'Students study my business model': how an immigrant from Russia created a successful farm in the USA
Oksana Bocharova is a professional agronomist and American farmer. In the USA, she realized her dream and started produce organic products in the state of Maryland. Oksana plans to open a restaurant on her farm for outgoing dinners. She told her story Voice of America.
Our farm is located in Maryland, our small town is called Chestertown. A farmer in the USA is a person’s lifestyle. In addition, it is also a business. When we have a farm, we not only grow something: we sell it, advertise it, that is, in practice, it is the same business as all others.
The farm is very hard work. To be a farmer on a small farm, like mine, where you yourself are physically involved is difficult, especially in our temperature and humidity. Thinking through and planning time is the key to my success.
The entire territory is 6,5 acres (2,6 ha). I produce environmentally friendly products, we do not use any chemical fertilizers, only biological. Our greenhouses are not glass, but film, they are not heated. The purpose of such structures is to extend the season. In our state, vegetables will grow in the greenhouse in the winter: you can collect something and have an income.
None of us have ever dreamed of emigrating and that we would find ourselves here and land. Everything was a matter of chance and circumstances, did not think then and did not dream. I was born in the Belgorod region, in the village of Tomarovka - the former Soviet Union, now the Russian Federation. Love for agriculture, as I think and feel, my father instilled in me. Dad worked in agriculture all his life and often took me with him in the evenings when he went to see the crops. It seemed to me that he was doing something important and interesting. And I always wanted to do the same. When I was a little older, for me the question of choosing a profession did not exist.
When I announced that I would go to study at an agricultural institute, which has always been prestigious and still remains, my parents were in shock. Especially when I said that I would study as an agronomist - it was considered a male profession. But I wanted it - and I did it.
We came to America with my husband in 1999. Reason: we needed to slightly improve our financial situation at home. After the institutes, we decided that we knew and knew everything, and decided to take up individual farming. For 7 years we tried and nothing came of it, we got to the point that there was nothing to live on. We came under the “International Dairy Cattle Breeding Program” - under this program people were placed in dairy farms, we had to work and thus gain experience in how milk production is going. We were paid 700 dollars a month: at that time it was just a lot of money. By that time, we already had two children, we had no time for jokes and needed to think about how to raise them, how to feed them.
First, we were placed at a dairy farm in Wisconsin for 8 months, then transferred to Minnesota. We understood, of course, that we would not work there all our lives - because I was not a breeder and never wanted to. In addition, it is very cold in Minnesota: you had to go outside at 3 in the morning, when there is a knee of snow, and before you get to the calf, you need to clear the snow, and only then come up and feed it. We started thinking about what else to do.
We found work here in Maryland, not far from where I now have a farm. My husband Peter was hired to work as general manager, he worked for two years and decided to go to Russia and stayed there. And the children and I stayed here. With a program developed by the US government that helps people like me buy land: people with social disadvantages, women starting farmers, people who don’t have the money to borrow money from an ordinary bank. It was necessary to prove this: bring a document from the bank, which will say that I will not get a loan there, so I can be qualified for this program.
The maximum that could be taken was 300 thousand dollars. It was necessary to have more money to show in your business plan that there are funds for the purchase of a tractor, a car for transportation and trips to the market, and so on. 3-4 of the year, I saved money before everything came true. In 2013, I was able to buy a piece of land.
To be successful, you need to have your own markets - distribution channels. For me, these are farmer's markets, this is CSA (Local Community Farming Support Program). This program was simply created by some Americans who decided that they want to give money to the farmer directly, supporting him. So people pay me for the season during the winter, but my duty is to provide them with a box of fresh vegetables every week. Our program lasts 24 weeks, from May to October. We do not deliver vegetables to everyone at home. I find some points where we bring several boxes at once, and people just come and pick them up.
For me it is important that I produce. Quality products are the first thing we do here. When I just started, all the work was on me. Naturally, there were no such volumes. Now I have 5 seasonal helpers.
That year, when I bought the farm, I started souring cabbage and exporting it to the market. It began to give me some kind of income. The people liked it. I started with ordinary Russian cabbage, then I started adding spices, making kimchi. Now I have in the production of 9 different dairy products and 4-5 just pickled with vinegar.
In order to be licensed to sell pickled foods, in Maryland you must rent a commercial kitchen with a license to serve people. At first, it was just me who was doing it, then my friends began to help, then sales went on, I started hiring people and it became easier. Almost everything we produce is sold within a week. We pack up what we produced last week, and produce what we pack up next.
Once I sat, looked at my house and thought: there are 4 bedrooms, I live here alone. Is it possible to make this house also generate income? Immediately I met a friend who said that she had taken up Airbnb. At first I thought that no one would come to our area. She advised to try, suggesting that I would be pleasantly surprised. I posted an ad about one bedroom - and in the first year I was booked the entire season on weekends. This was another way to get extra income.
We have chickens - we only have them for the second year, and this year their 142. Last year we bought 50 - a try. The eggs started to sell well. There are few good quality eggs on the market, they are always in short supply and there is a great demand.
The son comes to help with the markets - on Saturday and Sunday we have two big market days. We bring products to Annapolis, they already know us and have our own customers. This market was created only for manufacturers: it is not allowed to sell here what you yourself did not produce. There is a commission that drives and checks this. Before they let me in here, they came to me and looked to see if I really did it myself.
From time to time I receive requests from young farmers that I show how and what I do - a model of my business. For example, today comes a group from a local college. Their manager finds my production a suitable model in order to show them. I always enjoy meeting them and telling me what I'm doing. We, farmers, must be open to them, we must tell and teach. I had a case when a girl saw that we were digging potatoes, and asked in amazement: “Does it really grow in the earth?” Therefore, I always try to show and tell everything so that people understand where they come from.
I think my farm is special. This is a small farm that generates income. This is a profitable farm. It is very important for me to show that a family that wants to live on a small site and raise their children can be successful and make money. But not everything in life is measured in money, in life on the farm there are other advantages.
Children help me physically and mentally. I have a dream that, I hope, we will realize already with my children.
The dream is to create mobile dinners at our farm, a small seasonal restaurant that will be different from others. What is in the garden today will be included in the menu. Everything will be very simple: a comprehensive lunch from what we have gathered today.
I was lucky in life: I never doubted which profession I wanted to choose, and never in my life I was disappointed in it, I did not look for myself in other industries. I understood that it was mine, I want it and will continue to do it.
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