Thursday, April 21, 2011

Russians Have Green Thumbs? Who Knew!

Over the course of the class I’ve been interested in comments on gardening in Russia. I’m actually fairly certain that my stomach growled a couple of times during discussions on all the fresh produce the Russian people treasure. I was the strange child who would happily choose an apple over a cookie or a handful of baby carrots over a piece of chocolate. So, I’ve now added experiencing fresh fruits and vegetables in Russia to my bucket list.

So, how has Russia cultivated this produce-rich environment? Potatoes, beets, cabbages, and other cold-tolerant greens are popular choices, along with vegetables like cucumber and dill that are often served as garnishes. Since many plants can’t grow during Russia’s harsh winter months, pickling vegetables – cabbage, cucumber, and rutabagas – in brine is used to preserve food for winter use. Pickled apples and other fruits are also favored. These provide vitamins and other nutrients during the time of year that fresh fruits and vegetables are not available.

Though many Americans are content to grab wimpy-looking produce from the nearest refrigerator during a dash to the supermarket, Russians are proud of what they grow and have a tendency to choose their food with much more care. In fact, according to a 2010 survey by a company called Romir, 39% of Russians equate high-quality produce with Russian produce and they often choose their fruits and vegetables at big open markets that sell locally grown products. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia (thankfully) lacked the funds to participate in the growing trend of genetically-modified food. The practices of Western bio-engineering were never applied to Russian agriculture, so it has retained its natural (and delicious) taste. According to the survey, 37% of Russians are willing to spend more to buy food free of genetic modifications and 41% are willing to spend a little more on “organic” products.

As you can probably guess, the United States uses more mineral fertilizers and pesticides than Russia, a result of Russia’s relative poverty. This misfortune could become an advantage in Russia as the organic food market continues to grow. More and more, Russian farmers are becoming major suppliers of organic produce and other foods. And as more of it is imported to the United States, I’ll definitely be buying.

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