Introduction The Russian Dacha and the Dachnik movement have been around for more than 100 years and the home garden for more than 1,000. The Dacha is typically a one-room cottage perched on one hectare of land—large enough to grow fruits and vegetables to support a single family via intense, mostly manual labour. 35 million Dachniks (which is another word for ‘gardener’) saved the people of Russia—during 80 years of Communist rule, they produced more than half of the nation’s agricultural output. The productivity of their land was far higher than the industrial farms organized as massive collectives under Stalin. The Dachnik movement is an exportable model of a sustainable form of agriculture—localized, (mostly) organic and built on an economic model of social norms rather than market norms (see: Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational, Harper Perennial, 2010 for an in-depth discussion of these norms.) Social norms in this context mean that Dachniks help each other or trade with each other without money exchange. Ariely shows that, in a gift economy, many people will willingly work harder than if they are paid. Lawyers asked to work legal aid cases, for example, won’t do any for a discounted wage of, say, $30 per hour but willingly line up to perform work on a pure volunteer basis. So Dachniks needing extra labour for a short period, another shovel, advice on a weed or pest infestation can expect to get help for nothing—or, at least, no monetary exchange. Of course, their neighbours will anticipate the same consideration in return one day. In addition to being more self-reliant, enjoying the company provided by a community of like-minded people and eating food of known provenance, Dachniks also benefit from Japanese-style forest bathing or shinrin-yoku. The Japanese believe and the evidence suggests that humans regularly exposed to the scent and sight of trees and plants have improved health—both mental and physical. For more about forest therapy refer to: Imagine the effects on Dachniks who spend an average of 17 hours each week during the season working their gardens*. (* THE SOCIOECONOMIC AND CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE OF FOOD GARDENING IN THE VLADIMIR REGION OF RUSSIA by Leonid Sharashkin.) Dr. Sharashkin also reports: “Russia has 18.8 million acres of family gardens, which produce US$14 billion worth of products per year, equivalent to over 50% of Russia’s agricultural output, or 2.3% of the country’s GDP (Rosstat 2007b). The United States, on the other hand, have 27.6 million acres of lawn, which produce a US$30 billion per year lawn care industry (Bormann, Balmori, and Geballe 2001).” There are also more than 17,000 golf courses in the US and, if the average golf course uses 135 acres, then another 2.3 million acres are eaten up by golf. If you add the lawn care industry* to golf care, you have 30 million acres devouring water, chemicals, pesticides, insecticides, fungicides and fertilizer and producing … nothing. (* for an alternative to the traditional lawn, please read: Natural Gardens, Dachniks Come to Ontario I have a client who wants to introduce the Dachnik movement to Ontario. He had an interesting time trying to explain to OMAFRA (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs) what the concept means. Their basic idea was to buy 300 acres of derelict farmland. In Eastern Ontario, there are more lands that grow weeds than useful product so there is plenty to choose from. The optimal situation for a Dachnik is to have their plot within an hour of where they live full time so that access on weekdays is possible during the crucial growing and harvesting seasons. In Eastern Ontario, no problemo—there is plenty of some of the world’s least expensive farmland within an hour of most cities and towns. Land can be $1,500 CAD per acre or less. And the area is famously home to thousands of lakes, streams and rivers. Water is everywhere and available in all seasons from surface water bodies, huge underground reservoirs (via drilled wells) and from the Heavens as well. The problem isn’t availability in Ontario of land or water, it is regulatory. OMAFRA defines agriculture and farming as if they were exclusively industrial combines—only massive industrial and chemical-based farming operations are recognized as ‘farmers’. As such, they have access to subsidized diesel, to cheaper inputs (seeds and fertilizer), to free labs for soil analysis, to no cost advice on weed or pest infestations, to marketing boards as well as other forms of market and price supports including income subsidies and they have significantly lower property taxes as well. OMAFRA describes the Dachnik movement as a bunch of ‘gardeners’, a pejorative term to OMAFRA. Gardeners do not have access to any of OMAFRA’s services or other forms of support which puts Dachniks behind the eight ball. If you allow your competition to start at the 80-metre mark in a 100-metre race while you start at 0, you can not possibly win. For example, 59-year old Prof Bruce can beat Usain Bolt in London in 2012, as long as I start at 80-metres. I know because I have timed it. Conclusion For Dachniks, the problem is compounded—try explaining to your local municipality or township or county, that on 300 acres you plan on sharing the land with more than 100 other families, each with their own cabin or Dacha! What’s wrong you might ask, Dear Reader, with having your own one-room cabin on your own one hectare of land where you can take shelter