Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


A Mini-Farm Trip to Uzbekistan 2004

Ken Hargesheimer

I received an email for Dr. Oral Ataniyzova, of Perzent, an NGO, asking me to teach a workshop in organic, no-till, permanent bed gardening and mini-farming. I left Lubbock on 16 July at 1:30 PM by way of Houston, Paris, Moscow, Tashkent, arriving in Nukus on 18 July at 5:45 PM.

In the terminal in Moscow, I asked an Aeroflot person where to go since I had no papers for entering Russia. She directed me to an "in-transit" window. The lady took my ticket to Tashkent and told me to go downstairs and enter the country. Hundreds of people were in lines. I had been there about 2 minutes when a passenger on my flight told me that the lady said for me to return to her window. She told me to go through a door to my left and I would be at a transit office, across from the Music Store, at 9:30 PM. I went through the door and was inside the terminal, bypassing immigration and customs. They escorted me to a shuttle bus which delivered me to Terminal 1. The plane arrived at midnight. I got no sleep on this flight. They served drinks and then a meal and never did dim the lights for sleeping. Had a movie going.

We arrived in Tashkent at 5 AM. I went to the baggage area and no luggage. I was told that I must go to the Lost and Found Office and file a claim. Carol had arranged for a woman who teaches gardening to meet with me. Irina Kim and her daughter, who speaks English, were at the gate. We went to a cafe to visit. I gave her a copy of my agriculture CD and they went with me to the L&F Office.

At 4:15 PM, we departed for Nukus on an airplane with a broken air conditioning system. To say it was hot, is a mild statement. Murat Ataniyazov and Adilbek Palvaniyazov met my flight. They dropped me off at the Nukus Hotel. I suggested that they telephone the office about my luggage.

19 July 04, Monday

The Nukus Hotel is really an apartment building. I had a one-bedroom apartment but the owner cooked and brought my breakfast and supper to my kitchen. Excellent food. I soon learned that the only vegetables these people eat are marinated tomatoes, onions and cucumbers [TOC].

At 9 AM, Murat and Adilbek arrived. They had learned that my luggage was in Washington, DC. I would like for Continental and Air France to explain that one!   

Adilbek was my translator, but he had little knowledge of agriculture so we constantly used the dictionary. I felt sorry for him. He is a part time translator for Perzent and is a university student. He works there as a computer and English teacher. Speaks five languages.

We went by the Perzant office and then left for Chimbay. It is an hour's drive. All are small farmers who are organic. That is the first time I have had such a class. Always before, I had to try and convince the farmers to go organic. I discussed no-till and permanent beds. Some had a very difficult time accepting the idea of no-till. 

I was served breakfast at 7:30 AM. We were served lunch at 1 PM. Six of us were seated at one table and two platters of rice and beef were served along with three bowls of TOC. Each of us had a serving spoon, but no plates. Each three of us ate out of the platters. Had a fork for eating TOC with two sharing one bowl.

We had tea at 11 AM and 3 PM. Class ended at 5 PM. I got to the hotel around 6:30 PM and served supper around 7:30 PM.

20 July Tuesday

We continued discussing no-till. One hectare of wheat will gross S160,000. [S1000 suma=US$1] It costs S40,000 to hire a tractor to come and plow the land and return to sow the wheat. I pointed out that by going no-till, they would have S40,000 extra in their pocket. 

Again, we discussed winter production techniques. There is no tomato production from October to April. Tomatoes sell in the summer for S150 per kilo but in winter it is up to S1000 per K. I suggested using hoop houses except for December and January when the temperature drops as low as -30 C. The sun shines every day. I showed them how to build a double hoop house to grow in December/January.

21 June 04, Wednesday

We continued our discussion on marketing and winter production. On my laptop I showed them photos of a double hoop house. They want their soil black and soft as in Fukuoka's video. The way they get that is to stop tilling and increase organic matter.  They cannot make enough compost. It is too much work. They must use green manure/cover crops.

My luggage was delivered to the hotel at 10:30 PM. It took my luggage six days to arrive. 

22 July, Thursday

Really had an interesting day. These farmers are really ambitious. We spent more time discussing marketing and then I went over the seeds for new crops that I brought with me. In all my workshops, this has the farmers' interest more than any other thing I teach. I see why. When tomatoes are 150/k. they are desperate for a profitable crop. This country is self-sufficient in food and only imports tropical fruits such as bananas. They are more expensive than at home so very few can afford them. Every house has a garden and as you fly over the country all you see is gardens and minifarms.

Most want to farm full-time and I told them that they can, but not in a traditional way. I had some Valencia peanuts with me. I prefer them over Virginia peanuts. Then it occurred to me that they should know about peanut butter. They had never heard of it. We returned to Nukus and went to the market. They have only Virginia peanuts. No peanut butter. Value-added marketing is very profitable. If they do not want to make it themselves, they could market their peanuts to someone who will. 

