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The Russian Dacha and the Dachnik movement have been around for more than 100 years and the home garden for more than 1,000. The Dacha is typically a one-room cottage perched on one hectare of land—large enough to grow fruits and vegetables to support a single family via intense, mostly manual labour.
35 million Dachniks (which is another word for ‘gardener’) saved the people of Russia—during 80 years of Communist rule, they produced more than half of the nation’s agricultural output. The productivity of their land was far higher than the industrial farms organized as massive collectives under Stalin.
The Dachnik movement is an exportable model of a sustainable form of agriculture—localized, (mostly) organic and built on an economic model of social norms rather than market norms (see: Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational, Harper Perennial, 2010 for an in-depth discussion of these norms.)
Social norms in this context mean that Dachniks help each other or trade with each other without money exchange. Ariely shows that, in a gift economy, many people will willingly workharder than if they are paid. Lawyers asked to work legal aid cases, for example, won’t do any for a discounted wage of, say, $30 per hour but willingly line up to perform work on a pure volunteer basis.
So Dachniks needing extra labour for a short period, another shovel, advice on a weed or pest infestation can expect to get help for nothing—or, at least, no monetary exchange. Of course, their neighbours will anticipate the same consideration in return one day.
In addition to being more self-reliant, enjoying the company provided by a community of like-minded people and eating food of known provenance, Dachniks also benefit from Japanese-style forest bathing or shinrin-yoku.
Imagine the effects on Dachniks who spend an average of 17 hours each week during the season working their gardens*.
(* See: THE SOCIOECONOMIC AND CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE OF FOOD GARDENING IN THE VLADIMIR REGION OF RUSSIA by Leonid Sharashkin.)
Dr. Sharashkin also reports:
“Russia has 18.8 million acres of family gardens, which produce US$14 billion worth of products per year, equivalent to over 50% of Russia’s agricultural output, or 2.3% of the country’s GDP (Rosstat 2007b). The United States, on the other hand, have 27.6 million acres of lawn, which produce a US$30 billion per year lawn care industry (Bormann, Balmori, and Geballe 2001).”
There are also more than 17,000 golf courses in the US and, if the average golf course uses 135 acres, then another 2.3 million acres are eaten up by golf. If you add the lawn care industry* to golf care, you have 30 million acres devouring water, chemicals, pesticides, insecticides, fungicides and fertilizer and producing … nothing.
I have a client who wants to introduce the Dachnik movement to Ontario. He had an interesting time trying to explain to OMAFRA (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs) what the concept means.
Their basic idea was to buy 300 acres of derelict farmland. In Eastern Ontario, there are more lands that grow weeds than useful product so there is plenty to choose from.
The optimal situation for a Dachnik is to have their plot within an hour of where they live full time so that access on weekdays is possible during the crucial growing and harvesting seasons. In Eastern Ontario, no problemo—there is plenty of some of the world’s least expensive farmland within an hour of most cities and towns. Land can be $1,500 CAD per acre or less. And the area is famously home to thousands of lakes, streams and rivers. Water is everywhere and available in all seasons from surface water bodies, huge underground reservoirs (via drilled wells) and from the Heavens as well.
The problem isn’t availability in Ontario of land or water, it is regulatory. OMAFRAdefines agriculture and farming as if they were exclusively industrial combines—only massive industrial and chemical-based farming operations are recognized as ‘farmers’. As such, they have access to subsidized diesel, to cheaper inputs (seeds and fertilizer), to free labs for soil analysis, to no cost advice on weed or pest infestations, to marketing boards as well as other forms of market and price supports including income subsidies and they have significantly lower property taxes as well.
OMAFRA describes the Dachnik movement as a bunch of ‘gardeners’, a pejorative term to OMAFRA. Gardeners do not have access to any of OMAFRA’s services or other forms of support which puts Dachniks behind the eight ball. If you allow your competition to start at the 80-metre mark in a 100-metre race while you start at 0, you can not possibly win. For example, 59-year old Prof Bruce can beat Usain Bolt in London in 2012, as long as I start at 80-metres. I know because I have timed it.
