EU funds unique gardening and tourism cluster in Vinnytsia region

Severynivka amalgamated community in the Vinnytsia Oblast is developing its economy using a “fruit and berry cluster” which combines production, tourism and medicine.

An Irishman, an American, a Pole and a Ukrainian community

In the early 19th century, the land where Severynivka village – the administrative center of the same-name amalgamated community – is located belonged to a Polish magnate, Count Seweryn Orłowski. In 1808, Orłowski demolished two surrounding villages and resettled the serfs in a new village he planned himself, naming it Severynivka. Construction of the magnate’s mansion began there in 1810. It turned out to be clumsy and ugly, but quite comfortable. In addition, it was literally stuffed with various works of art: paintings, porcelains, items made from bronze, silver and ivory. Count Orłowski kept there his large collections of weapons, old coins and postage stamps, and also, had a library with almost 5 thousand volumes.

Seweryn Orłowski was famous for his stinginess, and that was why his palace turned out to be so awkward: the owner decided to save on the architect. During all his life, the nobleman did not free any serf, constantly placing additional duties on his peasants. For example, to get a permission to marry, serfs bound to his manor had to pay him.

But what Orłowski did spend on lavishly was the orangery. It connected the main building of the mansion with its right wing, and had a glass wall facing the backyard. The orangery had orange, lemon and bay trees and orchids. And to create a park, Count Orłowski invited in 1814 a then-fashionable Irish landscape architect, Denis McClair, famous for his ability to combine natural and artificial elements in the design. McClair created a park on the bank of the Riv River, shaped as a grill with many pathways, and planted it with oak, maple and spruce trees.

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In this house, intended for personnel of the Severynivka orangery, lived Denis McClair, an Irish landscape architect. Survived by a miracle, McClair’s house has long been in need for renovation

“Denis McClair designed two parks in our community,” Vladyslav Pidhaiets, Inspector for Information Support at Severynivka Village Council and local coordinator of Apple Way Cluster in Severynivka project, proudly and at the same time somewhat wishfully tells me. “One in our administrative center, and another on the Witoslawski estate in Cherniatyn village. And in total, the Irishman created over 40 objects within the territory of present-day Ukraine. Do you think tourists will be interested in visiting McClair’s parks?”

“Depends on what you’ll be showing them,” I avoided a direct answer. “Tourists want to see mostly something authentic, but at the same time, not just “historical ruins”.”

“We have a quite authentic McClair’s house adjacent to the orangery,” Vladyslav Pidhaiets continues in a conspiratorial tone. “Did you know who first came across this house? Mike, a Peace Corps volunteer…

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Vladyslav Pidhaiets, Inspector for Information Support at Severynivka Village Council and local coordinator of Apple Way Cluster in Severynivka project

Michael Dixon, a restoration architect by education, was a Peace Corps volunteer at Podolian Agency for Regional Development CSO. He was captivated by the personality and works of Denis McClair, and succeeded in convincing the local authorities that the park and the orangery designed by the Irishman (the latter remained functional up until 1926) have value and are worth restoring. But the village council chronically lacked funds for that…

But after Severynivka amalgamated community (AC) was established in late 2016, Michael Dixon’s idea became not only real but also necessary. For Oleksandr Khrystiuk, Head of Severynivka community, and Oleh Levchenko, then the Executive Director of Podolian Agency for Regional Development, decided to make Orłowski’s old palace an element of Apple Way, a powerful development project which could make Severynivka AC rich in the future.

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The Orłowski Palace in Severynivka must become a “stage of Apple Way”

The Apple Way of Severynivka community

All has begun with Severynivka signing the so-called Covenant of Mayors for Economic Growth (M4EG). This is a European Union initiative targeting local authorities throughout the Eastern Partnership countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. In 2017, 165 Ukrainian communities took part in a special contest under the Mayors for Economic Growth initiative. The winners, announced at the end of that year, included: Baranivka AC in the Zhytomyr Oblast, Hlyboka AC in the Chernivtsi Oblast, Dolynske AC in the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, Nove Misto AC in the Lviv Oblast, Severynivka and Bar ACs in the Vinnytsia Oblast, and Slavutych in the Kyiv Oblast.

The jury’s attention was drawn to the Severynivka-Bar project because of its originality and importance for the whole region. The communities not just asked for money “to create new jobs”; they attempted at creating a whole economic cluster. Although only for one product which they always have in abundance in that area: apples and berries.

“The biggest apple producers in the entire Ukraine are the Zhmerynka, Bar, Tyvriv and Murovani Kurylivtsi Raions,” Oleksandr Khrystiuk says. “A substantial part of all apples produced in Ukraine is grown in that area. We have a lot of small farmers tending 2-3 hectares of apple orchards. Many people also grow berries: blackberries, raspberries, strawberries… But last year, gathering berries unexpectedly became more expensive than selling them. With apples, the situation was even worse. Just imagine: wholesalers were giving only 90 kopiykas per kilogram! In some places, a truckload of apples cost cheaper than fuel for a round trip of that truck. It hit farmers really hard, and many of them had to go to Poland in search of work to be able to feed their families. After that, nobody had any doubts that our community is doomed to take the Apple Way.

The idea behind Apple Way is simple. Apples and berries must be sold not as raw food but in the form of juices, jams, dried fruits and the like, thus increasing their added value. Oleh Levchenko cited the following example: in Kyiv, 1 kg of soused apples costs 75-85 hryvnias, but during the harvesting season, the buyer pays the farmer for those very apples 2 hryvnias per kilo at the most. In order to increase added value, farmers in the region – and in the beginning, in only two communities: Bar and Severynivka – decided to unite into a cooperative, the bulk of whose equipment was funded by the European Union.

On 26 December 2017, Severynivka AC signed a grant contract with the European Commission for implementation of Apple Way Cluster project. Bar AC was named the project’s main partner, with Podolian Agency for Regional Development CSO becoming another partner. According to an estimate, the implementation of all objectives was expected to cost 702 thousand euros. The European Union agreed to provide 560 thousand euros of that amount, and the rest was to be invested by other stakeholders: Podolian Agency for Regional Development, Severynivka and Bar communities. But all of a sudden, Bar AC “backed off” in May 2019.

A new Bar Confederation

It was that very Bar where in 1768 Polish magnates proclaimed the so-called Bar Confederation, openly confronting their king, and in a four years’ time it led to the First Partition of Poland. The stand made by members of Bar city council against the city’s mayor Artur Tsytsiurskyi was, of course, an event of much lesser significance, but for Bar AC it also had only negative consequences.

In early January 2018, Bar city council allocated 100 thousand hryvnias in co-funding of Apple Way Cluster project; however, these funds have never been used and were returned to the community’s budget. Although at the end of the year, people’s deputies provided a premise for the cluster’s office with a tasting center and a land plot in Hlynianka village for a nursery of traditional Podolian apple varieties, and organized the ІІ APPLEBAR international festival and trade fair.

But beginning from May 2019, the city council has suddenly begun experiencing a shortage of votes to make decisions concerning implementation of this project. Voices were heard in the session hall about the “meaningless expenses”, “too high amount of co-funding” and “questionable usefulness of the project’s outcomes for the community’s development”. Bar AC had to pay the total of 34.5 thousand euros, but would have received three times as much: almost 113 thousand euros, or close to 3 million hryvnias.

The talks yielded no results, and having exhausted all arguments, Artur Tsytsiurskyi went on a hunger strike and moved to a tent in the main square of the city. But council members would not give up anyway, and after another voting ended in a failure, the mayor had to accept the defeat. In the end, Bar community received no money from the European Union: it all went to Severynivka which, however, also had to undertake a portion of expenses of their unreliable neighbors.

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“3 million hryvnias is a half of our development budget for 2019, which literally fell on us from the sky,” , Artur Tsytsiurskyi sighed. “But unfortunately, we weren’t able to take advantage of it because of the drastic change of stance of our council members, who three times (!) voted for this project in the past. Some of them demanded that I make staffing decisions to which I could not agree. That was the actual reason for their stunt. So now, I could only feel happy for our partners from Severynivka AC, who have the honor to implement such a big and important idea.

Last year, Bar AC had to receive 220 thousand hryvnias from the European Union under Apple Way Cluster project for organization of APPLEBAR festival. But since there was no money, there was no festival, either. Instead, a similar event called Fruktosmak Fest was held in Severynivka AC and received over 3 thousand visitors. And that was with Severynivka community’s population of only 4.2 thousand.

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That was how Fruktosmak Fest was held in Severynivka last year on the Ivan Kupala Day

Apple baths

Today, Apple Way traverses only the territory of Severynivka AC. It will have the office managing operation of the entire cluster (which earlier had to be located in Bar), a nursery for 50 thousand saplings, and a tasting hall. In the opinion of Vladyslav Pidhaiets, it will enable Severynivka to compete for the title of the apple capital of Ukraine. This fame should become an additional magnet for tourists.

“We will launch several “apple” landmarks, all of which could be visited for a touristic purpose,” Mr. Pidhaiets says, preparing to bend fingers. “Firstly, attractions in Severynivka could include McClair’s house where his museum will be, and a 100-sq.m orangery right next to it. For that, we allocated 86 thousand euros, which have already been remitted to our budget. Secondly, a cluster office with tasting equipment. Thirdly, an enterprise with a juice and apple chips production line. Fourthly, a museum of the history of gardening in Oleksandrivka, a neighboring village which presently does not belong to our community but, nevertheless, is an element of our project. Fifthly, a nursery with old Podolian apple varieties. And finally, sixthly, a sanatorium offering therapeutic apple juice-based procedures…”

“What did you say?” I can’t believe what I just heard.

“That’s right, a sanatorium. Podolian Agency for Regional Development has even bought a special balneal bathtub for 10 thousand euros, so that tourists could undergo procedures with added apple juice. It was proved that it produces a rejuvenating effect! For tourists, events like that will be even more interesting, because they will be held at our restorative treatment clinic housed in the Orłowski Palace. A historical building, and the like…”

“So, you’ll be using the “apple topic” to develop medical tourism?”

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In this bathtub worth 10 thousand euros, everyone will have an opportunity to take an “apple bath”

“Exactly! Our clinic will have a two-day cycle of cosmetic care procedures. Besides apple bath, we will offer apple juice-based oxygen cocktails, apple massage, phyto teas, etc. The clinic is ready by 90%. We still need to buy some little things, and after that, will open it for visitors. Simultaneously, we will develop water tourism on the Riv River, which for 12 km runs through our community, and its largest pool reaches 150 hectares. There, we’ll get help from our neighbors, Melnykiv AC, who already have substantial experience in this area.”

Vladyslav Pidhaiets looks somewhere far away, as if seeing there the embodiment of these dreams of his, and in those moments, his face resembles a ripe ruddy apple.

Podolian Apple brand

The ultimate goal of this project is to create a regional brand, the Podolian Apple, under which not only apples as such but also juices, jams, siders, pastila and many other things will be sold. And that means not just a trademark but also a whole system of labeling and quality control.

Severynivka AC already has an own drying machine, and this winter, they bought (with the European Union’s money) a juice production line, which will be launched as soon as the first harvest is gathered. The production line includes four apple peeling machines and the presses which can produce a cold-pressed juice. Juice will be packaged into 200-gram paper cartons and into 5-liter jugs which could be used by, for example, cafeterias. But in the end, it will be up to the owner of this equipment – a cooperative specifically established for that purpose – to decide what to produce and in what quantities.

“Presently, members of the cooperative include residents of Severynivka AC and the neighboring Snitky village council, but in the future, we could consider the possibility of enlarging the membership by welcoming other communities,” Yuri Oleksiichuk, director of Apple Way cooperative, says. “To become a member of our cooperative, all you need to have is land and the desire to work. Having money is not necessary. Moreover, we are prepared to invest in household plots of our villagers, giving them apple saplings for free. It will allow to increase the production output afterwards, because without it, it will be difficult to establish a continuous operation of the workshop.”

Over 50 farms have already joined Apple Way. Yuri Oleksiichuk says that this year, all of them will be able to sell apples to the production enterprise at above-market price. In addition, every member of the cooperative will be entitled to receive a percentage of its profit.

But the project’s main ideologist and freelance consultant, Oleh Levchenko, believes that the most important benefit for the community’s residents will be the creation in the community of the so-called food processing center, which would not only process a particular food product but would make it according to international quality standards. This center must have a full-time technologist on the staff, and its entire equipment must be certified. To be sure, Severynivka’s equipment is presently undergoing certification according to international food safety standards (HACCP).

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Oleh Levchenko, ideologist of Apple Way Cluster project, ex-Director of Podolian Agency for Regional Development CSO

48 apple products

“This certification opens the door to supermarkets and to all export opportunities,” Oleh Levchenko says. “A small producer must go through all circles of hell before his products find their way to store shelves. For there are many requirements to product quality, never mind requirements to production processes and inspections by various authorities… A food processing center must solve all these problems.”

Oleh Levchenko calculated that 48 products can be made from apples: various siders, smoothies, confectionary fillings, dried snacks… He also believes that the market has demand for “natural homegrown apples with the minimal number of treatments”.

“I have information that at large enterprises, apples are treated approximately 20-40 times,” the expert says. “Many of them do not shun genetic modification, setting even the number of apples on a particular branch. But customers are well aware of all that, and more and more often, they look for a natural product.”

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Photo: These houses for tourists are going to be built in Severynivka under Apple Way project. The community has already received money for that

The cooperative in Severynivka has huge plans to create combined products (apples with honey, apples with berries) and sugar-free jams. A potential opportunity of exporting these products is being considered, but at the moment, they decided to focus upon the Ukrainian market, for which they also have to compete. According to Oleh Levchenko, Apple Way is already feeling a serious opposition from large producers which do not want competitors, and from procurement companies interested in beating the price down as much as possible.

“We want to show entire Ukraine the power of a small producer and the power of cooperatives in villages,” Oleh Levchenko says. “Apple Way must unite around the topic of apple not only gardeners and food processors but also providers of tourist services, medics and local authorities. Everyone will benefit from that, but most of all the community, which will receive a powerful impetus for development and a clear vision of its future.”

It is worth reminding that Severynivka amalgamated community in the Vinnytsia Oblast acquired the first wheeled waste sorting station in Ukraine.

By Dmytro Syniak

Source: Vinnytsia.info