Travels with a Hungry Bear
Houghton Mifflin, 1996
This book is a background sketch to some of the author’s essays and articles in periodicals. As a recognized writer in the agricultural arena, he was one of the few Americans who gained access to the rural Soviet countryside in the early days of glasnost , which provided him with a wealth of contacts both officially and inofficially to gain some insight into the Soviet agricultural system. After the Soviet state collapsed onto itself, his prior contacts and exposure put him in an ideal position to observe and comment on the changes.
That, then, is what this book is about. He meets with farm directors who proudly show him their dairy cows and claim that he’ll rarely come across such a good milking herd, only to compare it to a typical American cow and find it’s milk production is only around half. A project to improve seed stock mired in the no-man’s-land of obtaining supplies necessary to build it, and an enterprising farm director who set up an unofficial fox farm also provide opportunities for comments on the systematic differences between western agribusiness and the slowly developing Russian form. He describes an electrician who, in the early stages of reform, convinced a farm director to let him privately manage a dairy herd; although quite successful as a farming enterprise, the attempt failed due to the jealousy of others.
The book presents an amazing angle on the basis of an economy trying to remain upright after it’s main pillars of support have been removed, and does this at both a national and personal level.