Ancient churches and the grandeur of Soviet-era architecture – the Kostroma region in Central Russia is a land of contrasts, but it is also a place of dying villages with thousands of deserted houses.
Kostroma has always depended on the hands of its people and the bounty of its generous nature.
The land is known for its ecologically clean woods which cover almost 80% of its territory and feed just as many of the local population.
Blueberries, cranberries and mushrooms from the Saima Beverages Russia factory in Kostroma are sold to Sweden, Germany, Austria and France, and the demand is huge.
"Our stock is wild berries and mushrooms which are gathered in Russia's northern woods. These are regions which haven't been polluted by industry,’’ said the deputy director general of the factory Anastasia Ershova. “The berry is picked by locals exclusively, who know every piece of the forest, every path there.”
Picking berries is the main income for many who live in the village and pensioner Valentina Baranova is one of them. Her son died several years ago. In spite of being 71-years-old she goes to the forest to feed herself and her older sister.
“Nowadays if people go to forests they do it for business, not for themselves,” she said. “Many don't work and earn money simply from selling berries to wholesalers. Young people can earn a lot on that!”
Her sister Faina says that earning money this way in the twenty first century is a backward step for the region.
“If I were 20 years younger I would try to run a farm, because land is everything. I would restore collective farming,” she said. “I would take some 500 hectares of land – that would be enough for me. And I would buy two or three tractors which I’d exploit 24/7. I would find a way out!”
Others younger than and just as ambitious as Faina say the way ahead for them is by staying in the village.
After serving seven years in prison, Stanislav Chasovskikh realized he wanted a different life. In just a couple of years he built his own farm in the region and now children from neighboring villages come to him on sightseeing tours.
“Many villages are now dying out, so when kids come to my place and see that it is possible to create something useful on a piece of land in a village, well maybe they won't be so desperate to leave for big cities. They could stay and work here.”
The main produce of Stanislav’s farm is quail eggs. Four hundred quails and the 12,000 eggs that they lay each month still do not meet the demand of three local retailers. Stanislav is proud that his venture has worked out even without a business-plan. Stanislav has even repaired the road in the village so that his eggs don’t get damaged while being transported.
Quails' eggs are considered a delicacy. The nutritional content is comparable to that of chicken eggs, but they are a good option for people with allergies, and one of the most useful things about quails is their productivity. One bird can lay up to fourteen eggs a week.
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