Saturday 15th – From Övertorneå to Umeå and back home

At 10 am the next morning the participants jumped in the car for the drive south and the end of the tour. Before leaving Övertorneå a visit to the church and a short trip to the Finish side of the border was done.

On the 7 hours drive towards Umeå the group stopped at the Övertorneå ecovillage, in Kukkola rapids for lunch, in Luleå airport to drop off Jane and at several other places. One of the cars even had time to check out Robertsfors municipality and the Green Zone in Umeå.

Officially the tour was over at the arrival in Umeå but the remains of the group took the opportunity to have a last dinner together at the restaurant Socialize in Umeå that serves local food and beverages.

Some last goodbyes and “see-you-laters” were said and suddenly everyone found themselves walking in different directions.

The two weeks trip had indeed ended but for most people it was clear that this wasn’t the end. It was the start!

Friday 14th – SEMINAR in Övertorneå

So if was finally time for the last day of conference, taking place at the “Folkets hus” in Övertorneå.

Manfred had insisted on changing the program so that he could speak last instead of second. As it’s hard to go against the will of an 80 years old alternative nobel prize winner that has flown from Chile to attend this seminar, the morning was spent on changing the program, which wasn’t especially hard.
The bigger problem was to make the technology for the webinar work. As everyone knows technology has a tendency to not work when it really needs to and so was the case today. Because of the technical problems the schedule was delayed by about half an hour.
The vice mayor Inga Saavilahti Häggbom opened up the conference by giving a short introduction and welcome to Övertorneå. Next speaker of the day was Torbjörn that had caught a cold and had to tell about the 4 system conditions, the national happiness product and a lot of other things in a feverish delirium. Without doubt the biggest effort of the day!

Because of the technical problems the schedule had to change even more and Karl Johan Bonnedahl started instead of Björn Forsberg.

Karl Johan Bonnedahl is the assistant professor from the school of economics and business administration at Umeå University and the author of the book “Från ekonomiskt till hållbart, från exploatering till samexistens”. He talked about the need of a fundamental change in economic language and behavior among people and business. He also defined a difference between sustainable development (where the human needs are central) and coexistence (where nature’s and human needs are equal).

Björn Forsberg that finally managed to do his presentation showed a more practical picture of the same topic by giving examples of transition from all over the world. Björn is a political scientist and debater and author of the books “Tillväxtens sista dagar” and “Omställningens tid”.

After these talks the first part of the seminar was over and it was time for lunch at Hotel Tornedalia.

The afternoon started out with a presentation from two different entrepreneurs in the area; Gunhild Stensmyr presented her company “Guesthouse Tornedalen” and Hans Hietala presented his family run green house garden “Hietala handelsträdgård”.

After the presentation a discussion followed where the Sustainable Sweden tour participants got to share their experiences from Sweden together with locals. Many different topics were discussed and it was hard to end it for the fika break.

In the informal circle Manfred held his last speech in dialogue with the participants.

After this the formal seminar was over and the crowd scattered in many different directions. Some of the participants went to a store called Simu to check out the local handicraft, others stayed, went for a walk in the rainy windy weather or enjoyed a beer and a sauna at the hotel.

The last formal dinner was held at the restaurant of the hotel. Reindeer stew was on the menu together with the mandatory (according to Manfred) red and white wine. Even some New Zealand wine came on the table as a treat from Ed.

Totally independent from the intake of wine the night was full of discussions and toasts. Ed read a haiku, Gabriela sang “Gracias a la vida” and Manfred and Gabriela did a little waltz accompanied by Manfred’s singing.

Happy but exhausted the participants went to bed, looking forward to sleep in a bit before leaving the next morning.

September 13th – Övertorneå

The tour organizers, that had been sleeping at a friend’s house, were served some boiled mouse heart for breakfast.

The rest of the participants could enjoy a more normal starting of day, and we soon all take the cars to the first study visit of the day : a farm with frontline techniques regarding the raising of cows for dairy production.

Then we made the “have-to” stop on the polar circle line, before heading to the “free school” of Hietaniemi. This school is one of the few examples of community-owned education facility of Sweden, where the parents could take over the direction of the village school to prevent the municipality from closing it. Which allows them to be very free with the way they deal with the school and the students, especially regarding the environmental themes and the pedagogical program.

Lunch was planned at the restaurant of Kattilakoski, facing Finland along the Torne river, which also owns the best smoke sauna of the region. They served us some moose meet (fresh from last Sunday) cooked with red wine.

