Today, moving from the city to the countryside has become the mainstream in Russia, but in 2012 the Bajans were one of the first such families to step into the unknown, rethinking the concept of eco-living in the countryside.
Mikhail and Valeriya Bajan from the Russian city of Tver decided to move to the countryside in 2012. Both in their early twenties with degrees in law and engineering, they got tired of living a busy life in the city in a tiny apartment and were dreaming instead about having a big house in the countryside and cultivating their own land. For them and many other like-minded young people, living outside the city presents an opportunity to relax a bit, think about what they really want to do with their lives and maybe even start their own farm.
They bought a land 35 km away from Tver and decided to move there selling an apartment in the city and cutting all options for going back. They knew nothing about farming so they had to learn everything from scratch – from building a house to milking a goat.
To start with, the locals were suspicious of these young outsiders who had invaded their idyllic utopia. But with time, they recognized the seriousness of the Bajans' intent and started to support them.
At first, their homestead featured a few decorative pigs, goats and a bee-garden to produce honey. Later on, they betted on meat production but it turned out unprofitable in times of crisis, so now the young farmers are thinking about growing plants and creating their own greenhouse complex.
Above: Mikhail works at the sawmill. Below left: Vaccination of decorative pigs. Right: A gathering.
Following the refusal of local authorities to provide electricity to their settlement, the Bajans decided to produce energy themselves using wind and solar power. They also started applying modern technology in milk production and for other purposes.
Five years after the beginning of their venture, the Bajans are happy with their lives and welcome everyone who wants to join them and choose life and work in the countryside. As of today, the settlement is 50 hectares wide and includes four families. The project is called "Pereseleniye v poselenie" (Moving to a settlement), and the families run a collective organic farm called "Molodezhnoe" (Youth).
"The goal of our project was to show that even a few people can make a difference," Mikhail told Russia Beyond. Though it smacks of a Soviet "kolkhoz" (collective farm), here people are free to choose to do what they please, be it beekeeping, gardening, wood crafts or plant production.
Above: The wind power generator was one of the first things the Bajans bought. Below left: Valeriya and Polina. Right: Mikhail and his friends discuss collective work.
This project is an opportunity for people to fulfil their ideas, find like-minded people and support each other. For instance, one of the project participants planted more than 100 apple trees on his land, while another plans to open a museum of folk toys.
The settlement has an Internet connection and there is a local school, hospital and police in a village 2 km away. Products from Molodezhnoe farm appear on local market shelves and are available online. They sell honey, willow-herb, natural cosmetics and meat.
"The authorities don't help much, but at least they don't create obstacles for us," Mikhail shares. "Recently they eased the red tape on acquiring land, so that's good."
Public interest in the project is high. As many as 400 people come to visit the settlement on open days. There they can learn a few things about farming, help out in the household and get to know what life there is all about.
The farmers say that living in the countryside has made money less important for them. They no longer feel compelled to buy new fancy things, so the profit that they make from selling their products is quite enough for a contented life.
"It's great to see the fruits of your labor," says Mikhail. "And there's also more certainty here because you know that your children will inherit everything you've built and own."