Meose farm in Aiamaa village
Establishing the pilgrimage route has certainly made our lives so much more exciting. For almost three years, we have been searching and walking along many paths, from one pilgrimage stop to another, always trying to avoid just knocking up kilometres. The route should be interesting to travellers, and offer joys of recognition together with new knowledge.
We often felt during our undertaking as if we had been living until now with our eyes closed, as though the acquired knowledge about our own country is almost not worth a mention. Now, however, we have discovered fascinating people, places and stories, sometimes by accident, in a remote village, in a forest, or hidden between roads.
Meose farm is precisely a place like that. We first saw it in the summer of 2013. We had a little rest there, a bite to eat, looked around and concluded that it must have once been a large and grand farm. We wondered who had lived there and what has happened to the owners? When was the farm established? Who is the current owner? And why is it so derelict?
We have now found answers to quite a few questions.
The story of the Meose farm could apply to many Estonian farms. Here goes.
STORY OF A FARM
Serfdom was abolished in Estonia in 1816 and in Livonia in 1819 and peasants became free (plus were given a family name), but the land still belonged to the lords of the manor (in Russia, serfdom was abolished only in 1861). New laws permitted the peasants to buy land as late as the mid-19th century, and they could now pay rent instead of paying with work.
Gradually, people began buying their farms from the lords of the manor. Money was earned by growing flax or potatoes, millers and innkeepers managed quite well too. Credit banks often helped. Farms were bought also in Nõo and in the surroundings; in some farms several generations had lived and slaved, and now finally had a chance to become the true masters of their home.
After the Republic of Estonia was established in 1918, the manor lands were divided into homesteads. Heroes of the War of Independence and those who had become disabled were given land for free. Life improved considerably.
The owner of Meose (Mäeusso) farm was Gustav Tomson (Meose Kusta), a hard-working man, who ran his farm very efficiently. The house and the stables even had running water. Tomson employed a farmhand and a servant girl as well. After his wife Liisa died, he married the servant. There were no children from that marriage.
Before the war the Aiamaa village had over one hundred inhabitants. There were 18 farms (29–30 ha), each had one to three horses, up to 12 cattle and employed several people. When the children grew up the farms usually managed with their own workforce, except during seasonal work, such as haymaking, when help was hired, or the whole village bought a threshing machine together. This went on from one generation to the next. Land was fertile and yielded good crops, fields were well tended. Selling grain, meat and milk was the main source of income.
Villagers worked hard and got on well, there were no drunks or thieves. Parties were held together, trips to various places were organised and a funeral was attended by the whole village. The village had a telephone exchange (1920) and a community house.
HOWEVER, IT ALL CAME TO AN END
On 21 June 1940 President Konstantin Päts, according to orders issued by the Embassy of the Soviet Union, dissolved the government of the Republic of Estonia and appointed a new government with Johannes Vares as prime minister.
On 22 June 1940 the new minister of agriculture announced on the radio: „The land will stay in the possession of peasants, and they will have it for free use forever... any attempt to seize the private property of peasants or force them into collective farms is strongly forbidden as these harm the interests of the state and the people.” („Agronomy”, 1940, nr. 8.)
On 14 and 15 July 1940, the totally bogus parliamentary elections in the three Baltic countries were organised according to the orders issued in Moscow.
On 21 July the newly elected parliament declared asked to join the USSR, which was accepted by in August by the Supreme Soviet.
On 23 July 1940 the parliament passed the land act, declaring that all land belonged to people. The standard size was 30 ha. Bigger farms, which were usually most productive, formed about one quarter of Estonian farms.
After Estonia was incorporated into the Soviet Union on 6 August 1940, the land reform was at once carried out and some lands of big farms were redistributed. About 26 000 new farms were established, 25 machine and tractor stations and over 250 horse borrowing stations (the new settlers did not have any tools or horses). 113 state farms were set up.
On 14 June 1941 over 10,000 people were deported to Siberian prison camps and on 25 March 1949 another 20,700 people. Many Estonians managed to flee to the West from the returning Soviet troops. Half the farms were left empty.
The collective farm was established here in 1948. The possessions of those forced into it were appropriated: horses, pigs, sheep, tools, grain seeds, potatoes, hay, machinery, sledges, horse carts. Empty farms from where people had been deported, were inhabited by the collective farm employees (Meose farm was divided into 5 flats), the stables by collective farm cattle. A collective farm member was allowed to keep one cow, heifers, calves, sometimes a sow with piglets, a few sheep, chicken, thus there was scope for earning privately. Everything was controlled by the local communist party committee which issued orders and deadlines.
In the second half of the 1950s, people who had been deported to Siberia and survived were gradually coming back. The director of the state farm at the time was not afraid to employ them.
Life in the country was quite hard, the salaries were small and the small amount of private husbandry allowed was thus a great help.
In 1961 the V. I. Lenin collective farm was united with another, and they acquired the joint name of „Edasi” (Forward). Aiamaa was one of five brigades in it.
It was the period of the command economy, with a focus on growing sugar beet, turnips and maize. All sowing, maintenance and harvesting had to be finished by the deadlines set by the communist party and the government, regardless of the local type of soil or of the weather conditions.
In 1975, Nõgiaru state farm was joined with Nõo state farm, creating one of the biggest state farms in Soviet Estonia with an area of over 11 000 ha, including cultivated land on 8500 ha. However, joining smaller enterprises into one bigger state farm did not produce the expected economic result; quite the opposite in fact happened.
In 1988 the Nõo state farm became a collective farm.
The overall situation soon began to change, although there were no laws or mechanisms of how to return the farm land to people. This caused much ill feeling and led to many shady dealings.
In 1991 Estonia became independent again.
In 1992 work at the farm stopped and next year the Nõo state farm was closed down. By that time all debts had been paid, the possessions were divided and handed over to new owners. Only few big enterprises managed to sort everything out so painlessly.
Nõo Vara was established in 1993, where a large chunk belongs to various limited companies so no longer owned by local people.
Nõo Vara closed in 1997.
There is much in common in the history of Estonian farms. People worked hard to keep them going and educate their children. The end of many farms in 1940 is similar as well: the farm owners ended up in Siberian prison camps, their wives-children had to build a new home in Siberia and survive, adult sons were killed in the war, the luckier ones escaped across the sea into exile. The old farms were inhabited by strangers. Generational farming was disrupted for a long time and is only now slowly resuming.
We, pilgrims, sit on the ruins of Meose farm. The two-storey house still stands, although windows and doors are covered up. The apple trees near the house, although deeply overgrown still bear fruit, as if waiting for a new owner who would revive the farm. A bit further, red-brick stables and a cellar are quietly crumbling. Alleys lead to the house, a small pond was once dug here – like a small manor house, once upon a time.
We are grateful to everybody who collects and records stories about local people and places at different times! Your work is invaluable!
Daila Aas and Tiiu Allikvee
Agnes-Asta Marand „Lehekülgi Nõo ajaloost III” (Nõo, 2003).
M. Karelson „Võimu ja maaomandiõiguse seosest eesti põllumajanduses”.