23 July, Friday

It is just amazing to teach farmers who are so knowledgeable. I discussed seeds sent to them by Carol Vesecky of CA and Celinda Miller of NM. I brought many seed catalogs with me and they took them home overnight and had many questions about new crops. They do not have pecans, brussel sprouts, blueberries, raspberries, sweet potatoes and several other vegetables very popular in other countries. Murat had a new issue of a Russian farming magazine, really nice, which had an article on blueberries. They can get plants from there but they are expensive. It may be easier to get them from America since Murat will be in CA in November. He will be trained in double digging. I took the same workshop in 1997 but began teaching no-till in 2000. These farmers should not double dig. It is too much hard work and takes too much time.

We discussed more marketing. Tashkent is 18 to 24 hours by land. Marketing there is out of the question; too expensive. Therefore, the only way to increase income is:

1. Reduce their cost of production. They have started by being organic. Now they must go 0-tillage in permanent beds to cut cost more. It not only reduces cost, it reduces labor tremendously.

2. Have something to sell that no one else has. I mentioned baby corn as one of many new crop seeds I brought with me.

We discussed appropriate technology. On the CD are plans for a sawdust toilet which can be made and used inside the house. No odors. That is better than going outside in -30 weather. An outdoor toilet is what I used growing up. I mentioned a bicycle trailer. In passing, I mentioned solar cookers. They wanted to make one. 

24 July, Saturday

First thing we did this morning was build a solar cooker. Murat suggested using foam from the computer box we were using for the insulation. Perfect, since it could carry the weight of the pot. Excellent idea. We used wadded up paper only to fill in the voids. They had no black pot so one of the men blackened one. [soot?] They put in some rice and water and sealed it with tape because they had no glasscutter to cut the glass to fit the top.

We went back to the classroom, watched and discussed three video CDs [VCD]. Parts we viewed twice. They are in English or Spanish with English sub-titles. Adilbek translated as best he could and then I did some explaining and we discussed it. Ruth Stout was the guru of no-till gardening in America. 

It is very difficult for a farmer who has plowed all his life to accept 0-tillage. One told me that his father plowed and his grandfather plowed. I am not sure I have convinced them. Finally, I asked, "How long have you been organic?" Three years. Then I said, "Had I come here ten years ago and taught you organic farming you would think that this is one crazy American." Yes. I said, "Here I am teaching you about 0-tillage and you are thinking that this is one crazy American. "

Adilbek reminded me about the solar cooker. They tried to remove it with bare hands and learned quickly it was hot! The rice was cooked!!! They were impressed. I told one of the women that if she had a solar cooker, this morning before coming to class, she could have put supper in it, left it outside in the sun and returned home tonight with supper ready to eat. We stopped early. This was the sixth day of classes and I believe it was too much. Five days is enough. We were all tired. 

I returned to the hotel around 5:30 PM. About 6 PM, my doorbell rang. It was Berdiyar Jollibekov, the son of Bakhiyar Jollibekov, that Carol knows and had sent seed to. He had come to pick it up. He is head of the C.A.F.A. [Central Asian Free Exchange] farm program. He handed me a brochure. I was shocked to learn that they have translated Organic Food Production, No-Dig Gardening, Asian Natural Farming and Mechanized No-Till Farming into Russian and Karakalpak. He has visited Fukuoka's farm in Japan. He gave me hard copies and a CD. Will mail him the VCDs.

25 July, Sunday

Adilbek arrived around 9 AM and we went to the market. I wanted to buy a machete. We asked and asked and finally found one. The only one in UZ? It has about a 400 mm blade. $3. I paid that for a factory-made one in Honduras with a 700 mm blade. It is a tool that is so useful. Every farmer in Latin America uses it to plant, chop, harvest, etc. In India, last September, the farmers had never heard of them. These farmers had never seen one but knew about them. I purchased my first machete in Guatemala in 1960. It was made in India. They are still made there for export only. If the farmers in India and UZ would buy one and learn to use it, they would never be without it.

We drove to Chimbay. Only 11 men came. Viewed a VCD and then the electricity went off. Had lunch. The electricity came on, but the headphones would not work for Adilbek to hear the English and translate. We were going to view a VCD about Fukuoka.  

Last week the farmers had asked me about milk production in the USA. I told them 12 to 20 liters per cow. Today someone mentioned about what they fed the cows and I immediately knew why they get only 3 liters per cow. The cows are hungry. They should feed them nothing but alfalfa or grass or hay. It is very understandable to me why they only get 3 liters of milk. I reminded them that a cow has two stomachs and is made to eat grass. The things they feed them are perfect to use as mulch or for compost but not cow feed.

26 July, Monday

At 8:30 we left for Chimbay. We viewed the Fukuoka VCD and part of it we viewed again. It is really good. Adilbek really does not have the agriculture vocabulary to translate the videos. The farmers were really interested. It showed them that what I am teaching will work. He has been no-till for 70 years. George Geoff in PA has land that has not been plowed in 30 years. I believe that this video convinced those who had doubts that no-till will reduce their labor and farming cost and save soil. Ruth Stout did not plow or till her garden for 60 years.

