Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The apple trade...

Sometimes it is so hard keeping my desk clean. I think when most people make the transition from being a child to being an adult they need to find some philosophical bridge that allows them to make this journey understandable. I am of course speaking here of people who are conscious of the need to make this transition, rather than those who are raped or who are taken before they are ready, as is often the case. To me the difference between a child and an adult is the recognition of one's responsibilities. Obviously we all know people who live far into their physical maturity without ever really being encumbered by too much necessary baggage and of course there are those who start saving for the future from that first slice of currency grandma and grandpa slide into their crib. My bridge, or perhaps we could call it my deal, is that I still demand to feel in some physical way my connection to my responsibilities. I don't like to simply dismiss the elements of life as insignificant so as to make then slide through easier, I like the feel of reality, I don't mind the weight.

But we don't win all our battles, do we? And we are certainly not successful in keeping all of our promises. I guess a lot of people use this as their bridge or at least choose to blame others for their failures, a national past time in this neck of the woods. But I still take my losses hard; I don't like them one bit and I demand that the battle be fought with alacrity at least until the point of failure is so obvious that any really responsible man would have to agree that it is time to cut one's losses. "And the strength to know the difference" is part of the alcoholics creed; "If I have weaknesses don't let them blind me" is how Paul Simon phrased it…twice.

But the real problem I think is not that the desk is messy but the corridor. This is not metaphoric, I am really talking about the corridor of our house and specifically about the 60 lbs of apples sitting in that corridor that are starting to get fragrant right now.

As I am sure you all know by now we have the good fortune to have a dacha farm with 16 mature apple trees on it. This has been the greatest apple year in probably the last two decades and we are simply flooded with apples every week. Normally, we deal with the 200 lbs we collect by trying to sell the unblemished 20% on the market and we juice or make jam from the rest. But this week we had a tragedy when our juicer went down, and this opened up a lot of possibilities for alternative solutions, none of which seemed worth doing, hence the now winey apples in our corridor.

It is kind of complex to explain all of this but I will give it a try.

Now firstly, I am a believer in apple juice. And as we have two children around here, having juice is just great, a million times better than cola. And then there are the other recipes that can be made from apple juice such as jellies, sauces, syrups and, of course, wine and vinegar. But also I believe in juicing our 2nd grade apples because there is nothing else to do with them. During the summer and fall when the apples come in to market naturally, you have to compete with all of the other sellers and the state shops for customers so both trade is slow and the price falls to very unappealing levels. So really, the only viable answer is to juice them

So, this is what we do and really, they are selling a lot of juicers this year. But let's say you are the entrepreneurial type and would want to simply make production juice business. Firstly, there are many, many health certificates and licenses that a private juice concern would need to be able to sell. All of these licenses of course come along with a payment and when you add the cost of obtaining all of the certificates and licenses to the cost of obtaining and maintaining a workable juice press, refrigerator and transport, you have just left a Belarusian's ability to play. What all of this means is that the state is pretty much the sole buyer of second grade apples for juice.

Ok, so you want to sell your apples to the state monopoly. Well, the state truck comes through the villages and had been buying the apples for 100 rubles (about 2 cents) a kilo until they realized how many apples they were getting and dropped the price to 60 rubles (1.29 cents), or about $1.00 for a 35lb bag. Now personally, this number offends me because once you factor in what kind of value you get from making juice, selling your apples to the government is a waste of time especially when you figure that a bottle of really crappy alkash wine (What the state does with its apples) costs a buck for a ½ litre bottle.

Now Mike Miller shared a theory with me about how I would be basically making a donation to the government with these apples and that because the state is taking care of me, allowing for social services, free education and medicine and such I should make this donation with pleasure. I suppose from a purely communist perspective this would make sense but really, we are not communists here any more. For people who have to scrape for every kopek, it ends up being a couple of hours of backache for nothing. A more common local opinion from the villages says that the government is being too selfish in their thinking and irresponsible for allowing the price to fall so low. To them, this is the same problem as was with the cost of milk.

This milk issue is actually pretty interesting. The state was also pretty much the only buyer for fresh cow's milk collected by individuals who kept cows. The state of course based their prices in competition to the massive dairy farms and the cost of picking it up in its trucks. When the prices fell so low over the past few years, people had a big problem in that there was too much milk, but no where to sell it. If a local cow owner wanted to come to town and sell their milk at the market they could, but between the money needed to stand at the market, a health certificate and the money for transportation, those four or five litres of milk did not really bring enough money. And just as with apples the only remaining option other than drinking it or throwing it away was to sell it to the low paying state truck. The results of course is that the pensioners out in the villages have widely sod off their cows over the last few years so as to conserve the money it took (or land space) to feed them.

However, the great ironic by product of this is that the pensioners now need to buy milk from the local state shops with their pension money which has a resulting effect of lowering their pension's buying power and effectively, their quality of life.

So this last week we gambled that the state owned company which manufactures the juicers would send us out a replacement screen. I tried to find such a part all over town but there was simply none to be had. Yes, we could get into a conversation about a market driven economy in which a thinking store owner would be thinking service along with sales and would keep a stock on hand vs a system in which decisions made about ordering only come from people are a million miles away and have no real vested interest in making a profit. In any case, after asking four or five times, I convinced a counter girl at the local hardware store to walk the five or six meters to the back room and get us the phone number. We made the call to them at the beginning of last week, but unfortunately, and I will never be able to figure this out, rather than simply posting the individual parts when they are requested (And these things do go out to individual addresses,) the company only mails out its parts on the last day of the month. And no amount of begging on my part could convince that counter girl that the flies that are gathering in out corridor are a health risk.

Our original plan was to move up the take-home day, the day we invest in a car, to Wednesday which would allow us two extra market days to sell our grade a apples. But because the first of the money doesn't come until Thursday, we would have another week of apples sitting and rotting in our corridor.

Mike says that we should dry the apples. Now this is a good idea but I hate dried apples. We also have so much jam that we could host a diabetic's breakfast club. And we would have simply dumped the apples out on the field as fertilizer, but we had already taken the trouble to transport them to town and we can't afford a two way ride.

Oh, and one final irony: Because we have been used to 20 liters of juice going through our kitchen, we never worry about having juice to drink fresh. But as there has been a week-long gap, amazingly enough we don't have any apple juice to drink.

More soon…


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