I think it is no exaggeration to say that at least one-third of Russia's urban residents have something to do with agriculture. City dwellers love to entertain colleagues with lengthy (and often extremely boring) lectures about crop rotation, potatoes, onions, radishes and so on what they like to grow at their dachas.
This is not at all surprising given that Russia has been an agrarian country for ages and most of its people have peasant roots, though some may not be aware of it. Many Russians are experts on such issues as plant compatibility, the best times and approaches to planting a certain crop, which pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers to use and when to weed and cultivate. This knowledge is indispensable because summers are short in Russia, and variable weather poses many dangers for crops. "The month of June feeds the country," goes the Russian proverb.
Even more than 70 years of Soviet rule could not kill the primordial drive toward the soil imbued in almost every Russian's heart.
In the late 1970s, aware of the faltering collective-farm system, the Soviet government decided to stimulate private farming. Of course, it was not quite private farming, and it was done on a very small scale. Beginning in the late '70s, Soviet authorities launched a program to stimulate dacha building and part-time farming. People were offered land patches of 600 sq. meters for free, on the condition that they cultivate the land. The campaign generated active public response and gave rise to tracts in the hinterlands of cities around the country.
During the Soviet era, there was no shortage of guidebooks on farming, as well as newspapers and magazines focusing on this activity. Of course, today the choice of information is much wider.
Some analysts tend to view the amount of crops planted by people at their dachas as a barometer of the populace's economic and political confidence in the government. This year, for example, people are tending to plant less: For the first time in years, they have some confidence in their future. President Vladimir Putin has restored some degree of stability in the country. It's fairly reasonable to conclude that veggie cultivation could tell you more about the economy than any state statistics or World Bank forecasts.
Running a part-time farm at one's dacha may be rather expensive, and sometimes the costs may even exceed the market price of the fruits and vegetables grown. But what can be more delighting, pleasing and rewarding to the Russian heart and soul than having fresh, self-grown food on the table, not to mention the unsurpassed feeling of independence?
Now, age-old Russian dreams of owning land are about to come true, as the State Duma has adopted the law on agricultural land sale in its first reading. There is a chance that the law will go through by the end of this year.