The Soviet Union had major food problems in the 1920's, what with the civil war and an attempt at forced requisitions. Their solution was the NEP, which used grain taxes instead of total requisition, and did state capitalism for the economy.

Did Lenin or anyone else investigate greenhouses around this time? It seems enclosed greenhouses would allow food production anywhere in Russia, rather than relying on the grain belts and transporting huge distances. (In fact I remember reading about Khrushchev's agro-town concept in the late 1950's, though I don't know if those were proposed greenhouses.) It would require much more work to build, but if they successfully electrified the country in the 20's, I would guess they could build them.

Instead, Stalin abolished the NEP in 1928 (and also re-instituted internal passports to tie the peasants to the land), and proceeded with total collectivization to support total industrialization very soon.

  • 2
    There is a photograph of a USSR greenhouse operation from the 1920s in "Memoirs of Peasant Tolstoyans in Soviet Russia", page 9. Jul 26, 2017 at 18:27

3 Answers 3


A greenhouse requires glass (or, these days, plastic). This is fairly expensive, especially 90 years ago, especially in Russia. They make sense when land is scarce and any measure to improve its productivity pays.

This was not the case in Russia.

Much lower hanging fruits are

  1. Mechanization - attempted in the form of MTS during Collectivization
  2. Chemistry - attempted by Khrushchev.

PS. Note that "successfully electrified the country in the 20's" is, to put it mildly, an exaggeration - just look at the rate of electrification in the 30ies.

PPS. I don't have a reference for discussions of greenhouses in preparation for collectivization, just like I don't have a reference for discussions of Urban agriculture.

  • This does not answer the question. I did not ask for an engineering or economic analysis. I'm asking if the Soviets did any such analysis or investigation in the 20's.
    – DrZ214
    Jul 26, 2017 at 20:01
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    @DrZ214: no, there are MUCH CHEAPER alternatives.
    – sds
    Jul 26, 2017 at 20:09
  • Do you have a source that the Soviets never investigated greenhouses during this period?
    – DrZ214
    Jul 26, 2017 at 22:27

Actually, much earlier then that

According to this site (in Russian) history of greenhouses in Russia started much earlier, in the time of Peter the Great. He founded Apothecaries Garden (also known as Apothecaries Town), first botanical garden in Russia which stands to this day. Among other things this garden produced tropical fruits (like oranges) which were served at the court and later at the tables of prominent nobles. Of course, all these exotic plants would not grow in harsh Russian climate without heating, and to get the required sunshine roof and walls were made of glass.

By the late 19th century production of glass was sufficient so even wealthier peasants had their own greenhouses. During and immediately after October Revolution greenhouse planting took a hit in ensuing chaos. Many greenhouses were destroyed (property of hated kulaks ), even Apothecaries Garden was damaged. However, principles of greenhouse planting were known, so let's say somewhere from 1930's there was a revival, this time under government control.

Now about your main question about hunger - greenhouses are essentially source of supplemental food like vegetables and fruit. Main food source was always grain, especially wheat. This of course has nothing to do with greenhouses, but Soviet agricultural policies (deliberately or trough incompetence) created shortages and thus hunger. Greenhouses require lot of infrastructure and investment, something that could not be done easily in impoverished USSR. Therefore, Soviet Union proceeded with them relatively slowly, in pair with electrification and gasification required for heating. It could be argued that without devastation caused by communist policies hunger in USSR would be at much lower levels, and greenhouses would certainly help, but they were never main source of nutrients.

  • >It could be argued that without devastation caused by communist policies hunger in USSR would be at much lower levels This is not true at all. There were over 70 famines during the last quarter of the 19th century. The Tsar government adopted no proactive measures against hunger. Fighting hunger as a state programme was for the first time in the entire Russian history adopted by the communists and included wide variety of measures both active and proactive to fight famines.Those famines that appeared were not deliberately caused - it is proven now. And were the result of a complex of factors
    – Zmur
    Feb 5, 2021 at 13:02
  • @Zmur There were famines during the Empire, but not on the scale of Holodomor, famine of 1946-47 or during Civil War. Various Russian scientists gave estimates that agricultural production went down 20-50% compared to Imperial times, and didn't fully recover until Khrushchev . Overall, there is a consensus that communists (especially early on) devastated agriculture in Russia (USSR) .
    – rs.29
    Feb 8, 2021 at 22:18
  • there were several famines in 1890s with similar scale. Their true scale is not known because the tzar regime didn't have proper nation wide statistics and those that are available account only for christened ones. However those were very much comparable to so-called Holodomor. And also, there were 70 famines within last 25 years of the 1890, their combined lives loss is much more. The production went down because there was Civil war and the front has travelled 5 or 6 times across those areas that will be affected by the famine. This is what ruined the production in the first place.
    – Zmur
    Feb 9, 2021 at 9:51
  • @Zmur No, there were not. Russian Empire was a semi-open society, with some sort of freedom of press. There were many critics of the system, both in Russia and abroad. They would certainly seize the opportunity to point out hundreds of thousands of dead people from starvation. There were famines, but not a scale what happened latter in USSR. Also, there was a damage from Civil War, but real blow came from communist policy of exterminating kulaks, and latter collectivization.
    – rs.29
    Feb 10, 2021 at 8:54
  • well that did make it into the press and into some statistics: the amount of starving people by year (excluding Poland and Finland): 1891 ― 25,7% 1892 ― 9,1%. 1893 ― 0,1 %, 1894 ― 0,5 %, 1895 ― 1,1 %, 1896 ― 2,2 %, 1897 ― 3,8%, 1898 ― 9,7% 1899 ― 3,2%, 1900 ― 1,5%. 1901 ― 1902 49 districts affected: 6,6% and 1% of total population, 1903 ― 0,6%, 1904 -― 1,6%. 1905 ― 1908. up to 29 districts: 7,7 %, 17,3% population affected 1911 ― 1912 60 districts: 14,9 % and during all those years not a single preventive measure against famine was adopted. Only reactive measures.
    – Zmur
    Feb 10, 2021 at 11:17

These days many people considered themselves as people of future. And the future way of feeding people was seen in mass growing of chlorella in ponds and lakes - to make a huge soup bowls for the whole towns or cities - they preferred collectivismus in everything. Yes, greenhouses and hydroponics were also considered as methods of future, but not for long. They didn't really start in practice and the harsh reality of collectivization soon destroyed all these enthusiasts and their ideas.

As for alternate ways of food growing, the most interesting way was seriously considered in the end of USSR existence. I was myself (in ~1985) on the conference for the alternative methods in industry and agriculture, and one of the main themes there was...

People, you will not believe, but it really WAS so! And the conference was not at 1st of April. Every piece of text here withou quotes is was the pure reality. The USSR had great problems with food, and they opened The Food Program... And there were anecdotes:

' Two skeletons are meeting:
- Where had you died? As for me, I had died before The Food Program.
- And I am yet alive

So, returning to the theme, they seriously considered the ways how to make a human being to absorb Nitrogen from the air. There were projects about use of some bacterias. Or special air filters. And there was a project - a serious, state project, on which many scientists worked - that declared, that if you won't eat any external proteins, your organism will start to obtain nitrogen by itself. The problem was not to let the organism die of hunger before it starts that process. And they already experimented on people - on themselves - they were good enthusiasts. They even had some positive results - as they declared - and their organisms got more protein that they accepted from the food and drink...

Orwell had very poor fantasy!

  • @MarkC.Wallace It is a rhetoric interruption. :-)
    – Gangnus
    Jul 27, 2017 at 10:51

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