Far from being nonexistent, microscale farming in the temperate zone is a widespread "albeit understudied" practice. Russia serves as a telling example: even though the microscale "dacha gardens" are responsible for 40% of the country's agricultural output (Seeth et al. 1998), they have received surprisingly little attention from the academic community (Varshavskaya 1998).
One of the leading advocates of microscale farming is Russian entrepreneur Vladimir Megre who over the last decade has published eight books in a series entitled The Ringing Cedars (Megre 2005). The books advocate a return to the land and rural living as consistent with Russia's traditional millennia-old lifestyle and the economic, social, cultural, and spiritual needs of human nature. They also promote greater environmental awareness and a realization of the significance of trees and nontimber tree products to achieving the goals of those returning to the land.
The Ringing Cedars present a holistic philosophy of a harmonious relationship between humanity and nature and propose a model of economic organization based on a decentralized national economy comprised of sustainable rural settlements that are in turn composed of individual family-owned homesteads ("kin estates," rodovoe pomest'e). The Ringing Cedars books have sold more than 10 million copies in Russia. They have been met with a powerful societal response and sparked a fast-growing ecovillage movement by the same name (Medikov 2003). Prior to the publication of the first book in the series in 1996, there were virtually no ecovillages. By June 5, 2004, a conference of the Ringing Cedars Movement in the city of Vladimir, Russia, gathered delegates from more than 150 ecovillages scattered across 48 of the 89 regions of Russia.
The ecovillage movement, while growing out of the dacha movement and sharing many of its traits, is also different in a number of important characteristics. For example, while the typical size of a dacha plot is 0.06 ha, and the maximum size of a subsidiary plot is 0.5 ha, in the newly forming ecovillages each family privately owns at least 1 ha of land. This larger size is warranted by the participants "aspiration to integrate human habitat with the agroecosystem," and "by growing a wide variety of crops and trees and taking advantage of other opportunities such as agritourism" to create a self-reliant land-based household, approaching self-sufficiency not only in food, but also in technical crops (e.g., flax, sunflower), timber, firewood, medicinal plants, and other products. It is also recognized that maintaining contact with one's own piece of land and establishing a circular flow of matter, energy, and information between each family and their kin estate's ecosystem is important for both physical and psychological well-being of the residents. The shared goals of ecovillages also include stewardship over local natural resources and a commitment to creating a social organization conducive to independent, economically secure, socially rich, and personally rewarding lifestyles.
Both the Ringing Cedars books and the social movement they have given rise to place a special emphasis on integrating trees into agroecosystems. It is recognized that trees provide a wide range of food and nonfood products, plus many other benefits, and are imbued with a deep symbolic meaning. The latter is especially true for the Siberian cedar (Siberian pine, Pinus sibirica), which has been traditionally valued not only as a multipurpose tree producing high quality timber and pine nuts, but also as a spiritual symbol (Sharashkin and Gold 2004). In the vision of Vladimir Megre and the new ecovillage settlers, each kin estate must be surrounded by a windbreak and represent a multilayer perennial polyculture system with a wide variety of plants, both herbaceous and woody. As an example of the potential long-run sustainability and productivity of such a system, Vladimir Megre cites 19th century agroforestry practices in central Russia. Book 5 in the Ringing Cedars series contains a chapter entitled "An Eternal Garden," describing a 200-year-old system of apple orchards surrounded by windbreaks Pinus sibirica in the Vladimir region, 250 km east of Moscow. The local residents reported that with no fertilization or maintenance these orchards, abandoned shortly after 1917, were still producing better crops and better-tasting apples than the carefully tended trees in the nearby villages. The orchards also provided high-quality hay. The exceptionally cold winter of 1976, which killed most fruit trees in this region, did no damage to the windbreak-protected orchards. Megre's book includes color photographs of the windbreak and the orchard with fruit-laden trees (Megre 2001).
Megre also used this example of the "eternal garden" to illustrate his proposition that agricultural productivity and sustainability depend more on gardener's creativity than on the amount of labor employed. In his vision, a properly designed agroecosystem would be self-sustaining and productive with minimal inputs of labor and other resources. Megre was also instrumental in popularizing the economic potential of nontimber forest products, particularly pine nut oil. In his first book, Anastasia (1996; English translation 2005), he argued that the oil pressed from the seed of Pinus sibirica was a product with the potential "to raise the whole of Siberia above the poverty level" (Megre 2005, p. 16). This statement is corroborated by the fact that prior to 1917 Russian exports of pine nut oil generated 10% of the country's foreign trade revenues (FAO 1998) and today pine nut oil is one of the most expensive edible oils on the market (Sharashkin and Gold 2004).
Megre has observed that both dachniks and the new ecovillagers can derive their livelihood from a combination of subsistence growing and taking advantage of niche market opportunities. In a country traditionally placing very high value on homegrown produce, there are vast opportunities for direct marketing of these products directly to the consumer. Megre (2001) has described an ever more widespread practice of wealthy urbanites without a garden contracting with a particular dachnik or rural resident to grow an organic food supply for them (including canned food for the winter). This practice is all the more important given the absence of organic food certification and labeling in Russia. Apart from growing one's own food supply, personally knowing the grower may be the best available assurance of the food quality. As an extension of this practice, Megre suggested branding the products produced by individual growers. When marketed through stores and other outlets, the branded products allow the consumers to express their preferences by choosing a product produced by a certain family. Such family-labeled products "notably family-produced pine nut oil" are already available on the market. Another opportunity for minifarmers, new to Russia, is agritourism. Megre (2001) has suggested that microfarming practices perfected by Russia's growers are of such interest both in Russia and internationally that agritourism may become a major contribution to both the local and national economy. Indeed, the newly formed ecovillages report such an increased flow of visitors that many of them have even established restrictions on the number of visitors received at any one time, so that the tourists do not distract the settlers from their own activities (Anatoly Molchanov, leader of ecovillage "Rodnoye" in the Vladimir region, pers. comm)
Medikov, V. 2003. Putin, Megre i budushchaia Rossiia, ili, Putin i Megre, Megre i Putin. Chistye Vody, Moskva.
Megre, V. 2005. Anastasia. The Ringing Cedars Series, Book 1. Woodsworth J. (trans.), Sharashkin L. (ed.). Columbia, MO: Ringing Cedars Press, 202 pp.
Megre V.N. 2001. Kto zhe my? Seriia Zveniashchie kedry Rossii, kinga 5. Dilia, Moskva, Sankt-Peterburg, 236 pp.
Megre, V. N. 1996. Anastasiia. Seriia Zveniashchie kedry Rossii, kinga 1. Izd-vo Moskovskaiatip. no. 11, Moskva.
Seeth, H. T., S. Chachnov, A. Surinov, and J. von Braun. 1998. Russian poverty: Muddling through economic transition with garden plots. World Development 26(9):1611-1623.
Sharashkin, L., and M. Gold. 2004. Pine nuts (pignolia): Species, products, markets, and potential for U.S. production. In Northern Nut Growers Association 95th Annual Report. Proceedings of the 95th annual meeting, Columbia, MO, August 16-19, 2004.
Varshavskaya, E. 1998. Sotsial'nyi fenomen sibirskoi 'fazendy'. Institute for Comparative Labour Relations Research (ISITO), Kemerovo.
adapted from presentation entitled
ECOFARMING AND AGROFORESTRY FOR SELF-RELIANCE: Small-scale, Sustainable Growing Practices in Russia
By Leonid Sharashkin and Michael Gold, University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO, and Elizabeth Barham, Department of Rural Sociology, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO. Presented at the North American Agroforestry Conference in MN 2005.