Day 7 of Permaculture in Ukraine: An Heirloom Variety of Ukrainian

Singing Ukrainian Folk Songs around our "Vohnyk"

Singing Ukrainian Folk Songs around our “Vohnyk”

This post was originally written on 1/14/14.  I’m sorry for the delay in posting.

Well, I’m sitting in Lviv airport, preparing to leave from what has been a life-changing trip.  Things got busy once the Permaculture Teachers Course started, so I’ll try to summarize my experience here.

Collecting Water from the Mineral Hot Spring "Naftusia"

Collecting Water from the Mineral Hot Spring “Naftusia”

The course took place in Truskavets, a small touristic village about an hour and a half from Lviv in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains.  The village is famous for its mineral waters and hot springs Naftusia, Maria and Sofia.  The water from each of these springs has different healing qualities (and different, distinct flavors).  Research has shown that drinking small amounts of this water daily helps people regulate diabetes, and people claim that drinking it reduces signs of aging and has even brought cancer into remission.  Apparently, the water contains strains of healthy bacteria that are unique in the world, and cannot last for more than an hour outside of its natural environment.  Every other day or so, a small group of us would go to the springs to drink the sacred water.


The course was very intensive, which unfortunately meant that I had very little time to explore.  However, the connections I made with the permaculturists and environmental justice activists in Ukraine were incredible.  My Ukrainian improved dramatically after only 2 days of being there. My master’s degree was in applied linguistics/TESOL, so the experience of learning academic content in a trilingual environment was particularly fascinating.  The course focused a lot on pedagogy rather than permaculture, so it was a review of a lot the kinds of strategies I learned in graduate school.  However, it was great to have the refresher and to develop the vocabulary to discuss Bloom’s taxonomy, differentiated instruction, as well as permaculture content in both Ukrainian and Russian.


The course culminated in students giving 30 minute lessons about topics in permaculture.  As a second language instructor, it was a terrific challenge to teach students how to create a seed bank in Ukrainian, with activity guides scaffolded in Russian and English.  I’m glad I have a video of how I taught a class trilingually to add to my ESL CV.  They also really enjoyed my presentation regarding how to apply permaculture principles to curriculum development in an urban context, and I actually wound up acting as as couch for many of them as they developed their own lessons.


The final student lessons ranged from the practical to the theoretical.  Galyna, a physical education instructor and nutritionist, taught an excellent lesson about the “Web of Life.”  Oksana, a woman with her own piece of land in Novo Volensk, demonstrated how to create a pond and rainwater collection systems from her own experience.  Pavlo and Bohdan taught the basics of permaculture, discussing how to zone a site, how to stack functions, and how to capture and store solar, water, and financial energy.  Sasha presented about urban permaculture and waste reduction.  Vita presented an innovative application of permaculture principles as it relates to the self, or what I’d like to call “Zone 000.”  Tania presented a vision session, and Ilya facilitated a discussion about permaculture as it applies to intentional communities and ecovillages.

Last night, I had an amazing send-off.  I’ve discovered that I am a living, breathing Alan Lomax recording of traditional Ukrainian songs.  I speak an “heirloom variety” of Ukrainian, a version which was brought over to the states and preserved before the influence of the Soviet Union.  Last night, we celebrated Malanka, or Ukrainian New Year.  Just like the diaspora in the US, the Ukrainians put a bunch of candles in the middle of the conference room to make a vohnyk (“campfire”) and we sang songs together long into the night.  They were fascinated with the songs I sang for them– many of the songs that my family preserved have been lost, and they made recordings of the songs.  They also taught me new songs, which I recorded on my iphone to rehearse when I return.

There were many songs that we all knew, and as I heard them singing “Rushnychok” “Chervona Ruta” “Chom ty ne prejshov” and other classics, I was brought to tears.  My family is not so weird, after all.   I am not alone.  I am part of a continuum, a rich history and culture that is recreating itself throughout the world.   The essence of Ukrainian culture that my grandparents and parents passed down to me is not a myth.  It is, in fact, very real and very beautiful.  The fact that I carry with me the seeds of something that real Ukrainians value and want to learn from also makes me feel like all of those years of Saturday school and Ukrainian scouts had a greater purpose for preserving our heritage. For this, I am incredibly grateful.

Eating at the Armenian Restaurant

My hope is that my new Ukrainian friends will come visit me at Crow Forest Farm once I’ve begun teaching courses from there, or at least meet with my family in New York someday.  The NGO Permaculture in Ukraine plans to run a regular PDC (Permaculture Design Course) this summer.  If the timing is right, I hope I can attend so I can learn more Permaculture content in Ukrainian and Russian.  As far as PDCs go, Eastern Europe is the new frontier.  I will write more about my interviews with the organizer os NGO- Permaculture in Ukraine in a later post.  They and their work are fascinating, and I look forward to meeting again in the future.  I am grateful to the people I have met here, and can’t wait  until our next collaboration.


