Photography by Sergei Gapon for UNDP in Belarus

Gardening is part of the traditional way of life in the countryside. From generation to generation, apple trees bloom under the windows of the village houses, women cook cherry compotes and store them in cool cellars, children pluck clean berry bushes. To maintain the yield and quality of ripening fruits, one needs to take constant care of the garden - to heal, change varieties and species, and provide appropriate care. Gardening requires constant improvement of knowledge and proficiency. Over the time, gardens become exhausted, aged trees and bushes are uprooted - grounds are gradually abandoned.

Alexandra Chertkova, a local rural activist from Mogilev region, is leading the initiative “Green Garden Economy for the Future of the Village”. The idea behind it is to provide villagers with up-to-date knowledge about efficient and eco-friendly gardening, help them master necessary skills and breathe new life into traditional business of villagers. To this end, the initiative has set up a network of local resource centers that covers four districts in Mogilev region. Most of them are rural schools where villagers will be trained in gardening. The schoolyards also host garden plant nurseries. This year there will be 10 of them offering the local community a wider range of garden plants varieties.

“I have a plot of 10 acres where my family grows vegetables and herbs,” adds Alexandra. “After I found out that even a small plot of land has a great potential, I myself got the idea to create my own garden.”

The development of private household plots contributes to the local economic growth. A rich and abundant harvest is not only quality and healthy food, but also a potential source of additional income. Alexandra also emphasizes the importance of building cooperation in the community. It is more difficult for an individual resident to find quality information and understand it. By joining the efforts of resource centers and villagers, it is easier to form a competent approach and achieve great results in gardening.

“Local residents often do not know how to develop their personal plots,” says Alexandra. “They don’t know what new varieties can be grown or what new effective treatments can be applied. For example, red and white apples grow on the same tree. Maybe grandfather once planted a new variety on the apple tree. But grandchildren forgot how to do it. Almost no one knows what graft and rootstock are, and how clonal stocks differ from seed ones. But this is not a sacred knowledge, it is available to everyone.”

There is a lot of amateur gardening literature freely available that does not provide a solid theoretical basis. Alexandra believes that it is ineffective to learn how to perform some kind of manipulation without understanding how it works. Few people know that there are available practical gardening courses at specialized universities. Also, not everyone can leave for training over several hundred kilometers.

Currently, Alexandra and resource centers’ representatives are exploring the gardening education possibilities and involve experts into preparing educational programs for the population.

“Recently, our team had an educational trip to the Institute of Fruit Growing at Samokhvalovichi and the Grodno State Agrarian University. It was surprising for us to learn that more than 500 varieties of grapes can be cultivated in Belarus or about new land use formats, for example, an apiary garden. Thanks to university libraries, qualified literature on gardening, teaching aids and workbooks became available to us.”

The results of these trips inspire not only Alexandra and her colleagues. “When I show my fellow villagers photographs of an apple tree not even visible behind apples, at first, they don’t believe, and then they are eager to change something on their plots. And this is more than a desire to harvest, this is an incentive to change something in yourself and become better."

Photo from the initiative

About 280 villagers, regardless of education level, income and social status, will attend the first gardening training course in the framework of initiative. When eight lessons finished, attendees will have to draw up garden plans for their plots. About 80 best garden plans will receive seedlings from resource centers’ nurseries. In the future, the resource centers will continue to provide support to private gardeners - to conduct consultations, practical master classes. “Thus, we hope to take the first practical step towards spreading the skill of modern gardening in the Mogilev region.”

Tatyana Belousova, a resident of the agricultural town of Pochepy, the gardening training attendee, discusses the future garden with Alexandra.

The ecological initiative “Green Garden Economy for the Future of the Village” is implemented within the framework of the project «Civic Engagement in Environmental Monitoring and Improving Environmental Management at the Local Level», funded by the European Union and implemented by UNDP in Belarus in partnership with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus.

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