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

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

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

Since the beginning of what Moscow calls a ‘special operation’the military administration reports that in April alone, five missiles hit some infrastructure in the region, and more were fired in 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’re tired and scared, but we’re trying to resist.

Resilience on a farm where work continues

“Our farm has always been family owned, with the help of some seasonal workers. Before the war we had 84 goats, but then we had to sell some to earn money and cover our needs. Today in our Dobro Craft there are 79 goats, 55 young goats, 40 old goats, three ponies and a dairy cow. We grow hay grass on rented land and we are in the hot season, which means a lot of work.”

Our animals live free almost all year round, during the winter they take refuge in the stables, from where they still come out at least once a day. We feed the goats a mixture of protein grains. There is always hay and dry forage 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

In addition to finding feed for our animals, one of the main problems is buying gasoline: either it’s too expensive, or it’s not available. With all the oil refineries blown up and many gas stations bombed, there is little fuel left 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 greatly complicates all processes and increases production costs. Of course we don’t give up, and go to the city or take our products to customers

We rent bicycles. As you can imagine, it’s 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 in order to have enough to survive.

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

My husband continues to serve and, to the extent possible, resolves our family and domestic problems over the phone. My children – 18, 14 and 7 years old – help me to manage the work, but it’s not easy. They are at home, studying online even though 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 the number of employees because we could not sustain the salaries.

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

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

Slow Food supports the network in Ukraine through two projects.

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

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

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