Think you know what a Russian dacha is?
In Russian, a ‘dacha’ is a simple – often primitive – home erected on a plot of farm land. The dacha owned by my Ukrainian wife’s parents, for example, is just over three acres. These are not intended as quaint, country homes for weekend getaways (as seems to be the perception among westerners.) These are places where Russian and Ukrainian people can go to grow their own food, and they are literally vital to their way of life.
As you’ll see in the photos below from a recent visit to my wife’s family’s dacha, they grow just about everything there, including: potatoes, onions, corn, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, garlic, beets, peas, beans, strawberries, raspberries…on and on. Add in a few apples trees and these people supply fully half of what they eat via their farmland. The only groceries they tend to buy are meat and dairy. (Though even those they often procure by simply bartering with those neighbors who specialize in raising animals.)
It’s one thing to hear about their dacha (as I so often have), but quite another to take a trip out there to pitch in and help. It’s tough work. I can’t imagine stooping over as much as they do. (And I found myself wondering: Aren’t there tools for this sort of work? Tiring though it is, it’s also fulfilling. It’s a great feeling to know exactly what you’re eating, since you’re the one who grew it. For me, it was like having access to the freshest produce section at the finest organic foods stood…for free.
Russian Dacha Video
It’s worth repeating: These dachas are not a hobby. These people earn at most a few hundred dollars per month. If they didn’t grow their own supplemental food, times would be tough indeed. So, what do they do with all the excess produce (especially potatoes)? They store things in sacks, and usually keep them in a cellar located on the property. They take one sack with them to the city, and when that runs out, they make the trek back for another, and so on. My wife’s family really has it down to a science, and I have renewed appreciation for all they do and for all the fresh meals I’ve been served at their home.) As with a trip for shashlik, I recommend taking a trip with them to their dacha if you’re ever invited.