Russia's dacha gardens feed body and soul

Summer retreats provide not only solace but lots of produce – and even more of it now, amid economic hard times.

By , Correspondent

  • close
    Home grown: Lydia Kolbetskaya stands in her greenhouse in this summer-cottage village 100 miles east of Moscow. She grows strawberries, tomatoes, and more – enough for the retiree to feed herself and help her daughter’s family.
    View Caption

Lydia Kolbetskaya's tiny farm is a tangle of green shoots, creepers, and bushes. She walks among the plants, proudly naming each one.

"Here are strawberries, there tomatoes, cabbages, cucumbers, garlic...."

The foliage sprawls across her marshy one-acre homestead in this dacha village about 100 miles east of Moscow. Tendrils and leaves crowd against the walls of the little cottage.

Recommended: Michelle Obama: 8 food and garden tips, stories from the First Lady

The former Moscow defense-plant worker built the dacha from scraps of wood and castoff construction materials after acquiring the place about 15 years ago. Last year, she began work on a greenhouse, where she plans to grow eggplants, grapes, and peppers.

Ms. Kolbetskaya, a pensioner, spends every summer here. Though she says she loves gardening, it's more than just a hobby: She lives on what she coaxes from the reluctant, soggy soil. The produce also helps feed her daughter's family.

"I have to do everything myself, with my own hands," she says. "Sometimes it's hard, but there's no point in complaining. No one will listen anyhow."

Russians have been feeding themselves in this way for a thousand years and, despite the mass urbanization and industrialization of the past century, it's astounding how many still migrate out to their country retreats each summer, lugging shovels, hoes, and other gardening tools (along with kids and babushkas) in their overloaded cars. According to a 2008 survey by the independent Public Opinion Fund in Moscow, a stunning 56 percent of urban Russians possess a dacha or rural "kitchen garden," and one-quarter of all Russian families still rely on home-grown fruits and vegetables for part of what they eat.

Those figures may be more pronounced this year, as a fresh economic crisis sweeps over the country. At least 3 million Russians have lost their jobs since last September, bringing the unemployment rate to above 10 percent. Consumer spending has also plunged.

History suggests that, in times of hardship, Russians take their gardening much more seriously. Amid the crushing post-Soviet collapse almost two decades ago, private garden plots may have saved many families from hunger. Though statistics are hard to come by, an early 1990s study cited by social geographer Sergei Artobolevsky found that 60 percent of the food consumed by residents of two typical small cities, Oryol and Gagarin, originated from dacha and kitchen gardens.

Mr. Artobolevsky says that the relative prosperity of the past decade – known as the "Putin era" – enabled many city dwellers to begin taking vacations abroad and use their dachas more for weekend relaxation. Around bustling centers like Moscow, the once-ubiquitous potato patches virtually disappeared. And in dacha gardens, vegetables gave way to flowers and other decorative plants.

"People began to believe in the wage and consumer economy," he says. "But now, this process has slowed, and no one can say when the crisis will finish."

Sales of vegetable seeds are up 40 percent over last year, potatoes by a whopping 200 percent, says Andrei Tumanov, editor of Vashi 6 Sotok (Your 600 Square Meters), Russia's leading newspaper for serious gardeners. "The more potatoes people grow, the worse things are in Russia," he says. "That's practically a statistical law."

Russia's hidden food power?

The idea of a dacha – a country cottage – is familiar to any reader of Anton Chekhov's stories about 19th-century life in Russia. But it only became a mass phenomenon in the 1970s, when the Soviet authorities began distributing small parcels of land around big cities (typically 600 square meters, or about one-seventh of an acre) as an inducement to urban workers to grow for themselves some of the foodstuffs that the official economy was poor at providing, such as vegetables, herbs, fruits, and berries.

Though the state never published any hard figures, experts say that, by the late Soviet era, as much as 90 percent of the country's fresh vegetables, as well as significant amounts of meat and dairy products, came from "unofficial sources," meaning dacha gardens and the small private plots that collective farmers were permitted to work in their spare time.

