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Bulgaria’s Catherine Tsanev chooses farming life over a career at the UN

Her great-grandfather was once the mayor of the village of Todorovo near Bulgaria’s Pleven, and today the cosmopolitan heiress of the family has abandoned a prestigious career to return there. Born to a German mother and a Bulgarian father, Catherine Tsanev lives parallel lives, as she likes to put it, and often flies to and back from Geneva, where her husband works, to her own organic farm in the Bulgarian village, which she regards as her home.

For four years now, the young organic farmer has been growing vegetables, fruits and einkorn wheat in the fields adjacent to the village of Todorovo.

"My project in Bulgaria started when I first came to Todorovo," Chatrine Tsanev told the BNR. “During this time I studied at the university and dealt with socio-economic and environmental changes in post-communist countries. The village of Todorovo was an example of how agriculture after communism and industrialization remained isolated from the people - and not only did not bring much benefit to the local population, but even harmed the environment. Then the idea was born to somehow contribute to change that. And when I started working at the UN on sustainable agriculture, I decided to do it in a way that would benefit people and nature. So I made my first gardens in Todorovo and found myself in a Bulgarian village. ”

When she first started to implement her dreams of being a farmer, Catherine Tsanev realized that she needed help. She found it in the face of the Roma people in the village. However, most of them cannot even know the letters of the alphabet, so she hired a private teacher to make them literate. "We needed not only general workers, but also capable people who can deal with documentation and talk to clients, so we trained them," she said. Catherine's employees now can read and write, fill in Excel spreadsheets, communicate through social media, and they are "very successful in all of this."

For now, Katrin Tsanev relies more on her own funds with one exception - she has implemented a small project for sustainable agriculture with funding from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology.

In her role as a social entrepreneur, Catherine Tsanev not only lends a hand to people from a vulnerable group, but also creates sustainable agriculture that does not deplete the soil, does not destroy biodiversity, but quite on the contrary, restores natural resources.

"We made a special puree with sunroot, sweet potatoes and ground walnuts”, says Catherine Tsanev. “The inspiration for this project, implemented together with the Plovdiv-based University of Food Technology, came from working with 15 Bulgarian retirees. Our task was to create innovative food products suitable for the elderly. They themselves gave several ideas and, based on them, we set out to develop the product made of sunroot - a sustainable and useful plant that is not very well known, but it is healthy and easy to grow without depleting the soil. Sweet potatoes and walnuts are also extremely healthy but should be offered in a form that every adult can consume. Thus we came to the idea of making a sunroot puree and hopefully this year we will put it on the market.”

Gradually, Catherine Tsanev has expanded her farm, creating her own apple, cherry and vegetable gardens in the village of Debnevo in the Troyan region of the Balkan Mountains. There she has also started an eco-camping site where everyone is welcome to get acquainted with sustainable agriculture and hold soil in their hands.

Compiled by Diana Tsankova (based on an interview of Svetlana Dicheva from BNR’s Horizon channel)

English version Rositsa Petkova

Photos: courtesy of Catherine Tsanev
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