Do zustrich!

Permaculture in Ukraine Day 3: What is Permaculture?

What do the people of Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus think permaculture is? Here are some of our brainstormed definitions, across generations and transcending boundaries. Many of these definitions are translated into English by our gifted translator, Pavlo Ardanov. Enjoy!

Sasha is a spunky 18 year old college student studying journalism in Lviv.  She has great vision and energy, and is my partner for this week’s projects : )

Ukrainian:  Пермакультури це система проектування, яка фокусується на імітуючи закономірності в природі. Його засоби проектування свій бізнес, ферма, або організацію як екосистеми для того, щоб бути самодостатнім в довгостроковій перспективі. Пермакультури це спосіб мислення, обгрунтування, яке фокусується на укладання функції, збільшуючи перевагу, оцінюючи різноманітність, і отримання врожаю. Пермакультури фокусується на довгостроковій достатку, а не короткострокового прибутку. Йдеться про розумний задум сьогодні так у вас є система саморегулівний без особливих зусиль завтра. Це невтручання сільське господарство: Добре розроблена система саморегулюється. Це спосіб життя, який включає в себе організацію навколишнього середовища та інтеграції компонентів довкілля для того, щоб підтримати один одного без пошкоджень, не проводячи ніяких відходів та обміну достаток. Це про децентралізованої успіх від низу до верху. Це незалежна система, що є стійким під тиском.


Permaculture is a system of design that focuses on mimicing patterns in nature.  Its a means of designing your business, farm, or community like an ecosystem in order for it to be self-sufficient in the long-term.  Permaculture is a way of thinking, a rationale that focuses on stacking functions, maximizing edge, valuing diversity, and obtaining a yield.  Permaculture focuses on long-term abundance rather than short-term profit.  It’s about intelligent design today so you have a self regulating system with little effort tomorrow.  It’s laissez-faire agriculture:  a well-designed system regulates itself.  It is a way of life that involves organizing the environment and integrating the parts of the environment in order to support each other without damage, producing no waste and sharing the abundance.  It’s about decentralized success from the bottom- up.  It’s an independent system that is resilient under pressure.

Maryna is a landscape architect from Moscow.  She has traveled in America and is a wonderful roommate : )

Permaculture in Ukraine: Day 2



Sasha, Tania and Zhenya Xmas Day

Sasha, Tania and Zhenya Xmas Day


Lviv is an amazing city.  It is so much better than I ever expected.  It is a city of artists, foodies, and musicians.  It has a strong sense of history but is forward-looking. When I arrived at Lviv airport, Tatiana and her 11 year old daughter Zhenya were there to greet me.  Tatiana runs an organization in Lviv called “Nashe Yarmarok” that works on urban gardening and permaculture in the city.  There is so much love and playfulness in her family.  When I arrived at their home on the outskirts of Lvov, I was greeted by a turtle, a chincilla, a hamster, her 18 year old daughter Sasha, grandma, grandpa, and a Christmas dinner!
Tanya in her Urban Gardening Boutique "Nashe Yarmarok"


Tanya in her Urban Gardening Boutique “Nashe Yarmarok”

Tatiana’s family so full of love.  Her daughters are smart, musical, and constantly laughing.  She is constantly playing with her children.  Her daughters, while teenagers, are so open.  The people here are so down to earth.  It makes me feel better about my family.  Everybody is Ukraine is kind of like us- kind of messy, not fancy, but funny and generous,  and very much focused on enjoying delicious food.  I am so grateful for this experience, and for my family too : )


Euromaidan tent- just like OWS!

Euromaidan tent- just like OWS!

My family, like many Ukrainians, celebrates Christmas eve, “Sviat Vechir” on January 6th and Christmas day on January 7th.  I celebrated Sviat Vechir with my family on January 5th, flew out on Ukrainian Christmas eve, and arrived on Ukrainian Christmas day (Januar 7th).  The stores were closed but all of the people were on the streets, dressed in costumes and singing in Vertepy, traditional holiday troops that perform plays featuring kings, queens, angels, devils, and of course, the Virgin Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus.  The performances range from serious to greatly humorous, with great variety.


Vertep at the Euromaidan

Vertep at the Euromaidan

After singing the Christmas carols I grew up with and eating a delicious meal, Iliya, another permaculture course participant from Belarus, met us at Tatiana’s apartment.  After eating again, we went out on the town to see Lviv at night.  We went to a big square where the Lvivska Maidan was camping out.  It was just like Occupy Wall Street, but better organized, it seemed.  There, people were also perfoming radical Vertepy, singing carols in costumes.  I saw a poster reading, “Ivan Franko stood with Europe- where do you stand?”  Fireworks were streaming through the air and people were singing on stages and on the cobblestone streets.