One of the women put a cake in the solar oven. It was good.

Adilbek asked each farmer to tell what interested him/her most in the classes. One asked how he could make his soil black and loose like in the VCD. I said, "You add more and more organic matter and stop plowing which burns it off." Every day for 7 days I have discussed adding organic matter. A woman said that now she knows how to get her cow to produce more milk. It surprised me that solar cooking was of so much interest. I believe that most will try no-till. Then they will convert their whole farm to no-till, which is my reason for coming and teaching. Drip irrigation is of much interest. I wish I had brought a bucket drip kit with me but they cost, delivered here, $12. Instead, I showed them how to make one but the plastic tubing available here is of very poor quality. It is very hard. The DIY drip system I showed them has a advantage in that if an outlet stops up, just clean it out. I am going to mail a piece of drip tubing to Perzent so they can see what good drip tubing looks like.

We had tea and they sang some songs and we returned to Nukus around 4 PM. 

I never tell farmers to go home and convert their farm to organic, no-till, permanent beds. Here is what I tell them. I hope that every farmer here will immediately construct, on his/her farm, two permanent beds for experiments. 1-2 m wide and 3-4 m long. In one, plant a green manure crop to increase the matter in the soil. Then plant a crop in it. I hope that each one will construct another bed, plant a cover crop and/or plant it in vegetables and, when the cold weather arrives, put a hoop house over it to produce during the winter. When they see the results, they will convert their whole farm.

I told them that some people teach organic. Fewer people teach no-till. A few people teach the use of permanent beds. I teach gardeners/farmers to use all three. That is the way to do it and there is unlimited documentation to prove it. I am glad I went. Maybe I can return some cold January day, and see the no-till farms, drip irrigation, green manure/cover crops, have fresh vegetables out of the hoop house and eat lunch cooked in a solar cooker.  

27 July Tuesday

Adilbek arrived at 10 AM and we went to the office. A lady with Perzent wanted to do an interview with me on video for TV and the newspaper. She was not there. We stopped by the office of Rustam Arzykhanov, The Farm Center, to deliver seed. Explained each one. We discussed no-till and he believes it will not work. I had already heard all his arguments against it. I simply said, ""No-till works." I am going to mail him copies of the VCDs.

We walked to the market and ate lunch. I would never do this in Africa and Latin America but things are clean here. Had something similar to an empanada with meat and rice in it. I mentioned beef so he ordered "kiskabobs a la UZ." Really good. Meal cost me about $2 with hot tea. Some one could get rich here by opening a sweet shop with donuts, etc.

Returned to the office for the interview. Did some other paper work for them. They presented me with a Perzent cap and tee shirt. The people I worked with daily are really great people.

This evening at 6 PM, Berhiyar picked me and took me home to have dinner with him and his father. We sat on the floor around the table. They are native "Karakalpakstanites". Been here for centuries. Really enjoyed it. Excellent food. Peaches right off the tree. Talked gardening as they have a wonderful garden. Gave me some cottonseed. It is specially bred for low water use. One pre-water and no more. The water table here just keeps rising until now it is only one meter below the surface. In fact, it has damaged the foundations of some of the homes. The canals that bring the water into the desert have been here for time immemorial. The water is not that saline. The problem is that the water is free so they just flood and flood some more, building up more and more salts. I told the farmers to only water as necessary.

28 July Wednesday

Adilbek picked me up and took me to the airport. Flight left at 7 AM arriving in Tashkent at 9:15. My flight to Moscow was at 7 PM. I finally found one electric outlet to plug in my laptop in the mezzanine snack bar. 

We landed in Moscow at 10:20 PM. It was 11:30 before they completed the in-transit paper work. Then the shuttle bus takes nearly 30 minutes to get me to the other terminal. I had decided that with so little time, a hotel room and all that would involve was not worth the trouble. Slept a while like the other 15 people in the terminal. A cup of coffee was US$6. I passed. A pint of water was $2.

29 July Thursday

Went to Intransit at 5:15 AM. The lady got my boarding pass for Paris and I went to the gate. Intransit passengers are treated royally. Flew to Paris and changed planes for Houston. At Houston I was paged when I got to the baggage claim area. No luggage. I arrived in Lubbock at 10:15 PM. 

21 July Friday

Never been so tired in my life because I did not have one long overnight flight to sleep.

The luggage was delivered Saturday.

If these 20 farmers will practice what I taught, they can recover the cost of these classes in one or two seasons. They can practice this the remainder of their lives making more profit and doing much less work.


I really enjoyed the past two weeks. I am ready to return to UZ again and teach even more people organic, no-till gardening and farming.

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Revised Thursday, August 5, 2004

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture