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Seeds in Their Pockets: Real-time borshch and chichky at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village

By Marilynn McAra

It's going to be another hot summer day. In cities, office workers scurry off to the comfort of air-conditioned high-rises, but, at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village east of Edmonton, interpreters don heavy costumes before walking to their work in its fields, gardens and townsite. With luck, there will be a breeze today—to dry perspiration-soaked clothes and discourage this year's plentiful crop of mosquitoes.

Axenia GrekulWhen the first visitors arrive at her farm, "Axenia Grekul" stops hoeing her garden, wipes her brow, adjusts her kerchief to shade her face against the sun's glare and greets them. Chatting is a welcome interruption to this back-aching work, even if her English-speaking callers have difficulty with her Ukrainian accent and persist in talking about things she's never heard of. It's a bit of a time warp, because Axenia is living in 1918.

The visitors admire the bright orange California poppies splayed open in her flower garden, and Axenia tells them that both she and her husband love chichky (flowers). She beckons them to smell the sweet peas and points to the dahlias in bud. A young guest is fascinated with the ragtag scarecrow which, Axenia explains, keeps birds from eating her strawberries.

Modestly, she asks whether her guests would like to see her vegetable garden near the house. This fence-enclosed garden—neat rows of vegetables randomly sprinkled with explosions of poppies and dill—is very large, and the guests assume she has a large family to feed. But no, Axenia and Hryhorii are young, with no children yet. However, they like to share their abundance with neighbours and relatives less fortunate than they. "God grew it, so you will have some and so will I," says Axenia in Ukrainian, before attempting an English translation.

Last year, she collected 13 sacks of cucumbers, Axenia recalls. Even after they'd used as many as they needed, fed them to their cows and given away as many as possible, she still had cucumbers left over. Axenia is particularly proud of the watermelon she has coaxed into growing here: it's a treat she grew back home in Bukovyna.

Down the road from the Grekul farm, hidden among the trees, another interpreter works barefoot in her garden. This is Anna. Her husband is away working for the summer, leaving Anna alone to care for the children, her garden and their small crops of wheat, barley and flax.
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Reprinted with the permission of  Marilynn McAra and Alberta Views (March/April 2002): 50-56.
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