“The Earth needs our help. Tenderness and a loving attitude give it strength. The Earth may be large, but it is most sensitive. And it feels the tender caress of even a single human hand. Oh, how it feels and anticipates this touch!
“There was a time in Russia when the Earth was deemed to belong to everyone and therefore nobody in particular. So people did not think of it as their own. Then changes came in Russia. They began giving out tiny private plots to people to go with their dachas.
“It was no coincidence at all that these plots were extremely small, too small to cultivate with mechanised equipment. But Russians, yearning for contact with the Earth, took to them with joyous enthusiasm. They went to people both poor and rich. Because nothing can break Man’s connection with the Earth!
“After obtaining their little plots of land, people intuitively felt their worth. And millions of pairs of human hands began touching the Earth with love. With their hands, you understand, not with mechanised tools, lots and lots of people touched the ground caressingly on these little plots. And the Earth felt this, it felt it very much. It felt the blessing touch of each individual hand upon it. And the Earth found new strength to carry on.”
Russia’s family gardens currently produce over half of the country’s agricultural output and represent a major sector of the country’s economy, involving two thirds of the population. Despite this prominence, household gardening has been viewed as a recent phenomenon, an adjunct to the country’s industrial agriculture, or a temporary response to the hardships of Russia’s economic transition. However, this study of the current status of family agriculture, Russia’s agrarian history, and the results of a 2006 survey of 1,500 families in the Vladimir region, show that gardens not only perform a wide range of economic, social, and cultural functions, but also represent a highly sustainable practice embedded in the region’s — and the country’s — environmental, socio-economic, and cultural context.
The survey offers detailed information on the economic, agricultural, social, and cultural dimensions of gardening in the Vladimir region, including respondents’ adherence to a wide range of agrarian values. Based on the results, family gardening can be seen as a highly sustainable, diversified, and culturally important practice, which needs to be given due consideration by scholars and policy-makers.