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Apocalypse Paused: Scenes From Soviet-Era “Ghost Farms”

Picture two giant farms: one the size of France; the other the size of Wisconsin. That is how many acres of agricultural land sit fallow in Russia (45 million) and Kazakhstan (35 million).   The 250,000-acre Chilinka Collective Farm, in northern Kazakhstan, was once known as an oasis on the steppes. It was home to 500...

An abandoned sheep barn erodes away on the steppes of Kazakhstan. PHOTOGRAPH BY RYAN BELL

Picture two giant farms: one the size of France; the other the size of Wisconsin. That is how many acres of agricultural land sit fallow in Russia (45 million) and Kazakhstan (35 million).

 

 

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s collapse. During that time, many collective farms were abandoned, creating “ghost farms” that now haunt the steppes.

 

 

 

Ranchers working to rebuild the cattle industries of Russia and Kazakhstan have a large inventory of abandoned farms to choose from.

 

 

Because these lands have sat unused for so long, they may qualify for organic certification by even the most stringent international guidelines.

 

 

 

Read more about it in my latest article for The Plate, National Geographic’s food blog.

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Ryan Bell is a Fulbright-National Geographic Fellow, travelling through Russia and Kazakhstan for his project #ComradeCowboys. Follow his adventure on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Get updates about his work at Storify.

 

 

 

 

 

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Meet the Author

Ryan Bell
Ryan Bell is an award-winning journalist living in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington State. A former cowboy and adventure guide, Ryan is specialized in examining how agriculture impacts the natural world. He is a two-time National Geographic Explorer, traveling to Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. Ryan’s work has been published by NPR, Columbia Journalism Review, Bloomberg, Outside Magazine, among others.