In January, we published an article on female forest owners in Sweden – Women of the woods. Linnea Claesdotter is one of them and this is the story about Linnea, her forest property Stjärntorp and her decision to take on the challenge of being a full-time entrepreneur in the forestry sector.
In May 2019 Linnea left Stockholm and moved back to Stjärntorp farm, where she grew up, to give her family’s forestry a fair chance. However, she and her brother have been running the business since 2011 when their mother lost her struggle against cancer.
– The reason for us taking over was tragic, and just thinking about going back to the farm evoked a lot of emotion. But I have always had an interest in my mother’s work and our forest. I was curious – what would it be like to move back home and to be in charge of our business?
So Linnea made the leap. She started out taking a year off from her job as a project leader in the sports movement to work actively in the family business and study forestry at the University. Later on, she quit her office job in Stockholm all together. Linnea’s brother is a co-owner but is not involved in daily operations.
Linnea is getting to know her woodland by taking on the many challenging tasks that are involved in forestry management, both practically and in the more strategic business sense.
– At first, when I looked back, I felt like I hadn’t accomplished anything. You want the results to show and happen fast, but few things, if any, are more long-term oriented than forestry. Now I can see that I’ve done quite a lot this first year. And I’ve learned to accept that the actions I take will probably not serve me, but generations to come.
Trial and error and patience are natural ingredients in Linnea’s new reality. But this is an age of great frustration for foresters and other people who are living off the land.
– Some days this profession is very tough emotionally. The effects of climate change are so very tangible – inevitable in my everyday life. The bark beetle infestation is one example, attacking trees because of draught, and the forest fires. There has been a big increase in helicopters circulating to spot smoke and fires the last five years. Plus, you’re never truly off work – there’s not even a thin line between work and private life. That makes it difficult not to be sad when my forest is suffering.
To broaden and deepen her knowledge as well as the possibilities for future development, Linnea is also a student – taking distance courses in “Economics of forestry enterprise and law” and “Sustainable small-scale forestry at Linnæeus University.
– I enjoy the courses very much. The one teaching entrepreneurship is both exciting and inspiring – there are so many directions and options to choose from in terms of forestry development. Looking at non-traditional business opportunities, like tourism for example.
Today, the better part of Stjärntorp’s 120 hectares of wood consist of young spruce. But Linnea aims to change that in the future and planted some Douglas spruce, larch and deciduous forest this spring.
– My grandfather, who managed the forestry before my mother took over, had a strict strategy to maximise revenue – spruce all over. It’s still a fact, but mixing is healthy for nature and animal life and in that sense, it can be good for business in a long-term perspective. In part because mixed forests cope better with draught, storms and pest-attacks.
– I’m not in this alone. That wouldn’t be an option. My stepfather and my fiancé are my much appreciated “farmhands”, unpaid except for the occasional lunch. And then there are the farmers nearby who help me out a lot. Not being afraid to ask questions nor of asking for help, is a must.
There is a monoculture in forestry but in the face of intensifying climate change and resource scarcity, there is a growing interest in mixed-species plantations. Linnea and many of her fellow forest owners push the need for “site adapted regenerations” – planting the species that the particular land is optimised for.
– Site adaption is one example of the sustainable forestry of the future. I feel there´s a big need for dialogue between private foresters and the authorities involved in forest-related issues. Foresters feel they need to run their business in a certain way to meet the demands of the market, but there are other profitable options than producing pulp wood. I look forward to being a part of the change in the industry. The big companies in the wooden industry are doing a great job when it comes to sustainable solutions – leading the way by inventing new building materials and fabrics. It’s impressive and inspiring! Maybe I will look for work at one of those companies at one point in my life.
Linnea is the treasurer on the board of Spillkråkan the organisation assembling women forest owners in Sweden mentioned earlier. She came across the network in 2018 as she looked for courses and greater understanding of forestry. After attending a lecture event in Stockholm, Linnea introduced herself and offered her help.
– I started out in Spillkråkan’s genus team and was recently chosen as a board member. I find it extremely valuable to be part of this network of women – quite a few of them 20 or 30 years older than me – with great knowledge, experience and drive. I’ve gotten a lot of support since I took over Stjärntorp and I hope to be able to pay it forward to other young foresters as I grow wiser.
Linnea is feeling some pressure because of the unspoken expectations of making sure the family farm and woodland stay in good shape. But more than that, she appreciates the beauty and value of taking on a legacy that has been passed down through generations. And Linnea has the drive to make Stjärntorp thrive
– To do this well, I need to understand every aspect of owning and running a forest property. By engaging in the ”hard labour” and practical tasks I get a better sense of what the contractors I hire are doing. In a couple of years, I might not still be involved in every step, but at this early stage, learning and spending a lot of time in the woods is a priority.
– The most rewarding thing about being a forester is the luxury of stepping into my woodland just to listen to its sounds and look up at the treetops. It makes me calm and proud, as I can see that my efforts are paying off.
Thank you for telling your story Linnea and for your commitment to sustainable forestry and gender equality!
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