“Land of opportunities”: How a Swiss woman fulfilled her dream of an organic tea business in Ukraine

Christina Lieberger, the founder of Teas from Potutory enterprise in Ukraine. 

People of Ukraine

Source: ukrainer.net

Christina Lieberger was born in Sweden, then taught biodynamic gardening at the Waldorf School in Switzerland for more than 15 years but finally decided to move to Ukraine to start her own business. Now, her company Teas from Potutory is at the forefront of the Ukrainian organic food market since 2007.

Her story was first published by Ukrainer.net; we bring you an abridged version.

Christina says it is cheaper to run a business in Ukraine, calling it the land of opportunities:

The land was calling me, I guess. I love working with the soil. For me, work is the most important thing; that’s why I moved here. Wherever I work and live, that’s where I feel at home. I enjoy being here. There are so many opportunities in Ukraine; with only a little money you can do something interesting.

After just a few years, Christine achieved great success. Her company became one of the top producers of organic herbs tea in Ukraine, working with a biodynamic approach to agriculture which she taught students in Switzerland. Her company Teas from Potutory became part of the larger Ukrainian farmstead called Living Land of Potutory which is at the forefront of the Ukrainian organic food market since 2007.

Christina identifies several reasons why she moved to Ukraine.

“My first reason for moving was that I had always been interested in Eastern Europe. Secondly, I had always loved working with soil. Thirdly, I wanted to create something. For my entire adult life, I have been a teacher or a mother. I’ve always been with my children, and I finally wanted to do something different.”

A few years before Christina finally decided to move to Ukraine, she and her friends formed an association in support of organic agriculture, called “The Living Land of Switzerland.” The association became the founder of the Living Land of Potutory business association in 2007. Christine’s business is also part of the association, along with other entrepreneurs and investors both from Switzerland and Ukraine.

Christina came to Ukraine for the first time on a business trip as a member of the “Living Land of Switzerland” delegation. This was the start of the story of this Swiss woman’s connection to the Ukrainian land.

Tea made by Christine’s business

I didn’t have a business plan, I only knew the direction I was going in. For the first year or more, I did everything by myself, even the packaging.

Firstly, she rented a few beds of land. At that time, she already had experience in growing herbs and knew several blends of herbal tea. Just in a few years, the production of Teas from Potutory became a whole system, in which Christina is helped by her four assistants. In total, they grow more than 50 species of herbs for spices and herbal blends, including dill, basil, lemon balm, coriander, sage, chamomile, fennel, celery, thyme, Greek oregano (pot marjoram), and Moroccan mint.

Everything is done manually: loosening, sowing, digging, and harvesting. After the herbs are dried in the fresh air, they are ground and mixed according to the recipe, and then packed in paper bags or glass jars. In addition to open ground, herbs are also grown in greenhouses; in spring, these greenhouses are filled with seedlings. Some herbs and fruits, such as rosehips and coltsfoot, are foraged in the wild.

“Working by hand is our philosophy. We do everything manually, because mechanical packing damages the herbs. Hands can feel things better than any machine tool. This results in a good-quality product.”

Everything is done manually: loosening, sowing, digging, and harvesting

All the products hold the “Organic Standard” certification. This is the first national certification body to provide organic certification in Ukraine. The criteria of the certification meet the EU requirements with regards to the quality of organic production.

“Silver Shining Morning,” “Golden Evening,” “Flower,” “Dawn Sunbeam”… According to Christina, the name of each herbal tea blend highlights its particular aroma and taste:

“The way I name teas is a composition of taste that I am looking for, to make it something like a sound, like a mood. When I taste each tea, I try to get a sense of the mood that corresponds to it. The name of each of our teas says something about the beauty of nature, about the mood you can find in it. I like the fact that people in Ukraine share this understanding. I’m not the only one who feels it; our clients do too.”

Yet, Christine is not just a farmer. Belonging to the Living Land of Potutory association, she conducts trainings to share her experience and knowledge, as well as promotes the culture of organic food in Ukraine.

Ivan Boiko, the head of the association, believes that organic food should be accessible to the average citizen in Ukraine. Entrepreneurs of the association would like to cater to the average consumer, rather than a few isolated wealthy people. The trend is promising, says Ivan, noting that many young Ukrainians value organic products and willingly buy them despite the higher price.

Back in 2007, he spent four months as an intern on a Swiss biodynamic farm and, just as Christine, became member of the association Living Land of Switzerland. Now it is the main investor and owner of the Ukrainian Living Land of Potutory association.

Part of Christine’s farm in Potutory.

The association rents 350 hectares of land in Ukraine where 50-60 species of herbs and crops are grown as well as organic milk produced, all according to the biodynamic farming methods.

There is a training farm on site, which was set up to teach biodynamic farming methods. According to Ivan, there is a similar practice at the Waldorf school where Christina used to work. The lecturers are specialists from France and Switzerland, while the initiator of the educational farm project was a Ukrainian woman Maryna Bohdanyuk, also the founder of the association. Volunteers from Kyiv and Dnipro come to train at the farm, as well as students from schools for children with special needs. Students from the ninth and tenth classes at the ‘Sofiia’ Waldorf School in Kyiv also come for taster sessions, at their own expense.

The concept of biodynamic agriculture originated as a theory of the philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who gave a course of lectures on this topic in 1924. The biodynamic approach rejects the use of non-organic fertilizers and chemicals: it only uses compost, manure, and natural or plant-based fertilizers. Herbs are also used in the process, to improve the nutritional quality and the taste of the food produced.

Seen through the prism of biodynamics, the soil is a living organism and is treated accordingly. This approach does not provide the maximum possible yield, but the highest nutritional value.

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Source: ukrainer.net

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