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My first visit to Ukraine in the fall of ’03 was a whirl wind of activity to see and experience as much as possible in 30 days.  One of the major activities was going shopping for food.  In America the environmental conscience prides themselves on all the farmer markets that are open in the summer time to sell fresh organic produce from peoples’ gardens.

Well, the farmer market concept I discovered operating in Kyiv was one doozey free enterprising outdoor marketplace that makes those weekend wonders back home in America seem pathetic in comparison. Here the outdoor markets are open year around.

Vegetable Market in Kiev

There are hundreds of these markets operating throughout the capital city of Kyiv. The first one I visited was quite large where you could buy literally almost anything, except what you really needed. You quickly become a master of improvisation to make do with what is available.  If they don’t have it, it is your problem not theirs. Ah, who doesn’t love a good mystery or challenge?  Little things I took for granted were missing here.  However, if you find the right person they probable can make anything you want at a reasonable price.  This is a land where you still can have something that is broken fixed or repaired and I mean anything from the very simple to the most complex.

I am getting ahead of myself.  I was anxious to see how the locals shopped and variety of foods that was available.  We had to walk approximately 10 minute to get to the market.  I had my trusty backpack on to carry the groceries we would be buying home.   when we arrived the market was filled with thousands of people.  I was astounded to see all the fruit and vegetables on sale. Certainly there wasn’t a shortage of food, as there was a shortage in variety.  All the produce that’s sold anywhere in the city is controlled by one supplier.  Not a bad business to control.

Being a foreigner from across the pond is wasn’t difficult to see that health standard or regulation didn’t exit.  I didn’t mind because I grew up on a farm so I wasn’t shocked by what I was seeing.  Many Americans would be quite disturbed how things are done over here.  They probably would become squeamish seeing flies all over the fresh meat, as the sellers attempt to brush them away with a small tree cutting under a hot sunny sky.  Then there were pesky little yellow jackets that have a fondness for ripe fruit were buzzing around everywhere. Americans would be running for cover, but the calm Ukrainian shoppers goes about their business without concern.

Selling fish at the market

The Ukrainians haven’t a problem with living green. It was a way of life before globalization. The majority of population is not concerned about consequences of mass produced food or about political correctness of the western world.  They are more concerned about more heady matters, like improving their day to day lives and enjoying the quantity and variety of food and goods the new market economy has provided.

However, Ukrainians are losing their organic lifestyle quite rapidly because naturally produced food is being replaced by large global agriculture conglomerates whose farming methods are far from being green.

When I first arrive to Ukraine farmers markets were filled with organic field tomatoes, vegetables, poultry, meat, and fresh fruit.  In spite of lacking sanitary safeguards it was wonderful to eat food that actually had taste for a change. You don’t hear of people dying or becoming ill from the food they eat here.  More than likely they have developed a tough constitution and have adapted quite well to their environment throughout the years.

Now when you buy vegetables at the outdoor markets from individual gardens that are grown in rural villages and pay twice as much for the pleasure, you don’t know if they are organic or they have been purchased at the local wholesale food market and resold as organic.

Seasonal fruits and vegetables from private gardens

If that isn’t sobering enough, how about falsified products produced by greedy local businessmen who bribed officials that are responsible for insuring all products meet safety and health standards. When a TV channel recently done an investigation of local butter it found that 50% of all samples of butter on sale at major supermarket chains were falsified and really wasn’t butter.

Living in Ukraine may be a lot like playing the deadly game of chance, Russian roulette or eating a Forest Gump chocolate, you don’t ever know what you are going to get.

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