Then we tool the road again and stopped at Juoksengi, a small village of 300 souls were Torbjörn was born, and we visited some examples of organic agriculture and eco-tourism, where we had a nice fika with the so-called “café-ost”, a piece of cheese that his to be put into coffee.

We had dinner at Koivumaa Pasture. Conversation turned around the table about “your most important bifurcation” and “the most stupid thing you’ve made”… This story telling would continue in the smoke sauna – allowing, as only saunas does, a great bounding moment.

September 12th – Boden

I think this Wednesday morning was the most pouring of the whole tour. We left Jokkmokk under the rain, but with a lot of inspiration and a unique experience of the Sami culture.

On the way back to Boden, we stopped at a little village called Vuolleryn, where Ed had the good surprise to find some wine from his very place – Nelson, New-Zealand. The main study visit of the day was the biogas plant of Boden “BiogasBoden”, where we could meet again Katarina Wennman, the environmentalist from the municipality.

Helene Henriksson, the waste water engineer of the company, guided us through the different facilities of the plant, that is converting sludge and household organic waste into methane. Thanks to this extra energy supply, they are able to provide 8 local buses, 50 private cars and 2 garbage trucks with biofuel.

Then the 9 participants, followed by a persistant biogas smell, came back to Boden’s center to have lunch together. The rest of the day was a lot of driving (a few round-abouts, a few fikas and a lot of stories) up to the final point of the trip ; Övertorneå.

The group could take a short walk in town before we had dinner at the hotel Tornedalia. A very nice evening indeed where the participants had a chance to taste some “surströmming” – the famous swedish fermented haring. Kristina, from the municipality of Övertorneå was here as well. Everyone gave a hand to the preparation of the meal (a little bit of cooking for once) which requires midnight-sun-grown potatoes, some onions, northern Sweden crispy bread – and snaps of course. Incredible enough, no one seemed to complain about the rotten fish that we made them eat.

Sludge, surströmming….yeah that’s it, I am going to call this day the “smelly day”.

Tuesday 11th – JOKKMOKK

After an unusually sunny sustainable sweden tour the weather had decided to show some diversity and offered cold rain for the participants in Jokkmokk. Only Sara, as she’s such a strong, fit and fantastic human being, dared to go outside for a morning jog.

The day started at 9 o clock at Ajtte the swedish mountain and same museum with a round table (without the table) discussion together with local people from Jokkmokk.

After all the world’s problem had been solved it was time for the obligatory fika followed by a guided tour around the museum. Full of knowledge about the Sami (the indigenous people of Sweden) culture and history the participant enjoyed a lunch at the restaurant of the museum.
After lunch the participants took the two cars and drove one hour to Kvikkjokk, a village close to the world heritage of Laponia and the National park Sarek. Without saying too much it was a pretty beautiful ride.

At one of the mountain stations with access to the walking track “Kungsleden” the sami and chairman of Laponiatjuottjudus Michael Teilus talked about the work with the Laponiaprocess. The Laponiaprocess is a project that works with sami self-governance in the development of the worldheritage Laponia.

After a short look around in the area and a lot of photographing it was time to take the cars back to Jokkmokk.
Together with Wolfgang Mehl and Tiina Jaatinen, the organizers of the day, the group had traditional reindeer stew at the restaurant of Hotel Jokkmokk before everyone called it a night.

Monday 10th- Boden

Our first and only lazy morning of the Tour got us to start the studyvisit of the Eco-Municipality of Boden at 9.30.

We had a rendez-vous with Katarina Wennman in an old house, a municipal building which actually was a former primary school, the oldest of Boden. Katarina is an environmental engineer that had been part of the process of the very first Eco-municipality in Sweden, Övertorneå, back in the 1980s. Since this first experience she had been working in Boden, first as an engineer, but then as an “ecologist” from the moment the organization worked on Agenda 21 and turned into an Eco-municipality in 1997.

She told us a in a very simple and honest way about her work, her successful projects and the obstacles she has to face day to day with her colleges and the politicians.

Among the most interesting of the projects she undertook she outlined a project called “Biking for Health”, in which 10 citizens of the municipality signed a “contract” for 3 years about changing their transport habits : in brief, the municipality of Boden offered the bike, and the participants had to use it (or public transport if case of bad weather) 80% of all their daily travels. In the end, 7 of them totally changed their life-styles and chose to keep the bike – a real success.

