At Čelinac, a small town near Banja Luka in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina, Vojin collects, preserves and supplies heirloom seeds. This is the story of “Factory of Joy”, which works for a healthy and non-chemical food production as well as for the preservation of traditions.
Preserving heirloom seeds: an “emergency”.
Since the end of the war in 1995, the market has opened up in Bosnia and Herzegovina: people started to produce less food by themselves and use a lot chemicals in food production. In 2015, after a year of comparative research on the presence of ecological food in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Croatia, Vojin discovers that over the much of heirloom varieties produced by our ancestors have disappeared forever. In addition, he realized that “if you would live in Banja Luka it was impossible to eat food without chemicals two days in a row”. Alarmed by these results, he then sees two emergencies: “to preserve heirloom seeds but also traditional agricultural techniques”.
Heirloom seeds have been grown for 50 years or more in the same environment and have retained all the “parental” characteristics – as opposed to so-called “hybrid” seeds, which result from a cross between two species that may be natural or made under human action. Since they have adapted to the climate over the years, they have developed defence mechanisms and are therefore highly resistant to potential diseases and parasites. They are also much more nutritious: “6 modern varieties of apples produced conventionally with chemicals provide as many nutrients as a single heirloom variety of apple agroecologically produced”, Vojin says.
Cooperation and social cohesion at the heart of the seed library
The seed library “Factory of Joy” has about 500 varieties. Vojin focuses more on vegetables but does not forget aromatic herbs, wheat and flower varieties. It is indeed “better to grow vegetables alongside herbs, because these species protect each other,” he explains. Vojin also cooperates with experts and enthusiasts from the field of plant groups he do not produce, creating this way a network to meet everyone’s needs, whether for heirloom varieties of cereals or fruits.
Since the aim is to “collect, preserve and lend to people” heirloom seeds, Vojin regularly receives and sends them to Bosnia and Herzegovina and abroad. In addition, each seed that is sent contains as much information as possible: the name of the variety, its origin, year and place of harvest but also the person who provided the seed to the library. More than promoting a healthier and more traditional culture and lifestyle, Factory of Joy creates a link between people – an important point in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country where people are long time divided.
From project to social enterprise
In addition to the seed library, Factory of Joy offers practical workshops, conferences and advice about natural and traditional methods of growing and saving seeds. Awareness-raising activities for children are also organized in schools.
Although there are many activities, Vojin is currently taking a step back and focusing more on transforming his project into a social enterprise. He can then count on his family and friends to help him, while he is trained through coaching and workshops, for example in the development of a business plan. In this way, he hopes to make Factory of Joy a place offering good salary conditions, fair social environment for workers, strong environmental values and financial benefits to make a living from this activity.
If you are interested in following or supporting work of this amazing group of Bosnian ‘local shakers’, find them at their Facebook Page.