Female forest owner with her own forest garden

By: Josipa Bicanic and Anne Mette Nordfalk

Pia Willumsen is 54 years old and lives in a small village in the north-eastern corner of Denmark. When she and her husband bought their house 20 years ago with a total of 5 ha. land, it came with a grown out noble fir plantation that used to be harvested for ornamental greens. She instantly became a forest owner of tall, impressive, 30-year-old noble firs. “Trees have always fascinated me, the big old trees, the fact that they have been here for so long and the young ones, that become big out of nothing,” Pia says. For many years she and her husband had full time jobs in engineering, and a family to raise, so the plantation was left as it was. Sometimes they’d fell a tree here and there for firewood. 

From Plantation to high Density

The plantation was getting very old and the trees had begun to be uprooted during bigger storms. So, when the market became favorable, after many years of bad market conditions to sell noble fir, she decided to fell most of the tree plantation and do something new with her forest land. Being a member of Danish Forestry Extension, she got professional help on how to fell and market her trees. She decided to plant a forest garden, which is a diverse and climate resilient planting system: “We planted with high biodiversity, with berries, fruit and nut trees, imitating a growing forest. We have 30 different species and 130 varieties. Almost 3 ha. are planted and there is a 1 ha. area for free range chickens.”

Positive experiences as a forest association member

As a female forest owner, using the services of a male-dominated forestry sector, Pia has only had positive experiences. She smiles and says: “Maybe they laughed at me when I turned my back. I have for sure said some funny things, but that’s not because I am a woman, but because I don’t know anything about forests. I have only met inspiration and help and equality from Danish Forestry Extension.” 

Pia doesn’t know any women that own a forest: “It’s mainly couples and it’s often the husband that takes charge. In reality, I think, this is because of history and tradition.” Pia has always been interested in forests: “In ninth grade, I had an internship as a forester,” she tells. Afterwards, she chose to study engineering. She has held various managerial positions before she came back to the forest with many job experiences under her belt: “I feel that I started (the forest garden, red.) at exactly the right time in my own career path. It would of course be better if I were 20 years younger, so that I didn’t have aches and pains all over and could be more physically active, but then I would not have had all the experience, which makes it possible for me to do everything myself,” she explains.  

Some of her past experiences Pia finds very useful is the ability to read laws and policies and find pragmatic solutions, or as she expresses it, “to challenge the law pragmatically.” Because she is cultivating a forest garden, this is a category of land use that is neither recognized as agriculture nor forestry, so she often has to be very creative when trying to meet the requirements and regulations of different authorities. 

Overall, Pia’s past career background means that she can do many of the things herself when it comes to running her forest garden as a business. She adds that she also is “good at picking up the phone to ask around.” She feels for the persons that are not able to do this, thinking that it is too bad if a person is really good at cultivating the land but would need expensive consultants to help with complicated laws and regulations.   

Creative Women and Climate Change

Pia has no doubt in her mind that her forest garden with its big versatility is one part of the solution for the changing climate. “I believe that the way I have chosen to cultivate, which includes building up the soil’s humus layer is very important in relation to a climate strategy.”

It is necessary for Pia to get her diverse assortment of products and her business to become profitable, and this requires a strong vision and a creative approach, something for which Pia believes women may have a special talent: “It may be that you, as a woman, are not so physically strong, neither am I myself, and then you have to have someone to help you, but I think we women are very visionary and visual. This is maybe required to be able to plant in this way.”

According to Pia, women are more often part of projects for testing new methods. Even though thinking in men and women categories doesn’t make sense to her, she believes that more women in traditional forestry could be nice. “I just think it is an advantage that more women come in, so there is a good balance. Women come up with other ways of doing things and perhaps women are also more open-minded.”

Read the article in Danish

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