On accepting a Long term house-sitting assignment you need to consider your readiness to live in an unfamiliar environment and what the economics of the trip might mean to you. You know you will live rent free although you may be asked to pay for utilities. Think also of the basic food supplies you want to buy in order to feel at home. If you are an experienced house-sitter ready to set up ‘home’ in most environments you have a trick or two ready to create a comfortable space for yourself in someone else’s home. Edward accepted a house-sit in the Ukraine without ever having been there or even speaking Russian! Read about his own ‘economics of housesitting’ and how he finds the local farmers market and compare prices on his weekly supplies…
Food Shopping and the Economics of Housesitting in the Ukraine
Food shopping in the town of Brusilov near Kiev is an experience that would make any fan of the farmers market jealous. It’s the combination of immediate contact with seasonal freshness at prices that are sometimes pennies in the pound. The freshness isn’t just about the vegetables either: many of the people selling cow’s milk had probably milked the cow that morning. It makes the economics of housesitting super efficient with an extremely low mileage supply chain, often beginning and ending at a neighbour’s house!
Market Vendors in the Street Markets in Brusilov, Ukraine
Street market vendors in the Ukraine sometime offer a wide variety of fresh home grown produce.
The sidewalk markets have also been a real surprise, offering better produce than I could find at the market: plump, sweet tomatoes with no waxy skin, nuts directly from the tree, honey collected from hives down the street, tender white beans, beetroot yanked straight out of the ground, giant watermelons, sacks of potatoes and carrots with rich, black earth still clinging to them.
The potato farmer
People here are knowledgeable gardeners. Glance over any garden fence here to see the evidence. These Autumnal weeks of the year, yards often have drying corn stalk and rows of giant headed cabbages, among cleared beds for new growth.
Vendor of honey and spice
There are many specialised vendors—some only sell marmalades and local honey.
Grapes grow here in abundance, and trees are heavy with fruit well into the Fall. With this kind of abundance, it’s no wonder the national traditions copy the tendencies of nature. Go to any Ukrainian celebration, and ask what the sign of a good host or hostess is.
Easy answer: a table overflowing with food. So much food that the guests couldn’t possibly finish it. A good host makes sure that there WILL be food left after every person has eaten their fill.
The day’s purchase neatly stacked in wicker bike baskets on blue Schwinns are a common sight. Ladies ride these handsome bikes, their blonde hair neatly stacked in buns, and flowing long dresses with colourful patterns remind one of pictures from the 19th Century.
The Locals and their Resources
A row of elderly babushkas sit in the shade in front of their wares. They seem to have little use for words. It’s a curiosity that so many people would choose to buy the same things they offer at convenience stores. Packaging creates that illusory promise of safety and hygiene. If not for the additional costs, more people would probably shop at the supermarket. Moreover, instead of bicycles they would probably buy a gas guzzler too. Consumer behaviour is an ecological behaviour in Ukraine, but perhaps by necessity: it’s because of hard economics. Pay is low, they have to make it go as far as they can. For me, the economics of housesitting mean that I am always keen to hunt a good bargain, and I am a fan of street markets. These markets in particular have been an insight into the culture.
Making ends meet
Two bubbly women who handle clients on a daily basis for a major telephone company have become friends; they both confessed to me recently that they earn the equivalent of 200 dollars per month for their full-time jobs.
They have bicycles, cars, houses, and are providing for their children. Yet there is no talk of travel, in fact the way to survive is to remain within the economic bubble of this small town’s economy. Even so, my homeowner host commented that prices have shot up in the last 10 years, since so many in the last generation had gone abroad for work, returning to establish their businesses and family in their home towns, and bringing outside wares and prices along with them.
When I hear about their salaries, I wonder how much of a parallel economy I’m living in. Even here where life appears relatively inexpensive compared to the US, monthly expenditures for me near $1000. I’ve made several trips to Kiev, the delights of which have included sushi restaurants, Air BnB overnights, coffee shops, and an occasional pub visit. They have been luxuries and high points for me. However, to the everyday Western shopper, the economics of housesitting and shopping in the Ukraine might seem remarkably affordable. Judge for yourselves:
Food Prices – Economics of Housesitting in the Ukraine
Some Prices at the places in Brusilov where I’ve shopped (adjusted for dollars):
Produce from Private Houses – Brusilov, Ukraine
.50 for a mason jar full of fresh hot milk
2.30 for a bushel of apples and a large sack of potatoes
I figured she was probably overcharging me, but this babuska had so much trouble walking with her stooped neck craning downward, that I would have paid more, willingly.
Morning Market Produce – Brusilov, Ukraine
3.40 large wild caught carp
3.50 variety of carrots, beets, squash, lemon, onion
1.5 jar of fresh honey
.50 fresh kefir
.35 gorgeous red capsicum and assorted fresh garlic
Women squat on the sidewalk, offering their tables of home jarred milk, butter, cheeses, vegetables, and even beans. There are vats with live fish from which I actually picked out a live carp from among the huge Chinese dragon carp with whiskers and colourful scales.
And the fishmonger pulled it right out, plonked it on the scale and begin to “clean” it with his knife, while blood and scales splattered into the cleaning chest. It was such a violent sight, despite his matter-of-fact approach, that freshly caught oven baked carp might not appeal to me again.
Supermarket Prices – Brusilov, Ukraine
1 — bar of chocolate
2 — large bottle of beer
1.20 smetana (a must-have, thick cream)
.80 6 eggs
3.30 decent red wine (Merlot/Carmenere from Chile)
3.40 large block of Swiss type cheese
In some of the small convenience stores, lovely young women dress up in something like a 1950’s diner dress uniform, and often calculate the totals handily with an abacus. These are the nerve centres of the town though which everyone seems to pass.
I don’t buy bottled water since I’m drinking from a deep well under the property and am chuffed at how wonderfully the water tastes here.
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