People Watching the Vertep Euromaidan

People Watching the Vertep Euromaidan


There were so many interesting works of art that we found, for example, a store called “Native Mind” where I found works of art and fashion that were cooler than anything I’d seen in Brooklyn- and cheaper too.  Great music!  We also visited an artist who was painting icons on the shingles of an old famous church- one for each day of the year.

Icons painted on old wooden church shingles

Icons painted on old wooden church shingles


Photo of the church the shingles came from

Photo of the church the shingles came from


Lviv is also a very delicious city.  We visited a boutique where people made their own hard candies by hand.  I’m not a fan of hard candy but this stuff was incredibly delicious!  We went to a chocolate factory with rivers of chocolate running through it, a coffee roasters, and finally, a strudel cafe.  I don’t like strudel, but I guess I’ve never had  fresh Ukrainian strudel.  I had mushroom strudel with garlic sauce.  Insanely good!

Strudel and Coffee- mmm!

Strudel and Coffee- mmm!

Then we came home.  I went to bed only to have them wake me up to eat more with them at around 1:00 in the morning.  This is a very food-oriented culture.  We’re on the road to the permaculture course now, with Iliya at the wheel, munching on second breakfast as we speak.  I’m on a real adventure, that’s for sure.  I will keep all of you posted.


Permaculture in Ukraine: Day 1


Lviv from my plane window!

Lviv from my plane window!

As a child, I came from a country that didn’t exist.  I grew up speaking a language that was exiled in its own homeland, singing songs that were silenced, shouting stories that could only be whispered.

My grandparents and father had immigrated here from Ukraine, then controlled by the soviet union.  The USSR’s “Russification” policies, intended to create a more unified soviet culture, had outlawed the use of the Ukrainian language in public, or in print.  The immigrants living in New York City and its environs had created a rich diaspora subculture that gave me a sense of pride and identity as a child.  At the time, we spoke only Ukrainian at home, and despite growing up in the US, I had actually been placed in an ESL pull-out program in elementary school to help me with my English.  When other kids were watching Saturday morning cartoons, I was dragged to Ukrainian school at St. George’s in the Lower East Side every Saturday, where I learned about the history, music, art, and literature of Ukraine in my family’s native tongue.  I learned wilderness survival skills and folk songs through the Plast Ukrainian Scouting organization.  I sang a full Ukrainian mass every Sunday at St. Peter and Paul’s Ukrainian Catholic church, a working class parish in Spring Valley, New York, and learned Ukrainian folk dancing in their church hall on Fridays.  The message in all of these cultural institutions was hopeful and nationalistic: that someday, Ukraine would be free.  That we were keeping the language and culture alive in the United States in order to preserve it for when Ukraine gained its independence.

I remember in 1992, when Ukraine finally gained its independence.  My 3rd grade teacher, Ms. Barnes, invited me to come up to the front of class and draw Ukraine on to the map for the very first time.  The shape of the state was generally accurate, but I drew it two sizes too big, a reflection of my pride in a country that was so much a part of my identity, but had never actually been to.  She didn’t make me fix it.

The new Ukrainian immigrants began trickling in.  When the new girls from Ukraine came to New York and started attending Ukrainian school, we ABU (American Born Ukrainians) were so excited to meet them- only to discover that they spoke Russian.  The children of the diaspora and the new immigrant youth struggled to understand each other, both linguistically and culturally.  I remember conflicts between the new, less-privileged, Russian-speaking Ukrainian girls  and the American-born Ukies, particularly around sharing, fashion, and inclusion.  For the first time, it occurred to me that the idealized version of Ukraine that our teachers at St George’s had described to us may not actually be what it seemed.

The Orange Revolution and the Euromaidan protests are recent manifestations of Ukraine’s continuing struggle to define her cultural and political identity.   This trip is a venture into defining mine.  I’d made a list two years ago of 3 things I wanted to do before I turned 30.  I wanted to put my feet in the Pacific Ocean for the first time, spend more time with the people I love, and I wanted to finally visit Ukraine.  Today I embark on the journey to reconcile the Ukraine in my imagination with her social, political, and economic reality- however harsh it may be.

Right now, I’m writing from Gate 24 of the Warsaw airport, on my way to a 7-day intensive advanced Permaculture Teacher Training Course in the Carpathian mountains of Ukraine, the very region that my family came from. This course will provide me with a certification that will allow me to officially teach permaculture design out of Crow Forest Farm in Blacksburg, VA.   Run by the NGO “Permaculture in Ukraine,”

my participation in the course subsidizes Ukrainian citizens’ tuition in the course, allowing Ukrainians to learn about permaculture design.  The course is being taught by George Sobol, a British permaculture designer who has started several permaculture institutes in Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belarus and Moldova.   The course will be taught bilingually in English and Ukrainian, which will be fascinating for me as a linguist /second language educator as well.  I hope to share some of these experiences with the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute and Office for International Research and Economic Development to discuss how a second language can be refreshed and/or taught through sustainability content.  Well, I’m off to catch my flight.  I’ll update you all soon : )