"The Soviet leadership had the brilliant idea of handing out plots of land to keep people occupied with feeding themselves," says Mr. Tumanov. "Since then, we've gone through a series of crises in Russia so terrible that, if they'd happened in any Western country, they would have triggered revolution. But not in Russia, because people had their little pieces of land, where they could grow food and keep to themselves. And that system still works."

Threat from Canada?

Kolbetskaya certainly keeps busy tending her garden and puttering about with the endless construction of her little cottage. Though she's chairwoman of her village cooperative this year, she says there's little time for politics. "We would like the government to build a decent road to this place, but local authorities don't seem concerned," she says.

Though it's just a couple hours' drive from Moscow, life in Krasnoye has a remote and timeless quality that tends to blunt political inquiry, she says.

The most exciting development in her patch this year, Kolbetskaya says, is that a Canadian beaver has taken up residence in the tiny creek behind her cottage and has created a minor flooding danger in one part of her garden. (Experts say a silent invasion over the past three decades by Canadian beavers – apparently an aggressive species – has relentlessly displaced the indigenous Russian variety.)

How does she know it's a Canadian one? She points to a solid dam of sticks and mud backing up the creek, and a moundlike wooden lodge. "Our local beavers live in holes in the ground, but the Canadian ones build things. Like me," she smiles.

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

eZ debug

Clear cache:

Quick settings:

Timing: Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Script start
Timing: Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Module start 'content'
Warning: eZDebug::accumulatorStop Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Accumulator 'Search' does not exist, run eZDebug::accumulatorStart first
Warning: eZDebug::accumulatorStop Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Accumulator 'Search' does not exist, run eZDebug::accumulatorStart first
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 158
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 175
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 158
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Undefined index: path in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezwebin/autoloads/ezpagedata.php on line 175
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Undefined index: meta_remote_id_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/csm_base/classes/CSMFunctionCollection.php on line 1028
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Undefined index: meta_remote_id_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/csm_base/classes/CSMFunctionCollection.php on line 1028
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Undefined index: meta_remote_id_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/csm_base/classes/CSMFunctionCollection.php on line 1028
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Undefined index: meta_class_identifier_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/ezfind/classes/ezfindresultnode.php on line 111
Notice: PHP: E_NOTICE Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Undefined index: meta_remote_id_ms in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/csm_base/classes/CSMFunctionCollection.php on line 1028
Timing: Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Module end 'content'
Timing: Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Before parse_includes
Strict: PHP: E_STRICT Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Non-static method MugoViewExtras::get_view_extras() should not be called statically, assuming $this from incompatible context in /var/www/www.csmonitor.com/extension/mugo_view_extras/autoloads/template_operators.php on line 37
Warning: eZTemplate:def @ extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/extra/archive.tpl:21[1] Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
Variable 'view_extra_node' is already defined.
Timing: Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
After parse_includes
Timing: Jul 09 2014 10:16:13
End

Timing points:

CheckpointElapsedRel. ElapsedMemoryRel. Memory
Script start 0.0000 sec0.0167 sec 1,285.6406 KB1,162.1563 KB
Module start 'content' 0.0167 sec0.8054 sec 2,447.7969 KB11,260.3203 KB
Module end 'content' 0.8221 sec0.0158 sec 13,708.1172 KB400.8984 KB
Before parse_includes 0.8379 sec0.0434 sec 14,109.0156 KB286.4922 KB
After parse_includes 0.8813 sec0.0008 sec 14,395.5078 KB-184.6953 KB
End 0.8821 sec  14,210.8125 KB 
Total runtime:0.8877 sec
Peak memory usage:16,585.0625 KB

Time accumulators:

