Greta’s organic farm and mentorship network

Greta’s organic farm is located near Trakai in Lithuania and is a great example of entrepreneurship. It is a company owned by one person, whose history began in 2014. The company was built from scratch and has now partners throughout Europe.

The farm operates as an independent unit and brings together many local organic farmers who join the informal network and sell the majority of their crops to international partners. All these farmers also receive information on ongoing EU projects, conferences and training for farmers. Sustainability is ensured by developing a network and mentoring platform for young agricultural entrepreneurs throughout Lithuania.

The farm

Greta’s parents or grandparents are not farmers as usual in Lithuania, so the business and the farm were not inherited – Greta established the farm all by herself.

Lithuania is currently experiencing demographic difficulties in the agricultural sector, with the majority of farmers soon to retire. When entering the market, the young entrepreneur faced the problem that the old residents were not looking for new cooperations based on new ideas and technologies.

Today, however, the company operates successfully as an individual business. There are several people working on the farm, each responsible for different areas: finance, tools, employees and trade. In the beginning, the farm was supplying goods just at the national level, but after three years, a new business model was developed – now crops are being shipped to Germany, United Kingdom, Poland, Romania etc. This has been made possible through cooperation with other small-scale farmers who have jointly developed a network for organic farming operators.

Development paths

The idea of the farm was born in 2012. Greta was a student at the Vytautas Magnus University and had a lecture about the European economy and history. One of the topics was agriculture and the Lithuanian case stated that the Lithuanian problem in the agricultural sector is the lack of young entrepreneurs. Different possibilities to introduce young people to agriculture were discussed and proposed. One of them was the support of the European Union.

Greta started to read about all of the projects and possible opportunities of support for young people in agriculture. However, the biggest obstacle was that she did not have her own land and that she did not have enough money to buy it. All of the stakeholders questioned showed no willingness to help because of her age and experience. She asked her parents for money and decided to rent land from the government and individuals. Once she had the land and the business plan, all she had to do was obtain the necessary certificates and documents.

After two years of hard work, Greta had land, seeds, certificates and all the necessary basics to start her organic farming business. During this period, she learned that information for young entrepreneurs is not well structured in the agricultural sector. There are no best-practice examples or networks for new entrants and cooperation. She came into contact with the most important contacts by going directly to them, such as the ministries of agriculture. There were also some farmers who have been working in the sector for more than 20 years who helped her to understand the basic principles of farming.

Business model

The farm is operating as an individual company. In the beginning, the only ‘stakeholders’ were Greta’s parents who landed her some money for the rent. Later on, she started to work as a project manager and got involved in all suggested opportunities of support from the European Union for young agriculture entrepreneurs. She used the support of various initiatives to purchase a new technology for her work and to participate in various conferences and training courses on competence development. These trainings were the place where she met many new people and developed new ideas which are now being implemented. The only money comes from the support of the European Union and the profit she makes by selling the goods. The annual turnover is about 40,000 Euro.

Innovative practices

First of all, the farm is organic which is still not very common in Lithuania. It means that the competition here is diminished to the minimum level which makes it easier to find customers but harder to create networks and share ideas with other organic farmers. It is innovative in Lithuania due to its concept of organic farming.

The most innovative part of this farm is that Greta is searching for organic farms across Lithuania and encourages them to sell their products not only in Lithuania, where demand is still very low, but also internationally. All of the farmers who are joining her informal network get all the information about partners, other farmers, possible training and EU projects.

Future

Greta is planning to buy more land and develop her farm. In addition, she wants to create a real collaboration network for all organic farmers in Lithuania. She said that it may be an online platform with a mentoring network for young people who want to enter the agriculture sector and do not have enough information. She is planning to hire a person who would develop the system and provide training for farmers who want to join the network and mentoring platform. Last but not least, she wants to include European projects and trainings which help farmers to make the transition towards organic farming.

Tips for the learner

To start a successful business, you must be open to all opportunities and suggestions along your career path. Cooperation with national and international partners or farmers provides additional opportunities for further development and the company’s growth. As networks and mentoring platforms for farmers are not very common in Lithuania and information is difficult to find, entrepreneurs need to show a lot of initiative to achieve their goals. Meeting new people from the same sector and learning from their experience is always the direct route to success.

Authors: Vytaute Monasteryckiene, Danguole Rutkauskiene