing land among all adult male family members prevailed. Such regional patterns have largely faded, and intergenerational transfers of land have become highly variable throughout Finland. Despite a bias toward patrilineal transmission, farms can be inherited by sons or daughters, oldest or youngest offspring, or they can be divided or jointly held by multiple heirs. However, at the beginning of the twentieth century a landless proletariat comprised half of Finland's rural population. A major agrarian reform was the Crofters' Law of 1918, serving to create holdings for landless rural poor and unfavorably situated tenant farmers. The latter reform also served to redistribute land to ex-servicemen and Karelian refugees in the wake of World War II.


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