Carroll woman finds world of difference

October 31, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

After spending time in Ukraine, Leona Dell sees her Westminster dairy farm in a different light. She also came home with great admiration for the courage of farmers half a world away.

"We take for granted so much that we have," said Mrs. Dell, who returned from the former Soviet republic Oct. 17. "We don't appreciate that we can come and go, do or not do as we please.

"I was amazed at their [Ukrainians'] courage to go on with everything that was going on around them, so many devastating things happening to them personally."

In 1991, after 75 years as a major food-producing region for the Soviet Union, Ukraine became an independent nation. Since then, farm groups have visited the country to assess technical needs and share knowledge.

The recent trip, sponsored by the Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs and the U.S. Agency for International Development, took the American Farm Bureau Women's Committee to Ukraine to help Ukrainian women create a similar organization.

Citizens Network is a nonprofit group created in 1985 to help increase public understanding of and participation in U.S. foreign policy.

In Ukraine, said Mrs. Dell, who represents the 12 Northeastern states on the women's committee, "Many times it is the women working on the farms."

"So many of the men were killed" during World War II and by the repressive Soviet government, Mrs. Dell said. "Or the men have jobs in other areas, and the women work the farms."

In Westminster, Mrs. Dell runs a 1,000-acre dairy and grain operation with her husband, County Commissioner Donald I. Dell, her children and grandchildren.

For a little more than two weeks, Mrs. Dell and Patricia Baldwin of Kingsville, Ohio, lived with a family in Puzhaikove, an area three hours north of Odessa.

Their hosts -- a dairy farmer named Sasha, his wife and two children -- took the women to other farming operations in the area, many of which have been started on land the government gave to the people.

L "Now these people have the freedom to farm," Mrs. Dell said.

But even after three years, some Ukrainian farmers aren't sure the freedom will last, Mrs. Dell said.

"They have a very interesting mind-set," she said as she related a story about Sophia, the manager and part-owner of a dairy farm that has been organized by eight independent farmers.

Each farmer owns about 25 of the 200 cows on the farm and helps milk them each day, Mrs. Dell said. Yet Sophia continues to keep one cow at her home in the village.

"When we asked her why, she said, 'I know that no one can take this cow away from me,' " Mrs. Dell said. "They have been so oppressed for so long, they can't really understand that they are free."

On Sasha's farm, two women milk 84 cows by hand twice a day. The milk is taken to the nearest processing plant, two hours away in Balta.

At the collective farm nearby, 12 people milk the same number of cows, Mrs. Dell said.

"The collective farms are very unorganized, very inefficient," she said. "In some cases, they only knew one procedure for the entire farm."

For example, the woman who cared for the baby pigs understood only that aspect of the entire hog operation, Mrs. Dell said.

"They have a lot to learn about what to do," she said. "They are a lot like our farms 75 or 80 years ago, before Extension [agencies] came in and helped us understand about animal nutrition, fertilizer, pesticides and seeds."

But more than technology and knowledge are needed to help the Ukrainians, Mrs. Dell said. A dependable supply system must be instituted for them to be successful, she said.

"Sasha has a vision of what he can do in the future and understands the nutritional needs of his animals," said Mrs. Dell. "He does have a combine, ready to go. He's just short of fuel, which he has to get from the state."

One farmer had saved enough money over the preceding three years to purchase several large and expensive pieces of agricultural equipment, Mrs. Dell said.

But when it came time to plant winter wheat, the fuel to run them was nowhere to be found.

Another farmer, Antonio, had a back yard that resembled a junkyard, Mrs. Dell said. On closer examination, it was clear that he needed the five combines to assemble one usable piece of equipment.

"He took the wheels from this one, another part from this one over there," Mrs. Dell said, noting that Antonio was cultivating his land with five other farmers.

"They were able to combine their allotments of fuel to get the work done."

A stable, expanding economy is also necessary for Ukrainians to support themselves, Mrs. Dell said.

Farmers are permitted to sell their goods only to the state, which TTC sometimes doesn't reimburse them for their labor, she said.

And when they do get paid, the currency's value is dropping so quickly that the farmers must spend it immediately to have anything to show for their money, Mrs. Dell said.

"When we got there, $1 bought 1,067 caponis," she said. "When we left, 10 days later, the exchange rate was 1,090 for every dollar.

"Every day, the value goes down, and they're not always paid. When they are finally able to collect, the money is worth almost nothing."

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