in inclement weather or, as a tired Dachnik after a long day at the office and a few hours of manual labour in your garden plus an hour or two of companionable company around a camp fire with fellow Dachniks drinking a bit of vodka while playing your balalaika, you decide to sleep overnight there? What’s wrong is that it breaks practically every zoning code ever invented and it is impossible, IMPOSSIBLE, to get such a thing approved in Ontario and, I suspect, pretty much everywhere else in North America. NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard folks*) will oppose it because of fear and greed. They will be fearful because they will suspect that Dachniks are a different kind of people. People fear the unknown. They will be greedy because they will say that the proposed land use will crater their property values. (* For more on how NIMBY’ism subverts the democratic process, refer to: ‘Environmentalists’ will oppose it too; they will say the proposed use will increase traffic and noise. Planners and zoners will also oppose it but they will be more subtle. They won’t say ‘no’; instead they will ask for expensive and lengthy studies and processes (such as a full sub-division plan and application) in the hope that either delay or bankruptcy of the proponent will kill the idea. In fact, their fears are baseless. Small towns in Ontario and in much of Canada suffered horribly in the downturn of 2008 and 2009. It’s one thing to have a cushy job with the GOC (Government of Canada) in a well-to-do place like Ottawa, quite another thing to struggle to make a living in Cornwall, Prescott or Hawkesbury. Dachniks and their movement will certainly increase rural property values. The average Canadian family spends about $17 per week on fruits and vegetables or about $884 per year (Stats Canada, Food Expenditure in Canada, 2001). If that is all they produce on their Dacha plots and if their cost of production is a third of that, then their labour and profit yield a NOI of $592 per year. With a 9-cap (capitalization rate), this gives a land value of $2,660 per acre. If each cabin is worth $12,000 and has a contributory value of 50%, then each one hectare plot has a total value of $12,580 which works out to just over $5,000 per acre. I suspect that these micro farms will actually trade for much more than $12,580 each. Some of these properties when intensively hand farmed will actually produce much more than the measly $884 I used above. One micro farm I know near Aspen, Colorado produces over $120,000 USD worth of product on just over 10 acres. Now they have the advantage of being close to a very wealthy enclave filled to the gunwales with people who will pay high prices for locally grown, organic produce. Their farm gate marketing is further boosted by their home delivery service. If you use $12,000 per acre as a measure of the value of their output, each micro farm would be worth more than $95,000 (about $38,500 per acre). These micro farms would, in any event, be worth more than just their economic value. The social value (everything from hanging out with congenial friends to improved health from forest bathing) would factor in to the value that each plot would actually trade for. By bringing hundreds and perhaps thousands of would-be Dachniks out of the cities and into nearby rural areas, small towns would immediately feel positive effects and spin-offs. Economic activity and property values would increase and jobs would be created not to mention that employment and opportunity for young people would multiply and at least give rural communities a chance to hold on to their most valuable resource: their kids. I suspect that the only way to actually build such a community in Ontario and places with a regulatory framework much like ours would be to do it using another Japanese technique called Nemawashi, which means ‘preparing the way for an idea’. You would have to do it stealthily: a little bit at a time. You would be like an iceberg since most of what you would be doing would be somehow invisible because it is below the waterline. I can reliably predict that if some group were to successfully establish (by stealth, no doubt) a farm made up of a 100-family community of micro farmers that the next Minister of Agriculture and Food would one day visit and proclaim this as the future of farming in Ontario. Politicians love to run to the front of an already-formed parade as long as it has been proven safe to do so. Nevertheless, if you want something done in Ontario and in Canada, you have to start at the top. There is no practical way to get a bureaucracy (any bureaucracy) to implement change. Without Ministerial approval and backing, there is no way to get micro farms approved as ‘farms’ with all the benefits that will flow from that change. But energy gulping, environment destroying golf courses and manicured lawns, sure, you bet, bring them on! Prof Bruce Postscript: Russian Dacha Land Value: Case 1 Fruits and Vegetable Spending $17 per week 52 $12,000 2.471 acres 33% costs $3,960.00 costs $8,040.00 labour and profit 9 cap $89,333.33 $12,000 Cabin 50% economic contribution of cabin $95,333.33 $38,580.87 per acre land and cabin $36,152.70 per acre land only Russian Dacha Land Value: Case 2 Fruits and Vegetable Spending $17 per week 52 $12,000 2.471 acres 33% costs $3,960.00 costs $8,040.00 labour and profit 9 cap $89,333.33 $12,000 Cabin 50% economic contribution of cabin $95,333.33 $38,580.87 per acre land and cabin $36,152.70 per acre land only