Lappish company HaliPuu hosts tree hugging world championships and offers trees up for adoption
When Riitta Raekallio-Wunderink’s family production forest became old enough to be cut down, Raekallio-Wunderink and the family were not ready to do so. Riitta Raekallio-Wunderink’s father had lived his whole life in connection with the nature around Kittilä in Finnish Lapland, and could not bear to chop it. An entire generation had grown up visiting that piece of land and Raekallio-Wunderinks’s father, Kaarle Raekallio, did not want to see the forest gone. And neither did the rest of the family, who had gotten used to spending time in the forest.
“Father said that we should adopt them as hugging trees. I thought it was a great idea!” Raekallio-Wunderink explains. Instead of felling the forest, Raekallio-Wunderink created a concept that was altogether different - she set up a tree adoption agency HaliPuu (HugTree in English). For various prices, people can own a small part of a Lappish forest, located in a small hamlet of Veitservasa in Kittilä municipality, just 10 minutes away from the popular ski resort Levi.
Raekallio-Wunderink has offered up trees for adoption to people around the world since 2015. Their trees have adoptive parents from for example Europe, Asia, South America and even Antarctica. “Finnish people have such a special connection to the forest and we want to bring the forest closer to people everywhere,” Raekallio-Wunderink explains. People can visit their trees in person or online, and they can buy different types of accessories for their trees as well, such as mustaches and bows made out of moss, or peanut jewellery. Many accessories are available, as long as it does not disrupt the forest or the local animals.
Raekallio-Wunderink started to work on the adoption webpage and other business ventures followed, such as a campfire café by Raekallio-Wunderink’s fiancé Steffan, who is an experienced barista. “In practice, we do all kinds of things here that we see as being fun,” Raekallio-Wunderink explains their ethos. “We really want to spend time with people and not just routinely take people there,” she explains. “We want people to really be our guests and experience it,” she continues. They also do weekly livestreams from the forest and of their lives, sharing parts of their lives to thousands of people across the globe. “It needs to be meaningful to us as well, otherwise there is no joy in the business,” Raekallio-Wunderink says.
One of their main attractions is Arctic Cocooning, a hammock experience in the forest which got them an award from Finnish tourism organisation Visit Finland. Raekallio-Wunderink explains that playfulness and fun is at the heart of their business. “There are so many different ways to utilise forests, and that is one of the things that we want to bring up in our business,” Raekallio-Wunderink says and goes on to explain that she is not completely against timber business. “Wood is an excellent raw material but we had developed such a strong emotional bond towards this forest,” she explains the reasons why they chose not to cut it down.
As a new addition, last year HaliPuu organised its first tree hugging world championships, which will be hosted for a second time this year. The contestants can come from all around the world - they can take part virtually, and they had 10 different nationalities to compete last year. There was no need for travelling, since all live participants live in Kittilä municipality already.
The contestants will be competing in three categories - speed hugging, dedication and freestyle hugging. Raekallio says that last year they saw tree hugging ‘hug-robatics’ and some real dedication that everyone is expecting to see this year as well. The competition is held on the 21st of August this year and can be viewed online - due to the circumstances, the live event will be invitation only, but anyone can take part remotely! The competition is meant to be fun but it will have a more wholesome effect as well - tree hugging is said to create similar hormones that are released when hugging a loved one. So even if you are not taking part in tree hugging world championships, it might still be worth going to your nearest forest and giving the local trees a cuddle.