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Learning about Ukrainian traditions from an Iowan

Learning about Ukrainian traditions from an Iowan
The Iowa farmers on the Black Sea study tour found a compatriot while traveling in central Ukraine. Jeff Rechkemmer of Olewein has farmed in Ukraine about a decade and each year divides his time between Ukraine, northeast Iowa and Texas.

The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation sponsored tour is designed to help Iowans learn about this region, which is expected to be a big competitor for Iowa crop exports in the coming years. Rechkammer’s farm tour was a true highlight, where farmers learned about farming in Ukraine and a lot more.

There are many similarities between farming in Iowa and Ukraine. Rechkemmer, who operates the Ukrainian farm with investors from the Netherlands, says his most profitable crops are corn and soybeans, the same as Iowa. And the farm’s tractors are big green John Deere models, mostly made in Waterloo.

But there are differences. For example, his tractors run 24-hours a day. If rains force the driver to stop, he stays in the tractor to wait until conditions improve. If the driver doesn’t stay with the tractor, the expensive machine is not likely to be there in the morning. As the major farmer and employer in his small community, Rechkemmer also takes on many social tasks, refurbishing the water tower, grading roads and even making sure needed caskets are built.

And the Iowa visitors found out other differences in Ukraine, like a noon day feast with many toasts for special occasions, such as a visit from farmers half-a-world away. As a gracious host to his fellow Iowans, Rechkemmer had his cooks set up an almost unbelievable spread. The long table at the farm’s dining hall groaned with so many traditional foods that it was nearly impossible to fit it all. And the food kept coming, with the servers hauling out plate after plate all through dinner.

As the eating commenced, Rechkemmer explained Ukrainian toasts, which are traditionally done with vodka. There are many, many toasts throughout the meal, but some of the most common in Ukraine are to women, men and horses. And they tend to go in that order.

The visitors took it in stride, toasted their spouses, cooks and many other things. They thanked their Iowa-Ukrainian host, boarded a bus and headed to the next farm on the itinerary over the country’s notoriously rough roads. Learning all the way.

Keep up with my Ukraine adventures.
Written by Dirck Steimel. Dirck is the editor of the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman.