|Stories from Russia Continued, written by Peter Hagerty, May 19, 2002.|
Russia, summer 1999, Peace Fleece Co-Director
Peter Hagerty visiting Moscow area sheep farms.
|We'd not passed a car for miles. There was not a cloud in the sky and a big sky it was, bordered to the north by a thick, green forest and to the south by a field that looked to be 1000 acres in size. The late August hay waved back and forth in the breeze and the heat rose off the dusty road.|
|Far in the distance, on a freshly mown field, a speck of a man and horse made their way across the horizon, the clink of the dump rake mixing in with the songbirds. Half a world and eight time zones away, here was a farmer making hay the same way I did at home, with horses. Only the scale of the operation was different. Back in Maine, we hayed two to five acre fields, wedged between ridges, brooks and forest. Here in Shepelova, 200 km north of Moscow, a person could rake in one direction for an hour before touching the reins.|
|I made my way across the open field as the man turned his horse and began raking back towards my direction. Pavel and his 10 year old mare had no way of knowing I was coming to visit their farm. Shepelova has no phones and the mail is irradic at best. A cloud of dust appeared to the east as a giant tractor towing a wagon load of haying workers made its way toward us. "Pete," Pavel said as if I had been here all day, "can you keep raking while I start up the baler? Watch out, the field is very bumpy." And without further adeu, I hopped up on the rake and reduced the complexities of my international life to simply putting the hay in a long, streight line.|
|I hadn't been to Russia in the month of August since my first trip fifteen years ago. Back then it would have been unthinkable to leave a heavily organized tour bus and walk out onto a farm field to meet a farmer. Once I had made myself sick on a bus just to be able to meet a worker running a grain combine in the south of Russia. Back then Pavel was a horse trainer in Moscow and his wife Galina was a school teacher. Neither of them imagined in their wildest dreams that they would someday be farming. But all this changed overnight when the Soviet Union fell apart and now they are farming to just stay alive (see Shepelova Farm story below).|
|The next day we started the fall shearing at dawn and when we were done and all the hay was safely under cover, we left Pavel and Galina and drove due south of Moscow to the town of Podolsk to the farm of Tamara Nickolayevna, a 76 year old white haired grandmother who has singlehandedly been farming 100 acres for over 4 years. On reaching her land in the late afternoon, we were greated by a heavy gate across the road, chained barking dogs the size of lions and a man in army fatigues and dark glasses, armed with a semi-automatic shotgun. Welcome to the suburban private Russian farm of the new millenium.|
|"They came in the night, an offshoot branch of the local Padolsk mafia. They said they would burn down my buildings if I didn't loan them money or gold, it didn't matter which. I did not know what to do. I had no money. So I visited an old childhood friend of mine who lives not so far away from here and I explained to her what was happening. She told me about her daughter's husband who was a security guard and had always wanted to be a farmer. This is how Sasha and his family arrived here. He and his brother guard the farm around the clock, they patrol at night with the dogs. Since they have come, there has been no trouble."|
|Tamara is the wife of a former Soviet diplomat. She once lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland. She makes beautiful hand made, handspun socks from her black and white Finn sheep wool (available for sale winter 2000 from Peace Fleece). She is softspoken, has the smile of a pixie and now spins with a Rech Model #35 Colt Automatic made in West Germany by her side all the time. "Our people were once very kind and now there is so much evil," she said as we were leaving. " I don't know what to say about this."|
|Our final stop was at Istra Farm, the home of the Korneva family and their sheep, horses and cows. Much to everyone's excitement, Ludmilla was in the hospital preparing for the birth of their third child. Luda's mom fed us a hearty breakfast and showed us the absolutely stunning socks she and her daughter had knit from their hand dyed and hand spun yarn (available from Peace Fleece this winter). A tour around the farm showed us an expanding flock of over 20 ewes with all lambs surviving birth this year. Son Fydor credited their success to their new vaccination regime as well as giving the lambs an oral injection of selenium and high energy concentrates at birth. Both these programs were initiated by Peace Fleece over the past two years.|
|For those of you that would like to help these Russian private farmers as they struggle to survive, let me suggest two ways. The Sheep Adoption Project began several years ago when a group of Washington State farmers visited the Potstrelov farm and found that, due to the extremely hard financial times, Pavel and Galina were being forced to sell or eat their replacement ewes. These American farmers purchased with dollars several of these ewes with the understanding that the ewes would remain on the farm and produce valuable offspring. In exchange the farmers received a photo of their sheep with adoption papers written in Russian, an annual update on how she was doing and a pair of mittens from her wool if so desired. If you would like to own or give a ewe to someone as a gift, the cost of adoption is $50/ ewe and all the money goes directly to the Russian farmers.|
|The second way to help is to purchase the socks knit by these Russian farmers. These women have already been paid $10 per pair (240 roubles) for these socks which is comparable to one months income for a Russian pensioner. So you see your purchase of these beautiful hand made socks really makes a difference.
Look for the socks in our Peace Fleece Winter 2000 catalogue which you can order by calling 1-800-482-2984 or by sending an e-mail.
|Finally, should any of you be interested in visiting our farms in the Moscow region, you are more than welcome to accompany me. I usually make one trip in winter and one in summer. The cost including airfare, lodging and ground transport is @$1,000 and I am gone for usually eight days. It is a real shot in the arm for these Russians to meet Americans who have traveled so far to help wherever they can. Knowing that someone cares makes such a difference to these struggling family farms.
For more information about these trips, call 1-800-482-2841 and ask for me, Peter Hagerty.
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