We learned how blending a chef career with the passion for agriculture can grow into a successful business from the Petrov couple, Nicolae and Ana, who live in Puhaceni village, Anenii Noi rayon. The young family left the city life behind and moved to the countryside to set up their farm. And because the nine years of chef experience that Mr. Petrov gained while working in various restaurants in Chisinau could not be left out, besides farming the Petrov family also offer catering services and some of the vegetables they grow on six hectares turn into delicious lunch meals for the employees of various companies from the nearby localities.
“I studied food technology and management and after I graduated I got a job as a chef at a pizzeria in Chisinau, followed by similar jobs in other restaurants. However, the money I made was not enough. I could see no future for my family if we stayed in town. In the meantime our first was born and we became more and more motivated to move back to the countryside and start our business”, Nicolae recalls.
The young couple was already familiar with farming as they used to help their father who owned a peasant farm. Encouraged by the business development prospects, by the reliable irrigation water supply from the Puhaceni centralized irrigation system rehabilitated under the Compact program and by the demand from local companies for lunch meals, they decided to set up their own farm. This is how PETROVGRUP SRL, a limited liability company dealing with farming and catering services, appeared in 2018.
On a relatively small area that they rent, the young couple grows a wide range of vegetables, but most impressive are the plantations of broccoli and cauliflower, which are less commonly grown in Moldova.
“We started growing broccoli and cauliflower because they are high value and popular products, and the conditions for growing them are appropriate. We have fertile soil, which is rich in nutrients, and we use water from the Nistru River to irrigate them. As cauliflower and broccoli are quickly perishable products, we plan to build a cold storage facility to keep them fresh for a longer time”, Nicolae, the owner of the company, told us.
The agricultural producers chose to plant two varieties of broccoli and three varieties of cauliflower; all of them are late varieties harvested in autumn and it happened so that our visit coincided with the first harvesting this year. The crops were planted in July in the same place where beets and pumpkins had been planted and harvested earlier. “Once we tried to grow cauliflower in summer and sell it in August, but it did not sell as well as in autumn. These varieties prefer lower temperatures and watering during night time – these changes in temperature makes them grow more quickly”, Ana explains. The farmers have planted broccoli and cauliflower on one hectare this year, but they plan to expand the area in the future. They expect to have a yield of around 25 tons of broccoli per hectare and between 35-40 tons of cauliflower.
Even if they have only six hectares, the farmers think that it is possible to grow high-value products on such a small area if the soil is efficiently used, if there is access to water and if different crops are planted sequentially on the same plot of land. “We used artesian water a couple of times, but the quality is not the same. The water pumped from the Nistru River through the centralized irrigation system is warmer and better for growing vegetables. Additionally, as members of the “Acva-Grup” Water Users Association we could use the WUA’s irrigation equipment”, Nicolae says, adding that he has used sprinkler irrigation this year, but he plans to invest in a drip irrigation system which makes it easier to measure the necessary quantity of water.
The farmers also plan to expand the farming area up to 10 hectares next year and grow cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, pumpkins, onions, eggplants, beets, potatoes and cabbage and employ a few permanent workers. Moreover, they are sure that if they purchase a vegetable sorting line they will become more competitive and will be able to conclude contracts and supply their products directly to the grocery stores.
After showing their fields, the Petrov family warmly invited us to their new renovated kitchen, where they turn the vegetables they grow into meals for the employees of several local companies. This way they use some of their vegetables, which gain added value being delivered as a finished product ready to be consumed.
“Our father suggested us to buy the building which once accommodated the tractor fleet of the village and now it has become the food facility. At the beginning, we invested here all the money that we made from farming. The financial support we have received through the „Start for Youth” program opened new opportunities for the catering services – we have purchased new equipment to modernize our kitchen”, Ana says excitedly. Their employees cook meals for 50-60 people every day, although last year they received orders for 160 meals per day. They also deliver meals to older people ordered by the latter’s children who are abroad.
Nicolae and Ana are an example of hardworking people who, through initiative and perseverance, prove that they can build their future at home. “We have agreed that if we fail to build something in five years, we sell everything and go back to Chisinau. This is out of the question now”, says Nicolae gladly. The Petrov family has big plans for the future. They will develop pastry products soon, such as pies and mini-pizzas, which they will sell in the local groceries. Additionally, they intend to bring back to life unique recipes of sweets, in particular an old recipe of pumpkin jam, traditional for those places, for which they will use the pumpkins they grow.