Olena Tovsta, Ukrainian farmer: ‘The Slow Food network saved my farm’

09 Jun 2022

When her husband got drafted into the army at the beginning of the war, Olena Tovsta found herself alone managing the entire family farm, called Dobro Craft, in the Gadiach countryside, in the Poltava region. 

Through the campaign Together for the Slow Food Communities in Ukraine, she received resources that allowed keep the farm alive, and now she tells us her story:

Since the start of what Moscow calls a ‘special operation’, the military administration reports that only during April five missiles hit some infrastructure in the region, and more got fired into the area.

The situation on the ground has not changed for the better, even where there is no military action: the entire population of Ukraine lives under the constant threat of missile attacks. We are tired and scared, but we are trying to resist. 

 width=Resilience on a farm where work the work goes on

“Our farm has always been family-run, with the help of a few seasonal workers. Before the war, we had 84 goats, but then we had to sell a few to make money to cover our needs. Today in our Dobro Craft live 79 goats, 55 kids, 40 old goats, three ponies, and one milk cow. We grow grass for haymaking on rented land, and we are actually in the hot season, which means a lot of work”.

Our animals live free almost all year round, during winter they take shelter in the stables, from where they still come out at least once a day. We feed the goats with a mixture of protein grains. There is always hay and dry fodder in the feeders, and we add whey, which we give to all our animals. We always try to maintain a balanced and nutritious diet for them.

How life goes on for small farmers during a war

Besides finding feeding for our animals, one of the main problems is buying gasoline: either it is too expensive, or there is none. Since all the oil refineries have been blown up and many gas stations bombed, there is little fuel in the country, and what is available is given to the frontline, critical infrastructure, and large farmers. Therefore, farmers like us receive small amounts at a very high price. This complicates a lot all the processes and increases production costs. Of course, we did not give up, and to go to town or to take our products to customers

We rented bicycles. As you can imagine, it is not a walk in the park.

As if that were not enough, those who bought our products – for example, mothers with children – had to flee, and now farmers are forced to sell their products at a loss to have enough to survive.

In the territories liberated by the occupiers, the situation is worse, the Russians took away everything they did not destroy: tractors, seeders, all the equipment. width=

My husband continues to serve, and as possible, he solves our family and domestic issues over the phone. My children – 18, 14, and 7 years old – help me manage the work, but it is not easy. They are at home, studying online although the internet connection is unstable, and we are more present on the farm because there is a lot of work. I have some assistants, but we had to reduce staff because we cannot sustain the salaries.

While struggling, Olena has tried not to forget that she is part of a community, and in this particular period, those most in need are the ones who receive her products. 

 

“We try to meet the community needs, so there is not a lot of product that we sell between milk and cheese. Slow Food’s help has therefore been crucial. The movement responded quickly to our farm problems during the war and provided us with financial support, and we purchased some goat feed. Without this help, there would probably be no farm, or I would reduce it to 10 goats, and I don’t even know if the cow and pony would be given away or slaughtered. I would not have overcome all the work. We are very grateful and proud to be part of this international network. We believe that its philosophy can be a seed of peace for the reconstruction of the country”. 

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Slow Food supports the network in Ukraine through two projects. 

1. Save Ukrainian biodiversity – aims to support those who, even in times of war, have not left their farms and in the most difficult conditions, risking their lives, preserve the most valuable animal breeds, plant varieties, and techniques, those that nourish the local community, that feed the future. 

2. Keeping knowledge alive – aims to create twinning between Ukrainian Slow Food Communities and counterparts across Europe: women cheesemakers ask colleagues  

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