Monday, April 27, 2009
Farming & Famine
Growing up in the Mississippi Delta it was not at all unusual to drive at least 2-3 hours in any direction and not see anything but flat farmland as far as the eye could see. From even the slightest ridge one could see for miles. At one time the Delta was covered in ancient bottomland hardwoods but by the time I was around they had been reduced to a few sparse windrows and small patches of 2nd and 3rd growth woods.
Drive for 1o minutes out of Kyiv and you encounter stretches of vast fertile, mostly flat (but sometimes slightly rolling) farmland that rivals the mid-western US and fairly dwarfs my MS Delta homeland.
This past weekend I accompanied some IMB friends to a tiny village a couple hours NE of Kyiv to work in a garden. A local Pastor in Kyiv recently bought the property that has a 100 year old home and barn and perhaps 3-4 acres of land. Just like I saw in Lugansk last year, nearly every homestead has a sizeable backyard for gardening.
Here's the thought I was struck with (and today's history primer). The land here is SO fertile- it was considered the breadbasket of the former Soviet Union. An old Ukrainian proverb has it that if you leave your spade standing in the soil, you'll grow Spades!!
There are large farms now, but all in all it is still much closer to the MS Delta of old that was once covered with small family farms (and large plantations too).
So...the history lesson. Following the Russian Revolution in the 20's, Stalin engineered a "Forced Famine", the Holodomor in Ukraine in 1932-33. The stated goal was to force small landowners and farmers (peasants) into large collective farms sort of synoymous with communism. To this day Russia mostly denies any intent to force a famine and refers to the period of history as a severe natural event. But at least 18 countries have gone on record to agree with Ukraine that it was engineered and was a crime against humanity- a genocide meant to dispel Ukrainian nationalism. In just 15-18 short months as many as 10 million people died. One history book I looked at said at the height of the famine, 17 people died per minute...25,000 per day. 1/3 of those that died were children. Many of the old men and Babushkas alive today survived this horrible event.
As I spent a few hours in the countryside the scale of such an event blew me away. We are talking about a farmland half the size of Texas yet Stalin was able to so effectively enforce the collectivization of grains and crops and other food sources so as to wipe out up to 25% of the population in some regions, and even higher in some villages. One book I read said this, "...any attempts to grind grain or collect crops from the vegetable gardens were regarded as a crime against the State and punished by execution by firing squad."
So I was tilling the earth in this little garden, considering that a seed dropped anywhere in the yard would yield something...and then I was considering all the gardens throughout the surrounding countryside...and trying to imagine what it would be like to be under penalty of death to pluck a stalk for myself. Crazy.