I'm very pleased to share this guest post and photos by Fran Cary, a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine. Fran lives and works in Starobilsk. Luba, her friend and neighbor is like many Ukrainians, intensely knowledgeable about her garden and dedicated to preserving the fruits of her work. Fran's thoughtful commentary places Luba in the context of both time and place. Thank you both Fran and Luba!
Harvest is coming early to Ukraine. It's the intense, prolonged hot weather and lack of rain. Luba's garden storage area in her barn, a common feature of village homesteads, is loaded with tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and herbs, drying out so they can be cured, sliced, diced, spiced, bottled and preserved.
The grapes look beautiful, but Luba says they will not be very tasty. Too dry. The apples are fairly plentiful but not very large. The plums are turning deep purple but many are dropping early. There are five blushing peaches on her newly planted tree that she is guarding with her life. Last year the apricots were bountiful, and Luba spent hours cutting and drying them and making jam, preserves and compot (fruit juice); this year there are hardly any apricots.
Luba , who is a professional accountant, says, "During the day I work with my head, at night I work with my body and soul," and she loves it. It's a balance between the mental and physical that many of us, in today's post-industrial and technological world, do not have. In Starobilsk, and most rural villages throughout Ukraine, it is a typical pattern.
Luba's garden is medium-sized, but if you have ever worked a plot of land you know what hard work it is. Natalia's garden is huge, three times the size of Luba's. When Natalia is not teaching English at the University, she works the land with her husband and two college-aged sons. When I was in training in Chernigov, Valya and Nikolai, who lived in a large Soviet-style apartment building, went early every morning to their garden plot in the country where they grew vegetables and fruits, and Nikolai hunted for mushrooms. Some gardens are large enough so their owners can grow their own food and sell the surplus in the marketplace, at shops, roadside stands, and bazaars. Right now, on the road to Lugansk, for example, it's hard to resist the melons and autumn vegetables.
Luba's garden and lifestyle make me think of the work of British historian E.P.Thompson and his many followers who explored the changing relationship to time in industrial and pre-industrial societies, the centuries-long transition from economies based on farmers, merchants and craftspeople to those based on industries, beginning with the textile factories, which required a disciplined labor force tied to clock time.
Before Thompson there was Karl Marx, who famously argues that the industrial revolution polarized society into the bourgeoise, those who owned the means of production, and the proletariat, those who performed the labor necessary to extract something valuable from the means of productions. These studies of the transition from agrarian to industrial life, and likewise the transition from slavery to freedom, constitute a fascinating body of scholarship, worldwide, a global village of international studies.
Luba's 9 to 5 day job is measured by the time-clock, but her work in the garden is pre-industrial. It is measured by the tasks required at different times in the growing cycle. She wakes up at sunrise to work in her garden for a few hours, then comes home from her day job and works til sundown in the garden, each task determined by the crop and the season, a natural cycle of life.
In the rural villages of Ukraine, some elements of a pre-industrial society still exist. Farmers, merchants and craftspeople dominate the economy, although large international companies and technology are fast rising to overtake them. It feels like what it must have been life in America at the turn of the century with the rise of the trusts and big business, and the triumph of capitalism. The growing and dirge-like complaints about “oligarchy” embody the resistance and regret at this development, which now seems inevitable, irresistible, unstoppable.
Because for village people in the post-Soviet world, freedom still means owning your own land, growing your own food, being self-sufficient, being your own boss. It's the Ukrainian equivalent of "40 acres and a mule," the dream of former slaves after the Civil War and during Reconstruction into the 20th century. There is a fierce resistance to “clocking-in” to work for the profit of someone else.
Luba's work exemplifies this lifestyle. I think it is doomed to extinction. I wonder how long it can last?