Pietro Turilli, Heifer's Vice President for Heifer's Central/Eastern Europe area, told me, "you've got to talk to this guy. He's our biggest supporter. He made all this possible." I'm intrigued. So in a brand new, high-tech barn with roll-up plastic walls and heated, automatic drip waterers, I spent a few minutes with the diminutive man Alexei Sakarchuk, a cancer survivor and persistent fighter. Ukraine Program Director Anna Pidgorna translated for me.
"I am the founding father of the co-op movement In Dnipropetrovsk Oblast," he told me humbly (if "humble" can be applied to a statement like that).
BF: How did you get started with co-ops?
AS: I started this in 2000. I addressed Ukraine's government with this problem but no one listened. I went to parliament, other branches... They dismissed me.
After the Internet, I learned about a Canadian project being implemented
in Lviv. I went there and met Viktor Teres [Heifer's Ukraine country director]. Together, we prepared a project proposal for Heifer and it was accepted. Since 2006, we are partners. So in 2006, the first co-op was started in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, Andriivka village.
BF: Were you always a supporter of co-ops?
AS: Before that, we were on the Soviet collective farm system. "Co-operatives" existed, but they were not real
co-operatives. They were bad. These were state entities. They did not hold to co-operative principles. There was no transparency, no honesty, no opportunity to elect members, no "someone helps you-you help someone back." It just did not exist. NOW it exists.
Right now, there are three in Dniproperovsk and there will be a fourth by the end of the year. We did not establish them by force. We tried to convince them [members] by showing them good examples such as this one. This is a very good example. The farm that you saw in Olexsandrivka [under construction-- the ground breaking in another post] will be super.
BF: Are they all dairy co-ops?
AS: Most are dairy, but there is also one vegetable co-op. they produce vegetables without any pesticides or chemicals.
BF: Certified organic?
AS: Not yet. It's only two years old. We did sample analysis for water and soil quality. We brought in California red worms to process manure. We also used biological agents-- we don't use pesticides or herbicides; we use environmentally friendly control mechanisms.
BF: Have you always been a farmer?
AS: I was never a farmer!
BF: Then why did you decide to get involved in this?
AS: Because I have a brain and a heart. And a will for people to live better. I don't want anything for my pockets. A lot of our leaders think only of gaining more income. That's unfortunate.
BF: You have a good brain and heart.
|Co-op pioneer Alexeii Sakarchuk explains the layout of the
Heifer demonstration farm at Olexsandrivka village
with Heifer Program Director Anna Pidgorna.
|Alexxi Sakarchuk oversees the Cossacks preparing material
for the time capsule at Olexsandrivka demonstration farm.