SvetaSlava is a Belarusian family farming business with ambitious plans to expand and minimize costs through the advisory support of the Tramplin Business Center. It is supported by the EU as part of its EU4Business initiative.
When farming is a vocation
Svetlana and Vyacheslav Talchuk have lived in the village of Veletin, not far from Chojniki in Homieĺ Voblasts, even since they were born. Together, they do what they love most—farming.
The Talchuks put up their first greenhouse about 15 years ago, and since then have been supplying fresh vegetables, not only for their own dinner table, but for sale as well. They decided that if the business succeeded, they would call it SvetaSlava, a combination of the couple’s nicknames.
“We helped our parents when we were kids, and then our children helped us,” recalls Svetlana Talchuk. “My son was 4 when he got curious about the greenhouse. He watered the plants himself and tried to bring water in buckets. When we bought drip irrigation equipment, he was more excited than some kids are over candies.”
Today, the couple has two large greenhouses and a small one. They grow cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, and many other vegetables. There are two nurseries nearby that supply seedlings for the gardens. There is also an orchard with 500 apple, apricot, cherry and pear trees. In addition to these, the farm has 1,000 bushes of blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, and a potato field. There are even watermelons and melons that are untypical for Belarus, not to mention white eggplants—without exaggeration, unique to the region.
For a long time, the Chojniki area was contaminated after the Chernobyl accident, and had become one of the most depressed and environmentally unsafe regions of Belarus. Today, most of the territory has been cleared for use, although soil samples in some areas are still being tested for radiation. There are also bans on picking mushrooms and berries in the wild.
“By law, we are obliged to check only the nitrate levels in our products, but we also do a radiation analysis,” Svetlana explains. “We provide product samples to get clearance certificates, and we have always passed every test.”
Now, with their son in the army and their daughter living in Moscow, the expanding farm needs a hand. SvetaSlava has become difficult to manage and the costs keep climbing.
“Our relatives who live nearby help us out,” says Svetlana. “During the high season, we also hire a few contractors. It takes a lot of investment, but the returns aren’t always there. We buy expensive Dutch seeds and the germination rate is almost 100%. We spend a lot on stove heating and electricity in the greenhouses, and on water for irrigation. After all, seedlings need to get light around the clock. Sometimes we get call asking about our utility bills: ‘Is this a mistake or do you really owe that much?’ Overall, farming is not the most profitable business, but we enjoy it. And thanks to the initiative, we hope to increase our profits.”
What helps the business thrive are specialized courses and work with experts offering practical advice: where and how to look for customers, how to increase sales, including online, and more. Svetlana and Vyacheslav learned how to make presentations, they are mastering video filming and, together with the specialists, they are developing their SvetaSlava brand.
Reduce water in the vegetables and losses in the business
SvetaSlava farm produce is sold in Chojniki and nearby towns: Brahin, Homieĺ, Rečyca , and neighboring villages. Plans are to access new markets, launch a delivery service, and explore new business directions.
“We’ve long been wondering how to deal with unsold stock, because it’s hard to predict demand,” Svetlana explains. “For example, in early spring, everyone buys cucumbers, but by mid-summer many people already have their own. And while we can make pickles from cucumbers and tomatoes, surplus apples or berries are simply wasted. In fact, even vegetables can be dried for soups and broths. An air oven can solve this problem: our work will not be wasted, and the produce will maintain vitamins for the winter. Right now, though, we can’t afford an air oven.”
The Tramplin Business Center helps businesses like SvetaSlava to make their dream come true. As a part of a wider team, the couple applied to compete in the project for socially significant initiatives and was selected for funding. Their initiative is called “Berry Land” and is based on cooperation among farmers. Every project participant has different needs: greenhouses, irrigation equipment, and even a freezer.
“Soon we’ll be able buy our air oven and a new walk-behind tractor,” says Svetlana with a big smile.
The Tramplin Business Center is an initiative that supports SMEs in Belarus’s Homieĺ oblast as part of the Local Economic Development in Belarus Project. The project is financed by the European Union within the framework of the EU4Business initiative and implemented by UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Economy of Belarus.