For Dachniks, the problem is compounded—try explaining to your local municipality or township or county, that on 300 acres you plan on sharing the land with more than 100 other families, each with their own cabin or Dacha! What’s wrong you might ask, Dear Reader, with having your own one-room cabin on your own one hectare of land where you can take shelter in inclement weather or, as a tired Dachnik after a long day at the office and a few hours of manual labour in your garden plus an hour or two of companionable company around a camp fire with fellow Dachniks drinking a bit of vodka while playing your balalaika, you decide to sleep overnight there?
Russian Playing His Balalaika
What’s wrong is that it breaks practically every zoning code ever invented and it is impossible, IMPOSSIBLE, to get such a thing approved in Ontario and, I suspect, pretty much everywhere else in North America.
NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard folks*) will oppose it because of fear and greed. They will be fearful because they will suspect that Dachniks are a different kind of people. People fear the unknown. They will be greedy because they will say that the proposed land use will crater their property values.
‘Environmentalists’ will oppose it too; they will say the proposed use will increase traffic and noise.
Planners and zoners will also oppose it but they will be more subtle. They won’t say ‘no’; instead they will ask for expensive and lengthy studies and processes (such as a full sub-division plan and application) in the hope that either delay or bankruptcy of the proponent will kill the idea.
In fact, their fears are baseless. Small towns in Ontario and in much of Canada suffered horribly in the downturn of 2008 and 2009. It’s one thing to have a cushy job with the GOC (Government of Canada) in a well-to-do place like Ottawa, quite another thing to struggle to make a living in Cornwall, Prescott or Hawkesbury.
Dachniks and their movement will certainly increase rural property values. The average Canadian family spends about $17 per week on fruits and vegetables or about $884 per year (Stats Canada, Food Expenditure in Canada, 2001). If that is all they produce on their Dacha plots and if their cost of production is a third of that, then their labour and profit yield a NOI of $592 per year. With a 9-cap (capitalization rate), this gives a land value of $2,660 per acre. If each cabin is worth $12,000 and has a contributory value of 50%, then each one hectare plot has a total value of $12,580 which works out to just over $5,000 per acre.
I suspect that these micro farms will actually trade for much more than $12,580 each. Some of these properties when intensively hand farmed will actually produce much more than the measly $884 I used above. One micro farm I know near Aspen, Colorado produces over $120,000 USD worth of product on just over 10 acres.
Now they have the advantage of being close to a very wealthy enclave filled to the gunwales with people who will pay high prices for locally grown, organic produce. Their farm gate marketing is further boosted by their home delivery service.
If you use $12,000 per acre as a measure of the value of their output, each micro farm would be worth more than $95,000 (about $38,500 per acre).
These micro farms would, in any event, be worth more than just their economic value. The social value (everything from hanging out with congenial friends to improved health from forest bathing) would factor in to the value that each plot would actually trade for.
By bringing hundreds and perhaps thousands of would-be Dachniks out of the cities and into nearby rural areas, small towns would immediately feel positive effects and spin-offs. Economic activity and property values would increase and jobs would be created not to mention that employment and opportunity for young people would multiply and at least give rural communities a chance to hold on to their most valuable resource: their kids.
I suspect that the only way to actually build such a community in Ontario and places with a regulatory framework much like ours would be to do it using another Japanese technique called Nemawashi, which means ‘preparing the way for an idea’.
You would have to do it stealthily: a little bit at a time. You would be like an iceberg since most of what you would be doing would be somehow invisible because it is below the waterline.
I can reliably predict that if some group were to successfully establish (by stealth, no doubt) a farm made up of a 100-family community of micro farmers that the next Minister of Agriculture and Food would one day visit and proclaim this as the future of farming in Ontario. Politicians love to run to the front of an already-formed parade as long as it has been proven safe to do so.
Nevertheless, if you want something done in Ontario and in Canada, you have to start at the top. There is no practical way to get a bureaucracy (any bureaucracy) to implement change. Without Ministerial approval and backing, there is no way to get micro farms approved as ‘farms’ with all the benefits that will flow from that change.
But energy gulping, environment destroying golf courses and manicured lawns, sure, you bet, bring them on!