We had lunch with her before welcoming Thomas Fägerman in the conference room, who talked about a European Union funded project called “North Waste Infrastructure”. This 3-year cooperation project is gathering the municipality of Boden, small-size companies, the county of Norrbotten and the University of Luleå in a research program on sustainable waste management. Among their main targets, the increase of biogas production in the region, the development of fertilizers made from waste, the improvement of the waste combustion process and the development of biofuels.

The conversation was very much oriented towards the way society could “return” to the eco-system the energy, the nutrients or whatever it takes from it – in brief the question was : “how to close the loop?”.

After this interesting work-shop, we got back Manfred and Gabriela from Luleå’s airport and made a small detour for a bit of sightseeing at Storfosen, the biggest waterfalls in Europe. Photos talk by themselves.

Then, without even being aware of it, we crossed the artic circle on our way to Jokkmokk (“river’s curve” in sami language).

Sunday 9th – Luleå

The night train was surprisingly incredibly comfortable. For a train I mean. Hence that the 7 participants left of us arrived fresh and rested at Luleå on a cold and sunny Sunday morning.

Lena Bengten, from the Eco-Municipality of Luleå, was waiting for us there to guide us through a little sightseeing of the town, which center is located on the peninsula facing the Baltic Sea.

We could have a 360° view of the rest of the area from the roof of the municipal building, where Lena made some presentations about the sustainable city planning of Luleå’s municipality and the Vision they designed for 2050. We could hold really interesting conversations and debates due to our small group size.

For lunch we could taste the famous “Västerbotten’s pie”, made from the regional very good (and very expensive) cheese “Västerbottens Ost”.

The afternoon followed with several studyvisits all around the town. We had an outside view of the energy/district heating power plant from the other side of the river. We also stopped to see some biking roads projects. Finally we came to the “community gardens” of the biggest housing area of Luleå, a paradise of small Swedish wooden houses and family gardens with flowers and vegetables.

In the end of the afternoon, we climbed up in the cars again to get to “Gammelstads” : the old town/harbour of Luleå that is classified today as a world’s heritage, and which village’s church and houses remain intact.

There we walked into a yard, with an old house and a garden. Inside there were paintings, photos, music instruments lying on the old walls, a check game on a table, and Elin-Alexandra Sundström waiting for us. We enjoyed a Fika with home made redcurrant cake while she would explain us the history of the house.

The place we walked into was actually a conserved house from the 17th century that she made into an “alternative culture scene”, or “KulturGården”. In this public free space, she welcomes people and neighbors every saturday for concerts, flee-markets, art expositions…or just for a fika. An impressive and valuable initiative that would allow us to get deeper into the question of “how to create a community feeling”.

Then we took a walk in the village in the late afternoon with the sun beaming down slowly behind us.

The participants were hosted in a guest house inside the village, from which we could walk to Margareta’s fancy restaurant for a dinner and a cup of wine before going to sleep.

No mention will be made of the way the organizers of the Tour got lost in Luleå on their way to the friends that were hosting them for the night.

Saturday 8th – Huddinge / Stockholm

Today was the last day of the first part of the Tour, and it had a little taste of nostalgy already, since a big amount of participants were to leave us in Stockholm.

But not before enjoying together a last swedish breakfast, a last fika and a last study visit day.

The program was to take the bus up to Huddinge, an eco-municipality that is part of the Stockholm county (about 20 km from the swedish capital), and – that is to say – has the first and biggest IKEA worlwide.

Johanna Pettersson welcomed us at the municipal office for a presentation of the sustainability work of the municipality. Jonas Andersson actually took care of the speech about the sustainable principles that the municipality adopted.
Then he let the place for Marcel Moritz, for a very interesting debate about “participation”. Indeed he showed us a little movie about the Community Workshop made for the “Sustainable Huddinge” planning project in 2010, in which citizens from all generations could participate.
Particularly interesting was the participation tools and strategies that he presented : information, consultation, dialogue, cooperation, co-decision making. Manfred Max-Need would had to this list a 6th tool in last instance : civil disobedience, as a way for citizens to be heard and to participate despite the politicians…
This whole discussion – that we had unfortunately too little time to really deepen – was very much about understanding how to build a sense of community and trust within the citizens and the municipality at the local level – that is to say, the basis for a sustainable change process.

Then the perfectly scheduled (for a change) organizers of the day took us to Sundby Gård, for another wonderfully tasty “brunch” that was likely to make us stay there forever, not to mention the dessert…

Digestion time followed : a walk in the park, a last moment to learn some salsa dance movements, a little nap for the olders of the group and finally a nice group picture for everyone (at the occasion of which we hardly avoid sinking in the lake).

