Friday, September 11, 2009

Potatoes in Harvest at the Dacha 9/10/09

Potatoes in Harvest  at the Dacha 

Weather - Indian Summer
Temp 68 F-48 F
Wind, Calm
Sky Clear

Thursday afternoon we got to go to a dacha and dig potatoes for a family in 4th branch, Snigirie. That is a small "Carmichael" sort of suburb separated from Novosibirsk by a stretch of woods about 5 miles deep. We have a companionship of elders there and about 40 active members. The family we helped is having a lot of financial problems and this crop will be a major part of their diet this winter.

A word about the dacha system. Dacha (Russian: дача​ ) is a Russian word for seasonal or year-round second homes often located in the exurbs of Russian cities. It is estimated that about a quarter of families living in large cities have dachas. The first dachas in Russia began to appear during the reign of Peter the Great, initially as small estates in the country, which were given to loyal vassals by the Tsar. In archaic Russian, the word dacha means something given.

The dacha plots (usually not more than 600 m² for Soviet collective farm laborers, more in other cases, often 1200 or 1500 m², but virtually never exceeding 0.96 ha) are too small to grow the needed amount of fruits and vegetables for an entire family, but they are enough to be a great supplement to the family budget.

This family's dacha is about an hour north east of Novosibirsk near a village. Each plot is about 900 feet deep and 200 feet wide. They get water in a pipe from a central well two days a week, but otherwise there is no sewer or other utilities. Since they do not irrigate and only work the land a few days a month, their crop is much smaller than their neighbors who live there all summer. However, their potato crop turned out pretty well and yielded about 8-900 pounds of potatoes. They still had carrots in the ground and a few ears of corn to pick, but otherwise what's in the ground is not worth harvesting.

This all started because we have befriended this family and tried to be an emotional support during their hard time. The husband lost his job and cannot work until some legal issues are solved. The wife has a benign brain tumor and she is on medication, they have one autistic child on medication and one with a form of MS also on medication, and no income. I asked Sasha (Alexander), a 28 year old returned missionary who is the second counselor in the district presidency here if they ever had service projects for people with big problems. His answer was something like, "most everyone have big problems". The idea was quite foreign to him.

However, when I told him that I was going to go out to their family's dacha with them and dig potatoes, his reply was that he, another Sasha, and we should go help them. Now you see, there is no organized welfare projects or service projects here, but at the suggestion that I was going to help them, these two immediately stepped up. The Spirit is there, but with no experience in this new concept.

We followed the family's directions to the dacha and saw this skeleton of a house as we pulled up. They had a friend who had an old building he wanted torn down and he gave them the wood if they would do the work. The beginnings of a dacha house, usually 200-500 square feet, are seen here waiting for more nails.

As we walked through the weed-encumbered front half of the plot, we passed several clumps of flowers; some planted and some wild. They are in stark contrast to the clutter and disarray that speaks of the neglect and sporadic work they have been able to do here. Neighboring dachas where the owners live all summer show neat rows of cabbage, carrots, squash, potatoes, tomatoes and other vegetables and flowers that speak of daily watering, weeding, and care. Our friends are doing all they can do, but it is not enough.

The actual business of digging and collecting the potatoes commenced with me and one Sasha, now called Sanya by Sister Cindy, (being a legitimate nickname for Alexander), digging while our friend, the other Sasha, and Sister Cindy gathered the potatoes in buckets and brought them to a tarp where they were sorted and bagged. That lasted one bucket-full before Sister Cindy became a sorter rather than a picker/hauler.

Finding the right place to dig was a challenge at first because of the clutter of weeds, the irregular planting, and the dead potato foliage, and it took a while before I caught on to the spacing. Although the tops were dead and the ground was hard, each plant yielded a clutch of potatoes that sometimes was surprising. The final count was 7 bags of potatoes I think and I'm sure they weighed about 80-90 pounds each. That will help them a lot this winter.

I really liked this event on several levels. Helping a family who needs help is personally satisfying to both Sister Cindy and me. Working in the earth is personally very good for me because I miss my own garden and there is something primeval about getting your hands in the ground and making something grow. That connection to the earth is an Adam thing that is still part of man's inheritance. Being with our new friends, the two Alexanders and the couple needing the help, and one another doing something that is a real service fills my bucket and I learned an other reason why I'm here.

Service is not a strong value in this culture; either making your need known or offering help. Close friends often share labor and resources, but it is very unusual to give community service or to serve a stranger. It is even less common for people to let it be known that they have a need. Financial, social, medical, housing, marital, and other problems are just not shared beyond a couple of friends, having a ward service project for someone is almost unheard of, and a barn-raising would be way over the edge.

We have a lot of teaching to do about the basic welfare principles and the development of a community of Saints who are spiritually and emotionally joined together. Changing a thousand years of fear and self-protection is a hard thing, especially for the children of the Soviet era. These folks are primarily concerned with self- protection and survival. Anything more is a real stretch, but we are going to give it our best try.

What a country


Shannon said...

This makes me want to come and bring my young adult friends to do service for the many families in the area...
I am glad you were able to render your help to this little family doing all they could do. I see the group of you who went to serve as the grace so often spoken of.
Often we cannot get to the end of whatever portion of the path we are on. Our whole selves are never quite enough. And that is when the Lord steps in - so often in the form of another mortal. This story touched my heart for that very reason.
The grace you all provided helped this family to be covered; covered by the hand of God. Certainly there will be other struggles and hard times, but now they have potatoes to cover them. Love you.

Trisha said...

What a wonderful experience for you both. I am so glad that service is a huge part of our bringing up. I know that I have been blessed by it.