ROC Working Group Dairy Farm :: Shemetevo, Russia :: December 26, 2011
I patiently waited outside of the Prazskaya metro station at 7:30 in the morning the day after Christmas. Cold and exhausted, I wiped at the snowflakes speckling my face. I knew family and friends half a world away would be spending the day waking just as early and shopping for post-holiday bargains. I, however, stood in anticipation for the unexpected. I knew I was waiting for Alexander Babikov, and I knew he would take me to the dairy farm he managed on the outskirts of the Moscow Oblast. Until our meeting, we had communicated solely by email with the aid of Google Translate. Apart from our agreed upon meeting spot, I had little idea of what the day would bring.
A short, smiling man approached me through the whipping snow and introduced himself as Alexander. For two hours, we headed southeast from Moscow, asking each other questions about our interests, families, and travels. As many people i’ve met in Russia, Alexander was particularly interested in why I had chosen to study his country, and why, of all fields, I was drawn to agriculture. I told him about my work with LavkaLavka, and about my future academic aspirations to be an anthropologist. He lit up with every question I asked about the farm he managed, confessing he had never interacted with a foreigner who hadn’t paid him a visit solely on business.
LavkaLavka Farmer’s Fair :: Moscow, Russia :: November 13, 2011
Hands buried in my pockets, I dart briskly through the travelers exiting Moscow’s Kurskaya Vokzal. November in Moscow is just as miserable as I was told to expect, and I am anxious to escape the cold on this early Sunday morning. I follow a small tunnel under the tracks that veers onto a side street lined with kebab stands and beverage kiosks. After nodding to the guard at the entrance, I emerge from the dingy ally into a parking lot. A few hundred more meters, and I finally see my destination: an oversized wooden door painted with flowers, sticking out among the neutral bleakness of the surrounding warehouses.
I pause upon entering LavkaLavka’s office. Before anyone looks up from their task, I feel the crescendo of a Tchaikovsky piece greet me, as if the track had synced with my steps to culminate in a dramatic entrance. The office, as I had come to know it, has been transformed. The large communal table that usually commands the center of the lofty red brick interior has been pushed aside to make way for wandering customers. To my left, winter vegetables spilling from paper bags line a bench. A table has dairy products displayed in neat lines. Black signs with chalk writing detail product names, producers, and prices. To my right, a shelf is stockpiled floor to ceiling with jams; next to it, another table is devoted entirely to meat samples. The samovar is steaming, inviting visitors to sip tea as they sample everything from pumpkin and ginger jam to pan-seared shuka, a regional fish. Scents from the open kitchen waft as high as the rafters. The space is aesthetically captivating. It is the cozy haven from the cold i sought: inviting, warm, and overflowing with local food.