Tuesday, March 22, 2005

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Yesterday I got to talking about doing some farming and I thought I had better make the situation a little more clear about the dacha. First of all, if you don’t know what a dacha is it is sort of a cross between a weekend cabin and a garden. Generally dachas are one acre parcels (35 Sotok- 3500 square meters) out in the villages. The Dacha system was a part of the Soviet Union after all private farm lands were confiscated and turned into Kalhoz, Kolectivne Haizon in Russian; collective ownership. The rules for such places were that the size of the individual plots be no more than I have mentioned, that no one person should own more than one of them and that certain amounts of produce such as meat or Milk or their equivalent value in money be paid annually to the state as a tax. The USSR collectivized the farmers, gave all lands to the public trust and everybody went to work for the state doing all what their families had done before privately. They rebuilt the villages as tiny towns, each with a small plat of land, a small house and a small general store nearby. These are called villages and if you have a place in the village but generally live in town, the place is known as your dacha.
(Note: The word dacha translates to cottage, but I feel that in the culture it is also related to the word zadacha, which is task or problem. Or in other words, it is a place for work rather than pleasure)

We have such a place and, like everybody who is either living in the villages or using the place as a weekend deal, we try to grow as much of our own food as we can there. This is not only normal but also a necessity of life here in Belarus because of how little money there is for people from their jobs. The mean wage here is still probably a little less than $100 a month. So you simply have to supplement your food supplies if you do not wish to starve.
Our little plot, I call it the Big Apple Farm, has its merits. There are older fruit trees (Hence the double entendre) and a nice sized strawberry patch in place so we receive quite a bit of fruit already.

But we will also grow about 5000 meters of Potatoes and several hundred head of cabbages, Beets, pickles, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, onions and garlic- all staples. Some we will try to sell at the market and most we will eat ourselves. It is a hell of a lot of work.
Now I will admit, and this is probably because I am new to it, that I do get a thrill out of eating something I grew myself. This is an everyday thrill for me here, but it is still a thrill nevertheless. But there is a difference between needing to do your gardening and doing it for sport or pleasure. And there is a difference between having a farm that allows for a proper income and one which won’t do anything but feed you, and then only if you are lucky or very good at it.
Last year I was new to it and not very good at it and that was a problem. I was not good at it and my back is no longer built for it. So there was that, plus we had no money for proper tools or bug sprays or other things one needs. Even in our case, as I mentioned yesterday, enough for some butter or cooking oil for the pan. And I had to do all of the work pretty much alone because Tanya was working (and she was pregnant) and grandpa was sick and had grandma taking care of him daily so the job of taking care of the farm fell to me.
I did the best I could but as I said I wasn’t good at it so we didn’t really have the best results possible. I mean we got something back- but not anything near what we wanted to feel comfortable. It is so hard.
So I studied this winter and this year there should be a bit of help available. We are still screwed though on money, perhaps not exactly as horrible as last year, but we are not fat. Fat… No, I mean we are seriously fucked but we have enough for seeds and some shit for the field, something we couldn’t even afford last year. And maybe a hotplate so I don’t have to do all of the cooking on the wood stove.
Beans and peas.

You know I like beet greens. Sugar beets I guess they are called. Burakee here. I ate a lot of young beets last year. Used the whole plant. Boiled potatoes and beet greens fried with onion, garlic and hears on the wood stove- the only heat we have. A cup of tea made from water from the well. Pancakes made from water and flour and soda… add some apple and sugar for flavor. Boiled cabbage. Kasha or potatoe cakes. If I could get to the river there might be some fish. Or, if there was a few rubles I could add some cheap baloney. We don’t have animals (though I would like to have a goat to eat the weeds)- Maybe some eggs now and then if there was something to trade. Do you know that I always felt good while walking through the beans; it was almost sexual. I grew great beans last year but for whatever reason, I always felt good when I walked through the area where they were growing. And peas are just gifts- delicious straight from the pod…
Life in the village.
And so this is going to be my job again. I call it my job but I am looking for more. I am looking on the web for work. I am working on the new book. But maybe I can find someone to let me work from here we will be ok. Otherwise eventually I will have to leave and try to find something elsewhere because there simply isn’t enough money. And that won’t be so good because if this is what it comes to, when I do, I will not only be leaving Belarus, I will be leaving my family. And they do need me. Absolutely. And not just as labor. There is a 9-year-old who needs direction. There is a grandmother who is now a widow as of three weeks ago. And there is my 3-month old daughter and Tanya who needs to be at home with her. It is not just money you see, I am very much needed.
So I am working my ass off to help. I wish I was better but I am afraid I am not very good at it. I say this because we just don’t have enough, because we need better results, better answers, more production. I have to find a way to do more.
It is March 21st. For what it is worth, I am 6 days shy of my 41st birthday. And the seeds for the tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and artichokes (my pet project) gets started this week.

Feels like spring I guess.