Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Women at Work: Selling What You Grow

Sarah and I have noticed that a huge percentage of our Kickstarter backers are women--and we think that's rightfully so, as a great deal of the Pickle Project really is about women as well.  Of course, one thinks of women as cooking and preserving, but this post is about those women, at stalls in indoor markets, lined up outdoors outside the indoor markets, or even just outside a subway stop, who sell fresh produce from their gardens, the woods and fields.    They're a group that your support on Kickstarter will help us learn more about when we return but I wanted to share some initial thoughts and images here.
People, primarily women, sell an amazing variety of hand-produced goods on the street.  I've purchased a handmade willow basket outside a subway and hand-painted wooden and real eggs around Easter time outside churches--on Willow Sunday, long lines of women sell bouquets of pussy willows outside churches and cathedrals.  My first time in Ukraine I lived in a big Soviet bloc apartment building and every Saturday morning, in the tiny courtyard of these buildings, 4-5 cars would pull up, open their trunks and sell meat, milk and produce.   Several times I took an early morning train out of Kyiv, and as the train left, I could see long lines of women walking from a bus stop, heading into the city, with their plaid market bags full of things to sell.  They must have left their own homes incredibly early to be in place as morning rush begins.
A block from my apartment last spring, in the center of Kyiv, two women marked the seasons with their small display of produce displayed on cartons:  walnuts, as winter ebbed away, and then beautiful strawberries, raspberries and cherries, along with lettuce and herbs.  At the market outside Lukianivs'ka metro station, there are indoor market vendors, with regular stalls, but a long line-up of women and men sell small stores of everything from ducks and eggs to flowering plants, to homemade pickles and sauces, everything carefully packed to come from the village to the city.
I think of these women as babushkas, as grandmothers, and many of them are.  But perhaps equal numbers are younger women, also working to support families.  I came to admire Ukrainian women a great deal during my time there--because they are incredibly hard workers taking on a great deal of work in order to support their families in a country where the economic crisis and post-Soviet independence have meant extremely strained finances for many families.  And women in Ukraine, like in many countries, have not only responsibility for family and home, but also for generating income.  Street vendors, of course, have none of the workplace protections that still exist for many in Ukraine. 
Customer service is still an emerging concept in Ukraine:  dealings with grouchy post office, railroad and other types of employees are often the norm.  But what I found surprising and touching was that street vendors, the women with the fewest resources, in difficult circumstances, were often the people most likely to give me a great smile and a bit of conversation as they wrapped up their beautiful berries.   I don't want to romanticize this in any way, but rather to wonder whether this bit of independence, helping to support your family by what you grow or make,  supports not only the family budget, but also a deeper part of life.
And just a reminder:  your pledge to the Pickle Project made before 5:00 PM Eastern time, on February 1 will help us meet our goal, return to Ukraine, and learn more about the women whose stories deserve to be told.


  1. Good luck with your project! I gave you guys a little shoutout in my blog, I love Ukrainian pickles :)

  2. As a former Fulbrighter who studied food in southern Russia, I'm really excited about your project and heartily congratulate you on your successful Kickstarter bid! I'm really excited to see what comes out of this. I recently returned to DC from Batumi, where I was teaching English and blogging about Georgian food for a semester.

  3. Hi Jing--thanks for the shoutout--and hope your time in Ukraine is going well.

    And Hi Jenny--Thanks for sharing your blog--and I felt a big sense of recognition in your post about photographing people! Georgian food--a favorite thing to eat in Kyiv, I found, so can only imagine how great it would be there. What are you doing in DC? Food related?

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  5. Hi,
    I am currently living in Kyiv as a year long service corp volunteer. I am extremely interested in your project, food and would love to talk more with you guys. I would love to do some similar learning and research here as well, and think we could both benefit a lot from connecting. I really hope to hear from you, I have so many questions, you can send me an email,

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