The bus took us for a last study visit at Huddinge centrum, where the farmers market (vegetables, honey, handicraft, cheese, sheep skin…) took place.

Stockholm was the last stop for most of the participants. A farewell moment when we eventually got dispossessed of a part of the family : almost all the Quebec community left, plus the two Frenchies and John Swanson from United-States. Ce n’est qu’un au revoir”, as we say in France!

Nostalgic feelings already took our hearts, but for the remaining bravest participants, this was just the beginning…
After a short sightseeing/familymeeting in Stockholm, the train will took us in the night to Northern Sweden, with its endless pine-tree forest, its swamps, its trolls and its damned mosquitoes.

Friday 7th – Järna

After a night in the kitchy hotel the day started with a bus ride to Nibble Farm where Hans von Essen, the guide for the day, introduced the Sustainable Food Society and led a tour around the “Eco trail”, passing the Anthroposophic Hospital and the Waldorf school “Örjansskolan”. A good opportunity for the participants to enjoy the beautiful countryside and breathe in the smells of hay and manure. 😀

The Eco trail led to the BERAS centre where the group got a short introduction to the “BERAS project” an agricultural project to prevent the eutrophication of the Baltic sea by practicing ecological recycling agriculture.

The introduction was followed by a demonstration of “Your 2000 squaremeters”. 2000 squaremeters per person is the sustainable area required to feed every person on the earth. The gardener …. told about her strategy for her 2000 squaremeters and answered a few questions.


By coincidence the Transition movement in Sweden had their annual meeting in Ytterjärna at the same time as the Sustainable Sweden tour was there. The two participants Natalia and Antoni were really interested in the meeting and decided to skip the ordinary program and spend the day with the Transition Sweden group. Something that they didn’t seem to regret when they came back later that afternoon.

The people staying with the regular schedule didn’t regret much either. Next study visit went to Saltå Kvarn, a company in food industry providing organic products. A quick look at the small shop and café was followed by a tour of the mill.

As a present from the people at Saltå Kvarn a little goody bag with rolled oats, raisins and apple juice were handed out to everyone.

The next study visit went to the Igelstaviken high school. Patrik Derk, the CEO for the municipal owned real estate company Telge Hovsjö AB talked about their work with sustainable development from an economic, ecologic and social view.

Then Sara Jervfors, manager of the dietary unit, explained more about the project “Diet for a clean Baltics”. The municipality of Södertälje has a goal of providing good organic food for all the schools in the municipality. In order to save money as well as increase the quality of the food they have educated cooks, serve as little ready made food as possible, cut down on the meat etc. This project has been very successful. Just by doing these things Igelstaviken high school provides the most delicious and nutritious buffé imaginable on the same budget as all the other schools in the country. The group was really lucky and got to eat their lunch at the school cantina. Most were as stuffed by the food as they were stunned by the fact that the students get that lunch for free every day.

The next two hours were open for free discussions in groups together with Patrik Derk or for a walk in the sun for the people that felt like doing that.

The last visit of the day went to the “Eco bank” located on a biodynamic farm outside Järna. The Eco bank is a conscious bank working with a triple line approach, profit, planet and people. The bank only borrows money to projects within sustainable development and the loans are only financed by deposits. The general idea is to provide an alternative within the existing system.

After the visit and a quick hello to the Transition Sweden group doing some weird kind of chanting exercise (don’t ask) the group went back to the Anthroposophical centre in Ytterjärna for some free time before a last reflection time in the sunset.

Apparently it wasn’t an entirely good idea to let french and quebecan people have too much free time referring to the very bruised and scratched Julien returning from it. Whether the bruises were caused by the murder attempt of a quebecan participant or from the battle with a swedish viking never became totally clear.

That the first week had already passed was hard for most people to comprehend. Everyone seemed to have learnt a lot, both from each other and from the study visits and had fun while doing it. The importance of having fun was pointed out by many. As Mathieu expressed it: “We need to make sustainability sexy (fun) in order to make it popular”. Hopefully the Sustainable Sweden tour has taken the first step in that direction.

The last dinner was once again held at Ytterjärna restaurant with a delicious buffé made on local food.

After the dinner the party was moved to the hotel were red wine was mixed with songs from different parts of the world. When the improvisational jamming woke the bus driver up the party had to move upstairs where the party continued until late night.

Not much sleep that night but lots of fun!