 Accumulator Elapsed Percent Count Average
ini_load
Load cache0.0086 sec0.9666%360.0002 sec
Mysql Total
Mysqli_queries0.1057 sec11.8673%1620.0007 sec
Looping result0.0108 sec1.2138%1550.0001 sec
Template Total0.8303 sec 93.2% 8 0.1038 sec
Template load0.0104 sec1.1648%80.0013 sec
Template processing0.8198 sec92.0266%80.1025 sec
Template load and register function0.0005 sec0.0530%40.0001 sec
states
state_id_array0.0038 sec0.4293%80.0005 sec
state_identifier_array0.0050 sec0.5600%110.0005 sec
override
Cache load0.0094 sec1.0604%1010.0001 sec
eZ Find
MoreLikeThis0.0000 sec0.0000%00.0000 sec
Query build0.0065 sec0.7335%10.0065 sec
Engine time0.0289 sec3.2464%10.0289 sec
Search0.2925 sec32.8364%20.1462 sec
Class attribute list0.0825 sec9.2660%10.0825 sec
Sytem overhead
Fetch class attribute can translate value0.0029 sec0.3284%50.0006 sec
Fetch class attribute name0.0002 sec0.0210%110.0000 sec
XML
Image XML parsing0.0047 sec0.5312%50.0009 sec
class_abstraction
Instantiating content class attribute0.0001 sec0.0089%120.0000 sec
General
String conversion0.0000 sec0.0024%30.0000 sec
dbfile0.0016 sec0.1772%430.0000 sec
View Extra building0.0094 sec1.0529%40.0023 sec
Total script time:0.8908 sec

CSS/JS files loaded with "ezjscPacker" during request:

CacheTypePacklevelSourceFiles
01a980f93dc967c6e39d52a11ae2108b_1404899611_all.cssCSS3extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/stylesheets/normalize.css
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/stylesheets/html5b.css
design/standard/stylesheets/debug.css
extension/ezwt/design/standard/stylesheets/websitetoolbar.css
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/stylesheets/jquery-ui-1.10.3.custom.min.css
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/stylesheets/desktop.css
ede0a88fd146f1a095d27fb22227d0e5_1398846822.jsJS2extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/modernizr.js
extension/csm_base/design/standard/javascript/jquery-1.10.2.min.js
1650da1ba852ac5f9af81af07e8fa105_1404899611.jsJS2extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jquery-ui-1.10.4.min.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/json2.js
extension/csm_base/design/standard/javascript/jquery.cookie.min.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jquery.mobile.custom.min.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.arthole.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.sticky.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.csmstory.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.right_column.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.csmstory_editorspickdialog.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.sailthru_signup.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.jcarousel.min.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.history.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.mainNav.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.gallery.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/plugins/jquery.staffdialog.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jQuery.rollChildren.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/pubService_extended.js
extension/csm_base/design/standard/javascript/csm/csmNew.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jquery.quiz.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/jquery.spectrumQuiz.js
extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/javascript/global.js

Templates used to render the page:

UsageRequested templateTemplateTemplate loadedEditOverride
1node/view/full.tplfull/article.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/full/article.tplEdit templateOverride template
24content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/paragraph.tpl<No override>extension/ezwebin/design/ezwebin/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/paragraph.tplEdit templateOverride template
2content/datatype/view/ezimage.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/content/datatype/view/ezimage.tplEdit templateOverride template
2content/datatype/view/ezstring.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/ezstring.tplEdit templateOverride template
14content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/link.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/link.tplEdit templateOverride template
14content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/bodyemphasis.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/bodyemphasis.tplEdit templateOverride template
4content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/head1.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltags/head1.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezxmltext.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/ezxmltext.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezbyline.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/content/datatype/view/ezbyline.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezobjectrelationlist.tplcontent/datatype/view/story_images.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/story_images.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/eztext.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/content/datatype/view/eztext.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezstring.tplcontent/datatype/view/image_credit.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/image_credit.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezxmltext.tplcontent/datatype/view/story_info_box.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/story_info_box.tplEdit templateOverride template
1content/datatype/view/ezmatrix.tplcontent/datatype/view/ezmatrix_article_related_external_links.tplextension/csm_base/design/csm_design/override/templates/content/datatype/view/ezmatrix_article_related_external_links.tplEdit templateOverride template
1pagelayout.tpl<No override>extension/csm_base/design/csm_design/templates/pagelayout.tplEdit templateOverride template
1modules/mugo_view_extras/extra_cached.tpl<No override>extension/mugo_view_extras/design/standard/templates/modules/mugo_view_extras/extra_cached.tplEdit templateOverride template
1setup/debug_toolbar.tpl<No override>design/standard/templates/setup/debug_toolbar.tplEdit templateOverride template
 Number of times templates used: 71
 Number of unique templates used: 17
 Time used to render template usage: 0.0004 secs