"ALL-EARTH HOLIDAY" ~ A HOLIDAY FOR GARDENERS
This is quite an old article that I found from 20th July 2007. Nevertheless, it describes "Dachnik Day", the "All-Earth Holiday" really well... link and article (edited) below:
"Dachnik Day" ALL-EARTH HOLIDAY – A DAY FOR GARDENERS
We celebrate many days. Holidays bring people together in celebration, to commemorate a special day in history or to honor the achievements and contributions of a special individual or group of people. In "The Ringing Cedars of Russia" series by international bestselling author Vladimir Megre, it is proposed that across the world we take one day out of the year to celebrate the achievements of gardeners. If you have ever planted a seed or cared for a houseplant, this holiday would be in honor of you too. The practical and exciting aspect of a Gardeners’ Day as a national holiday would be a day off of work and school with the purpose of giving a special free day for the gardener to do what he or she loves best – to garden! It could also be a day of community activities that highlight the fun, educational, healthy, sustainable, and delicious aspects of cultivating a garden, however large or small.
For all of those who have not yet picked up a copy of "Anastasia" (pronounced Ana-sta-SI-ya), Book 1 in The Ringing Cedars series by Vladimir Megre, we highly recommend you do so. We reviewed Anastasia in an earlier Hot Potato article, and among our praise for this mind-blowing book series, we stated our belief that these books “have the potential to influence the start of a spiritual renaissance the likes of which the world has never seen.”
In "The Ringing Cedars Of Russia" Book 2 of The Ringing Cedars series, the author sets forth the idea to create a national holiday dedicated to Russia’s dachniks. The dachniks are families and individuals who garden and grow food on small plots of land (dachas) with no mechanization.
Throughout the Ringing Cedars series,Anastasia paints a portrait of the dachniks as being the ones who will lead mankind away from the path of technocratic destruction towards a healthy, enlightened future. Teaching by example, dachniks (or gardeners) all over the world will demonstrate the physical, mental, and emotional health benefits of small-scale gardening by the improvements in their own health and well-being. Through touching the Earth with love, communication with the plants growing in their plots, and a hands-on approach using no destructive machinery, the quality of life for the gardener, the plants, the soil, and the entire Earth is greatly enhanced.
THANK A GARDENER ON GARDENERS’ DAY – 23 JULY 2007
Throughout the Ringing Cedars series, Anastasia credits Russia’s dachniks with helping Russia avoid a major famine (ibid), as well as helping the Earth avoid a major catastrophe in 1998.
This was made possible, she states, when, “millions of pairs of human hands began touching the Earth with love. …The Earth felt this, it felt it very much. It felt the blessing of each individual hand upon it. And the Earth found new strength to carry on.”
Anastasia also explains:
“You see, the society you are living in today can learn a lot from communication with the plants to be found around dachas. Yes, I am talking about the dachas, where you personally know every individual plant in your garden plot, and not those huge, impersonal fields cultivated by monstrous, senseless machines. People feel better when they are working in their dacha plots. Many of them end up living longer. They become kinder. And it is these very dachniks that can pave the way for society to become aware of how destructive the technocratic path can be.”
Today, Dachnik Day or All-Earth Holiday is an officially recognized holiday in dozens of cities and regions across Russia, including St. Petersburg (where it is called Gardeners’ Day). Celebrations have spread to several countries, including the United States and Canada, where a growing number of people now pay tribute to all who garden with love and respect for the Earth.
It is also a day to celebrate our connectedness to the Earth and to appreciate the beauty, wisdom, and abundance that Nature provides for us.
One of the first Dachnik Day celebrations in the U.S. occurred in Licking, Missouri in 2005, according towww.anastasiapacific.com, and was attended by over 50 people from around the state.
In the “Readers’ reviews” section of The Space Of Love, Book 3 in the Ringing Cedars series, one reader named Shanti from Missouri reports to the publisher that Dachnik Day was simply spent celebrating with a friend in his garden and
“infusing the atmosphere with positive thoughts”
However you may prefer to celebrate the All-Earth Holiday or Gardeners’ Day on July 23, take time to get out into Nature and celebrate all of the life that you see growing there...
Plant a seed with a child in your life. Make plans with a pal and visit a local botanical gardens or community garden. Thank someone you know who gardens. Buy organic flowers or pick a bouquet of wild flowers for your favorite garden guru at the garden center.
Become a gardener on Gardener’s Day: buy a plant (there are big discounts this time in the summer), take the plant home and give it some love, and then thank yourself.