Pastor Andrei Furmanov wrote this great article about Russian Dachas —
In the days when the USSR was still a country collective farms, which were the backbone of Russian agriculture, were unable to produce enough, and the money for importing food was sufficient to only buy grain. The result was an official policy was that citizens of then USSR were supposed to grow a lot themselves.
Dachas were formed as cooperatives supervised by trade unions and the by-laws of these cooperatives were strict enough. First of all, the land technically of course did not belong to the members of those cooperatives, all land was state federal property at those times. It was leased to trade unions and could not be sold. Another serious restriction was that the usage of this land had to be limited to growing things.
One simply could not make a lawn on his or her land and enjoy the grass. That would be illegal and immediately would result in kicking the person out from the dacha cooperative and replacing him with a more devoted “weekend farmer”. Not more than one dacha per family was allowed.
The typical size of land given by the state to a family varied from 4 to 12 “sotok”, 6 and 8 being the most common (not surprising, now a popular newspaper for dacha owners is titled “6 Sotok” and everyone perfectly understands what they mean by that). One “sotka” = 100 square meters, so typical dacha land area of 6 sotok is equal to 0.16 acres.
Statistic says that now more than 30% of Russian families have dachas. And traditionally most of the dachas were distributed by the trade union organizations at the major industrial enterprises. Therefore in many cities the figures are even higher. Majority of dacha owners were workers, according to the party policy.
We are not saying that other social groups were not allowed to have dachas. It’s just important to realize that having a dacha was not a sign of belonging to elite class, and almost every family could easily get it if at least one family member had been working for 5 or 10 years at the same factory or plant.
But we have given you enough dry facts… Let us add some emotions to that long technical introduction to the concept of dacha – one of the key concepts of Russian life in both Soviet and post-Soviet times.
So what is the dacha? It is very easy to explain. It is just a cabin. Sometimes a shack. But it is very difficult to understand that it is not just a cabin and much more than a shack for most of the people. This is the place to escape from the rash and the problems of a big city. This is the place where the kids are growing up like grass… What does it mean for an average Russian, a regular citizen of our little town of Vyborg? It is a resort and a slavemaster. It is a pleasure and a disaster… It’s a community, it’s a lifestyle… a sweet curse.
Dacha never stands alone. Dacha cooperative is a community. This is the place where the retired people find the hobby of their life: orchards, gardens, farming. This is the place where the working people are coming during the weekends to take a breath of fresh air, to have some physical labor – digging, weeding, watering plants…
Dacha is the best place for BBQ parties (called “shashlyk” parties here), samovar tea parties, singing songs with guitar, swimming in the rivers or lakes, taking sun baths, biking, hanging around for teenagers, a source of naturally grown fruits and vegetables for virtually everyone, a place with a different pace and priorities. How much is a metric tons of manure at the nearby farm? What is the best way to protect your cucumbers from the morning dew? These are vital topics, discussed by an academician and a janitor as equals when they meet in the street of a dacha village…
Nowadays as opposed to the Soviet times people are not obligated to grow anything at their dachas. They are free to bask in the sun enjoying their lawns. But life shows that anyone who has a land sooner or later starts growing something on it. So, “pure dachas” for rest only are very rare. It is a resort and a farm – a place to rest and a place to work.
By the way, this place does not meet (in most cases) traditional Western standards of comfort. There are no telephones, no hot water (except that you boil on the gas stove), at the dacha people use outhouses and makeshift showers instead of city-style bathrooms.
Many dacha owners do not have cars. So Friday evening and Saturday morning is a rush hour for buses and local trains that carry millions (literally – millions! – if we talk of such a megalopolis such as Moscow or St. Petersburg) every weekend to their dachas out of the city. Trains are packed with people of all ages and walks of life carrying bags and backpacks and small carts with the gear necessary at the dacha.
Big cities are deserted during summer week-ends, so many people leave the heat and smog to visit their little country houses. Retired people usually move there for the entire season, which in Central Russia begins in May and lasts until October. Yet already in February when it is still frost and snow outside, the dacha fanatics start to grow seedlings of tomatoes and other vegetables to be replanted into the dacha greenhouses later, in early May when it is warm enough and there is no threat of night frosts.
The last week of April (if it’s warm enough) is usually the beginning of active farming. Almost every newspaper or magazine, if they want to be popular, have to publish a special section with the season advice for farmers. For instance, a spring issue of a local newspaper might say something like “now it is time to water the black currant bushes with the hot water though it is still snow and shape the apple trees” as well as many other things to do.
…Okay guys! We’ve been talking for a while, and now it’s time to go and start doing some digging… It is still harvest time after all. Oh, this weekend farming :-)))