Homemade Produce from Topola One Click away from the Dining Table
September 21, 2023
Natural fruit juice, jam, preserves, cheeses, bakery products, ajvar pepper spread and honey can reach anyone, even the buyers who do not frequent greengrocer markets, or supermarkets. Online trade is more and more widespread, and women of Topola, the area famous for its orchards and vineyards in the heart of Šumadija, learned how to market their products via social networks, due to the project titled “The Fruit of Oplenac Farms One Click away from the Dining Table”, implemented by the Centre for Even Regional Development (CenTriR) and Association of Women of the Oplenac Region, with the support by the Regional Programme of Local Democracy in the Western Balkans 2 (ReLOaD2).
“When I brought first goats to my estate, these were in fact dairy goats, and I thought to myself: Oh my, what a mess I made for myself. The baby at home, they refuse to give milk, I can’t milk them, don’t know how to place the milking machine. In time, I became adept in this, now I’m the boss of them,” says through laughter Jelena Ivanović, a land melioration engineer who changed Belgrade for the family farm in the village of Krćevac, where she produces goat cheese and mint syrup. She is one of the participants of the online selling training made for the women of Topola who have registered farms and engage in agricultural production.
The training was also attended by Gordana Gavrilović from the village of Plaskovac, which has 7.5 ha of fruit trees and also keeps bees. “I thought that it might be interesting, so I decided to give it a go. I was not wrong. The internet is a miracle”. She says that she learned that every detail is important when it comes to online selling: “To pay attention to the font, spacing, to add that little fruit. I click and it’s gone, that’s the cutest thing. I still regularly publish, they told me twice a month and I pay utmost attention to do so. Country living, that’s what we publish if there’s nothing for sale. Our life, what we do.”
The ways to connect to buyers, be recognisable and stay active on social networks, these are the skills learned by a total of 20 women from the territory of the Topola Municipality. Through practical work, they learned to make high-quality photos of their products and design interesting posts for social media, in order to attract buyers to follow the pages of their farms. “We tried not to go too much into theory, but instead rely on concrete examples. We wanted to show them the ways that other people did this. There are many beautiful examples of women entrepreneurs and farmers that have already been doing something like this,” explains Vanesa Belkić, Executive Director of the CenTriR.
All the women who participated in the training have been working in their own households and farms. What they also have in common is the engagement in the Association of Women of Oplenac. From preserve making, sewing, and embroidery workshops, to organisation of the “Radoje Domanović Days”, they find everything easy to do. They have enough energy to develop their small production by means of new technology. “They are the pillars of their households. The drivers,” says Snežana Marinković, chair of the Association of Women of Oplenac, and adds: “Most of them had their own personal Facebook profiles, but they did not have profiles of their households and farms. There are women who still lack computer skills, we still have users who engage their children to do this “because they will do it better”. I am therefore glad that we have more and more young women who will lead initiative when it comes to acquiring knowledge because we want these women to realise that they could develop their own business from the village.”
Participants in these training programmes are now also connected with the Agroponuda, the national market of agricultural produce and producers, started by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management. Vanesa Belkić stressed that, in addition to the training, another important task had been completed: “First we started making the inventory of agricultural estates and farms on the territory of the Topola Municipality that were registered in women’s names, since the municipality actually didn’t have the database of the actual number of women farmers. Statistical data show that in Serbia, as little as 17% of agricultural households are registered in women’s names. In five months, we made an inventory of 102 farms, 43% of which are owned by women. However, even in those farms that have men as their registered owners, women are indeed the main workforce when it comes to production.” The database will remain at the disposal of the municipality, where it would serve in targeted initiation of further initiatives, as well as when it comes to informing the women farmers on subsidies and contributions.
Fifteen women with a wide range of products, but also knowledge of working on a computer and social networks, have received support in addition to education. First, they received certificates that their products could be safely sold after they had passed microbiologic and chemical testing. A total of 8,500 labels of recognisable design have been printed and given out, in addition to 1500 jars and 500 bottles for packing homemade products. After that, the women, their farms, and products were photographed professionally, in order to get the best quality photos that would be shared on the new and redesigned social network profiles of their farms.
“This was important to me, as it has broken the humdrum of everyday life, so to say. I became too much of a couch potato, so it meant to me a lot to return to social life. I had already known a great deal, but their guidelines helped me a lot in my work. There are these tricks to make the text appear appealing. I used to write these posts matter-of-factly, without these nuances that are indeed very important. We learned a lot about working with people“, concludes Jelena from the beginning of our story.
The Fruits of Oplenac Farms One Click Away from the Dining Table project was implemented by the Centre for Even Regional Development (CenTriR) and the Association of Women of the Oplenac Region, in cooperation with the Tourist Office of “Oplenac”. The project was realised as a part of the Regional Programme of Local Democracy in the Western Balkans 2 (ReLOaD2), financed by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).