Ukraine is among the biggest exporters of grain, potatoes, and sunflowers in the world. However, for small agricultural businesses it still remains a very difficult place to work in, mostly due to poor legislation that does not favour interests of small farmers, and also due to bureaucracy and corruption. It is no wonder that Ukraine is still a no-go land for foreign investors. But not for everyone.
Meet a Belgium man, who decided to build a goat farm in Ukraine, and sell cheese. Bernard Willem, an agricultural professional, worked in Ukraine in the crazy 90s, and later married a Ukrainian woman, Maria. Bernard quickly realized that there is a scarcity of quality cheeses in Ukraine, and those imported are too expensive for locals. He saw an opportunity, and decided to take a chance. Five years ago the couple founded an organic farm in a village called Dmytrovychi, around 50 km from Lviv.
To do this, they bought an old Soviet collective farm that was in very bad shape, just before any useful material was taken by local thieves. Five years later, it now looks very different. After buying the farm, the family did plenty of refurbishing in order to restore the complex. Not only that, they decided to set it as an example of the best farm traditions in old Europe. There is now an employee who maintains its good shape and aesthetics every day.
At the moment it is mainly workers from the surrounding villages who run the farm, recruited through adverts in a local newspaper. So far Farm e’Elise hasn’t had any volunteers. But the owners say they would be happy to offer volunteering opportunities to those who are seeking it, especially in summer, during hay-making season.
Now, there are plenty of goats in Ukraine, but Bernard’s farm is perhaps the only family farm with so many goats. So it’s pretty difficult to find goat cheese at local markets, especially the organic kind. Luckily, the Belgium-Ukrainian farm has around 700 goats who eat organic grass and feed, enough to make plenty of delicious cheese.
Farm d’Elise is now famous in the region for its organic produce, including goat milk, cheese, and meat. You can taste its cheeses in Lviv’s restaurants, including Cafe One, Kumpel, and many others. Also for a mere UAH 100 you can take a tour on the farm itself. Spend a morning or an afternoon in the gorgeous countryside, explore the farm, and taste all the cheeses, milk, and meat, with delicious wine and kvas.
And it’s not only goats that Bernard is interested in. On his farm you can also find a growing population of cows grazing grass on beautiful fields among the apple trees, two donkeys, turkeys, chicken, dogs, and also cats that are loved by all.
Following is NovaEuropa’s photo report.