REDISCOVERING MY INNER FARMER – VIKTORIIA (UKRAINE)
My grandparents live in a Ukrainian village, and it is hard work. People grow lots of vegetables and fruits; have cows, ducks, chickens and all sorts of domesticated animals. As a child, I used to spend my summers in the village helping my grandparents to water plants or feed the ducks. Those days are long gone. That is why I was a bit, hmm, confused when virtually the first activity I had to participate in with my new groupmates in the EU-Russia Studies programme was… farming!!!
The context: building strong relationships
We are a very small group, and at the beginning of September, we went to Latvia in order to get involved in team-building and participate in a number of meetings with NGOs, embassies, academics, etc. This trip was a part of our programme, and we had received a grant for it. The farming part was primarily aimed at making a good team out of us who were complete strangers to one another. We spent two days near a beautiful lake (cannot remember the name, though), had a barbeque, swam in the lake… and had to wake up early in the morning and pick potatoes and beans.
Farming: the practical part
The first piece of advice I would give to anyone who decides to do some farming in their free time is to get dressed properly. Check the weather forecast and do not forget to bring some old clothes and comfortable shoes. Otherwise, you would look strange, just the way I did.
Second, be ready to work hard. Somehow, I did not expect we would be actually doing hard work. I thought picking potatoes was not that difficult. But after an hour of picking potatoes I felt like I had been working for at least 5 hours without any breaks (probably I should have exercised more to be fit for this kind of work). The lucky ‘lunch group’ left earlier to prepare food for us, and I still believe that was unfair! Third, when you are tired, you might be willing to give up. But remember! Potatoes (cucumbers, tomatoes etc) need you! They want to be collected and eaten. You have no right to ignore their will.
I should admit we gave up, being children of the city. After lunch, we did not go back to the farm, although I felt bad about it. But we are very democratic, and the majority won. Our second day was easier though. We had to collect and tie up beans, and that was less demanding; or perhaps we had just started to get used to doing hard work.
Farming: the fun part
Nevertheless, hard work did not stand in our way of having lots of fun. With the right attitude, picking potatoes and collecting beans can be more or less hilarious. You get dirty, you find strangely-shaped potatoes, learn how to use (primitive) farming equipment by a process of trial and error, and then a dog comes to help you out, and things get really messy. And of course you enjoy beautiful nature, eat apples from the trees and collect some other souvenirs along the way. The evenings are also all yours. Beautiful lake, sauna, wine and nice food from a dinner team. Perfect conditions for having some rest (before working hard again on the next day).
So, did I (re)discover a farmer inside me? Well, to a certain extent yes. It was nice to be surrounded by beautiful nature, have no WiFi and eat fresh fruits and vegetables. What is more, it was rewarding to get tired because of hard physical work, to feel that you actually have some muscles you never knew about and to know that you did something with your hands (apart from typing). I was not fully prepared for farming this time; but who knows, maybe one day I will be tired of the city rush and decide to change the course of my life thanks to those two days of farming!
P.S. Thank you EU-Russia Studies programme and my dear groupmates for the Latvia trip and farming experience!
Credits for all photos: my beautiful groupmate from Italy, Silvia Stangarone