Looking today at the neat racks with micro-greenery, at the sterile room where at the entrance they ask to put on shoe covers and disinfect their hands with antiseptic, at the clean bright light above the shelves with seedlings, it’s hard to believe that the family farm store “Botanik” and the Green Ferma company of Alexey Kovnerchuk and Taisiya Melekh started with a greenhouse on an ordinary balcony and grew up from Alexey’s humanly understandable unwillingness to help his mother dig beds in the collective garden.
Huge panoramic windows overlooking the forest. Rows of shelves on which several varieties of basil, lettuce and cabbage, peas, radishes, chard, arugula, sorrel, green mustard, lemon balm and ruby amaranth stretch towards the light. Edible flowers grow separately — nasturtium, borago and pansies.
We are talking with Taisiya Melekh in a cozy nook decorated with macrame. A couple of minutes after the conversation starts, the bell above the front door rings. Three panting schoolgirls rush into the store.
— Can we have a set for growing watercress?
— You can, — the hostess smiles. — Girls, where do they send you all from? You are not my first today.
— From biology, — the girls answer in chorus.
— What class?
— The sixth.
— Here’s a set for you, instructions inside, you can scan the QR code and watch a video tutorial on growing microgreens. And please give me the phone number of your biology teacher, I will come to school, we will supply you with a batch of these kits and conduct a botany lesson.
— Thank you! — the schoolgirls also thank in chorus, flying off about their business.
— My husband and I really not only monetize our hobby, but also give lectures, teach in schools, here at home, conduct excursions, master classes and open lessons, performed at Innoprom. We try to promote farming in every possible way, but not the one that is in the field, in the ground, but city farming is what attracts young people so much today.
“It’s without dirt, in a beautiful room where you can develop technologies and offer some engineering solutions”
We even want to open a “City Farmer School”. If it appears, it will become the first such educational institution in Russia. We don’t make city farmers anywhere. There is a “Hydroponics” direction in the “Plant Growing” block at the Timiryazev Russian State Agrarian University in Moscow, but there is very little of it there. And if you score the position “city farm worker” in the search, then you will not find anything. And we have ready-made developed technologies, standards and checklists,” says Taisiya Melekh.
According to her, 20 years of experience as a recruitment specialist suggests that all this should be standardized. In this case, a school for city farmers, which Taisiya wants to open in the Academic, will be very useful.
Laziness is the engine of progress
And it all started 13 years ago with ordinary human laziness and Alexey’s unwillingness to help his mother in the backyard. He was tired of digging and getting dirty in the ground on the notorious six hundred, but in order not to upset his mother and not to leave her without herbs and vegetables, a graduate of Mining engineer Kovnerchuk began to study the topic of hydroponics and put together several shelves for seedlings on his home balcony.
— It dawned on me: I will be able to automate watering, get faster harvests, there will always be cleanliness on the balcony, since land is not required. It was so futuristic that I immediately sat down for a sketch,” says Alexey. — So a year later I received my first patent for a multi-tiered hydroponic plant for growing greenery at home. Since then, inventing devices for progressive crop production has become my main hobby.
Over time, Alexey decided to set up a farm in a house in the village of Kosulino. This is how the idea of creating the Green Farm brand appeared. It all started with racks from AliExpress for a total of 3000 rubles, and seedlings occupied the entire second floor.
— I will never forget the first sale, — Alexey recalls. — A friend who works in a catering company asked me to bring four trays of peas to decorate the banquet. Louis Armstrong played What a Wonderful World on the radio, and I got my first 480 rubles from the sale.
The plot in the cottage settlement was eventually sold. Now mom quite often visits the guys on the farm, where she not only takes care of the plants, but even talks to them. Communication with greenery has become for her not “mandatory sadism”, but something like meditation.
Alexey and Taisiya met four years ago. What started as an ordinary date turned into a family, and a little later into a small but proud family business of growing micro—greenery, greenery and edible flowers.
— My recruitment agency practically did not work because of the pandemic. I was divorced and it was just time to go on dates,” Taisiya laughs. — Alexey and I met and agreed just on the topic of business. He was already growing something, and after ten years of working as the head of the personnel department at the Opera and Ballet Theater, I left and decided, besides recruiting, to try something new. The topic of growing different crops has just appeared.
“I took online courses, bought some kind of Chinese installation and as a woman “over 35″ began to lose weight intensively”
The story with greens and sprouts attracted me at first as a story about losing weight. I was growing something on the windowsill and here I met Alexey, and he met such a crazy woman. I offer ideas, and he implements them. He is an engineer, and I am an expert in marketing and promotion. That’s how our union was formed,” explains Taisiya.
Three years ago, when the couple got married, the vegetable garden brought up to 600 thousand rubles a year, and now it is 16 times more. And in the summer they bought two similar farms, which could not stand the competition and were forced to close.
Shigo da canji
To organize a family city farm, the guys sold their car and house in Kosulino. There was also a loan. About 5 million rubles were spent on the arrangement in the Academic Building. When many suppliers of greenery left Russia, the family business received a new impetus for development and growth.
— We have successfully imported several types of basil, we are experimenting with cherry tomatoes. We have been supplying our products to Zhiznmart for a year and a half, we were suppliers of Megamart, we cooperate with Magnet, now we are entering Perekrestok.
“But our main customers are restaurateurs. They gave us the idea of import substitution of basil”
Now we serve 35 Yekaterinburg restaurants, including, for example, Plov Project and “Lost and Found”. There are now only four more or less large producers of micro-greenery in the city. We are in second place, but we have a wider range and we are ready to experiment,” says Taisiya. — We were the first to bring edible flowers and salad mixes with sprouts to the city, and now you can try flowers in cakes, cakes and cocktails. Very beautiful.
Beautiful and useful
Now the Green Ferma company employs ten people, whom the owners have trained from scratch in a new specialty of a city farmer. They take care of seedlings, control the irrigation system, wash and prepare for reuse plastic trays in which micro-greenery grows. The packaging on the farm is negotiable, and the production is environmentally friendly.
— When growing our crops, we use professional sterile agrovata. This is specially prepared, crushed and compressed basalt, in which, after heat treatment at a temperature of 1500 degrees, pathogens are completely absent.
“That’s why we do without chemicals and pesticides. We have no pests. We have no one to kill”
The only thing we use in the automatic watering system is vitamin complexes, which Alexey selects individually for each crop. They also want to “eat” something, so that there is light to grow. The farm automatically drinks and eats. We are going to install video cameras so that we can watch the “rastishki” and remotely turn something on and off,” explains Taisiya.
Sometimes, when some dish is brought to you in a restaurant, it seems that the chef is too confused and overdid the serving. Well, why all these edible flowers? Can’t you just cut off a piece of cake? The owners of the city farm are sure that micro—greenery is not only a tribute to fashion, allowing restaurants to “make it beautiful”, but it is also more useful than “adult” greenery.
— The plant needs a push to sprout, get out of the soil and form the first two leaves that will work as a solar power plant, — says Alexey. Absorb light and start the processes of further growth. This is how the so-called real leaves appear, and the first two cotyledon leaves are considered microgreens.
When dry stored substances are processed into a shoot, then in this shoot they are already contained in a format that is digestible for humans. Until the mechanism of further growth has started, at this stage the greens are as useful as possible. Compared to the “adult”, she has a 7-10 times higher concentration of nutrients.
The caterpillar that didn’t become a butterfly
Epic failings of varying severity happen even to the coolest professionals. It would seem that a trifle is a window sash that is not completely closed after ventilation.
— One of the most expensive crops is sorrel, its seeds are imported from Europe, and since February their cost has doubled. This is a very capricious crop to grow. We come, and we have the whole shelf eaten. Where they didn’t finish, they were shredded. We’ve been looking for a long time for what kind of attack. Some kind of animal or infection? The nutrient solution was changed. Once again they aired, cleaned up, closed the windows, wiped the shelves.
“And then on another shelf they found a dead caterpillar that had eaten sorrel. She had a belly feast, and she died from overeating”
She even had a piece of leaf sticking out of her mouth. And after all, I chose the most expensive culture! — Taisiya recalls. — I probably thought I was in heaven. Since then, I’ve been double-checking everything a hundred times. I really don’t want to lose the landing.
Taisiya and Alexey have plans to open a school of city farmers, scale business and experiment with growing agricultural crops not in the Urals, but somewhere in more favorable conditions for agriculture. However, they do not intend to abandon their Ural city farm.