Helen Garbuz: Expat Eco Gardening in Ukraine

Helen Garbuz: Expat Eco Gardening in Ukraine

Originally from New Jersey, Helen came to Ukraine in June 1998 to work for a US government funded technical assistance program for one year. She enjoyed the country so much that she found a permanent job as Program Hub Director for the US school exchange program FLEX. However, after the birth of a son, Helen’s career took a back seat and she decided to become a full time mother and an active member of the International Women's Club of Kyiv. Nowadays Helen has a dacha in Pyriatyn rayon, Poltava oblast, where she is actively engaged in an exciting hobby — ecological gardening.

When did the idea of growing vegetables and fruits first appear in your family?
After I married my husband, Yuriy, we would visit his parents in the village. I really enjoyed the fruits and vegetables they grew and enjoyed being in the countryside. When my son was born, however, I became very concerned about the quality of the food I was feeding him and first thought about growing our own produce for him. It seemed a perfect solution - we would see my in-laws more often and have quality food for our children.
What do you enjoy the most about your hobby?
fruit trees

So many things, but I love my fruit trees the best. I really look forward to pruning them each year and sneaking time away from the garden to inspect and care for my trees. You sell your products to many expats that live in Kyiv.
Is it hard to find a client base in Ukraine?
The expat community in Kyiv, while not small, does have its own network. I do announce my vegetables once or twice per year on Facebook groups for expats, but mostly I find new clients through word of mouth. As we all know, even the most enjoyable hobbies often demand a lot of time.
What golden rules of time management would you recommend someone who wants to follow your steps?

Gardening is a very demanding hobby. Once you have harvested the produce, you have to basically drop everything to preserve, sell or otherwise use it. I have gotten used to not planning much else on weekends during the growing season. You just need to carefully plan your entire week, so that you can devote the necessary time solely to the garden. Routines help very much.
You have lived in Ukraine since 1998. How do you like it here?
I really love Ukraine. It is a wonderful place to raise a family. People are friendly. The weather is really nice with the best of both summer and winter. Kyiv has many events to enjoy, and the country as a whole has lots of neat places to explore.
What is the most drastic change about the country over the last twenty years in your opinion?
The pace of life in Kyiv seems to really have sped up. When I first arrived there was little traffic, no supermarket chains, no business lunch in cafes, etc. Going out and shopping were events that took quite a bit of time. Now traffic is horrible, it seems as though everyone is rushing all the time, and malls and quick food are everywhere. Unfortunately, the cost of living in Kyiv has also grown considerably. Other than that, it would be the explosion of the Internet and cell phones. When I first arrived, there was very little of either, especially outside of the big cities. I remember using telegrams at work to contact people in smaller towns who didn't have home phones!
Finally, what are your future plans?
We are considering turning my hobby into a larger business, but I wouldn't want to lose the small-garden character to my fruits and vegetables (e.g. heirloom and non-commercial varieties, strictly seasonal availability, completely organic and natural growing methods).
Interviewed by Kate Pryliuk.
Photos provided by Helen Garbuz.


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