The village of Ansmark is situated about 9.5 km south of Umeå, a village in the countryside but centrally located. Ansmark is close to Umeå, but still in the country. Ewa Wahlberg lives here – and this is where she runs her company OF nature. The farm is quite large, an old agricultural property that divided into lots when Ewa and her family bought it. There is a little land that enables her to have pasture land for horses. "It's so well located, the farm is right next to the forest. There are many sandy areas, and we are actually only 8 kilometres from the sea as the crow flies. You can cycle to the sea along sandy roads”.
Ewa has a long career in health care behind her. She first worked in psychiatry, then moved into stress rehabilitation where she worked as OF Nature Ansmark, Västerbotten rehabilitation coordinator for 16 years “We rehabilitated patients with exhaustion disorders. The focus of stress rehab is exhaustion, I worked a lot on developing work training places. That is why I long ago started to take an interest in the effects of nature”. In stress rehab, we worked with Forslunda, which had a type of green rehab aimed at Umeå municipality’s employees. "I felt that everyone suffering mental ill-health or stress would benefit from being able to stay in such an environment as a work preparatory step, but also as work rehabilitation. An environment such as this reveals a lot, work ability, functional ability...”
On the farm in Ansmark there are hens and ducks, dogs and cats. "I have had two horses. My daughter and I have always kept horses. This has been for our own rehabilitation. I recently felt that the horses were taking up such a lot of time that I chose to leave them for a while – because I want to work on these issues. Then we’ll see. Actually, my first thought was to use the horses here and introduce horse-assisted initiatives. But then I thought a bit more and I felt that I didn't want to start like that – the horses will always be there, but I want to work more with rehabilitation using nature and the farm. We are building a garden, not very sophisticated or very large, but we are going to have a garden. There are good opportunities for cultivation and we have plenty of room. We also have a barn that I used for presence exercises and motivational discussions during the health-measurement project via the Nordic Nature Health Hub. This is also a environment very close to nature. That has been the point of all this, being able to use the environment. I really want to be part of environmental awareness, for example, we are going to have a really nice incinerator toilet – so that people think about those aspects!”
“The idea is to be able to receive people suffering from mental ill-health, perhaps due to spending too much time at home, and people with stress-related ill-health, for a few hours at a time. My idea is to have these activities on the farm, to grow things, to stay with the animals or whatever people want to do - but also to carry out some seasonal activities.
The target group for OF Nature is primarily people of working age who come via projects or government agencies: "If we’re talking about resolving stress-related problems, that is my area of expertise. So customers get the most out of that, and they get the most out of me! That is what I think, because I can give them the tools, and then I can really try to work proactively, for those who have ended up with this problem”. But Ewa is also open to taking private customers if the situation requires it. "I've tried it and had a few different packages, also in summer – something I called Health Boost.
The discussion around the restorative effect of nature has become more and more relevant in recent years. "People are now talking about it, it is out there, it is in the media, there are often different stories and research reports emerging. It has become so visible. And why does we have a culture that insists conversations should take place inside a room in the hospital. We can just as well use nature for this. This is what I believe!’
/Text: Sara Kåll-Fröjdö & Maria Hofman-Bergholm, Yrkeshögskolan Centria, january 2020
/Photo: OF Nature
Read more about our chat with Ewa here (in Swedish)