Let It Be
02 February, 2016
Let It Be
When Saint Nino, one of Georgia’s most venerated saints, traveled to Mtskheta back in the fourth century, she stopped to erect a grapevine cross in Foka, a small settlement on the shores of Lake Paravani some 2000 meters above sea level. Saint Nino must have traveled during the summer since, even today, Foka is very difficult to reach for about 6 months of the year. Heaps of snow block all major access roads during the long and cold winter.

In 1992, as Georgia was going through the most painful period in its recent history, seven young Georgian women decided to make Foka their home. The first 10 years or so were about physical survival: digging their houses deep into the ground to withstand strong winds and temperatures in the -15-25ºC (-59-77ºF) range; collecting enough wood to keep themselves warm; growing and storing potatoes and other basic foodstuffs; and managing a difficult relationship with their Armenian neighbors.

By the early 2000s, different winds had started blowing in Foka. The first business idea was to revive the local tradition of cheese making, which was brought to Samtskhe Javakheti by catholic missionaries back in the 18th century. While failing to make it into the mainstream of Georgian cuisine, the so-called ‘blue cheese’ (a version of Roquefort) survived in Samtskhe Javakheti’s alpine zone because of its superior storability. Storability is what made this cheese a good choice for the isolated Foka community.

After a bit of local experimentation (and a study tour in France), the blue cheese became a commercial success with tourists visiting the area and in Tbilisi. And since the long winter days were good for learning and experimentation, what followed was a flurry of creativity and innovation. More than 20 cheese varieties in most surprising colors, shapes, and flavors; jams combing local (and not only) berries, spices and herbs; honey; truffles and chocolates; vodka; unrefined oils and vinegar; cloisonné enamel, jewelry and ceramics.

The menu of products suggests great marketing skills as well total fascination with trying out new things. How about black-currant jams with almond nut, fig with ginger, or banana and carrots with lemon? Should you care for chocolate, ever tried the dried oranges and gingelly flavor? What may be thyme-flavored vodka is marketed as Wild Alpine thyme aged with alcohol. And then, of course, there are all the cheeses…

When visiting Foka for the first time in summer 2015, I was captivated
by the stunning aesthetics of the place. The deep sense of love, peace and harmony emanating from every little detail here – the stones of the buildings, the wood of the furniture, and the cute paper packaging – was clearly something to be shared with others. And so, a couple months later I was back with a group of ISET’s agricultural economics students and faculty.
geotv.ge

When viewed from the economic perspective, the seven-strong pack of Foka women are organized as a small agribusiness. During the short alpine summer they produce honey and run a little dairy farm – the source of milk for their cheese factory. The highlands provide them with berries, flowers and herbs which they use to spice up all of their food products. Yet, instead of maximizing individual profits they seek community development and harmony, both inside the group and among them and their immediate environment. All of their profits are reinvested into new project ideas and activities.

WHEN I FIND MYSELF IN TIMES OF TROUBLE…

A strong sense of common destiny and of commitment permeates everything that happens at Foka. The oldest among the seven sisters – the leader of the pack – was only 24 when the group settled in Foka. She started out as a student of biophysics in the prestigious Moscow State University but discontinued her studies after a year of soul searching. At the urging of her parents, she did complete her degree in Tbilisi. By then, however, she already knew her destiny would take her elsewhere.

Her natural charisma and talent were the glue that kept the group together through all the difficult years. She radiated light and energy on her colleagues and the environment. The group acquired many friends, including those in the Georgian expat community, who helped with money, business ideas and connections.
Even local villagers came to appreciate the hard working women and their leader. Little by little they were convinced to allow their children to come near and be taught arts and crafts, foreign languages (though not Georgian!) and computer skills. Ironically, the tipping point arrived when one of the village girls won a 1000 GEL prize in national essay competition! Once trust was established, the locals started eagerly imitating their neighbors by planting trees (something hitherto unthinkable in Samtskhe Javakheti), and even trying new kinds of farming and business activities – beekeeping, hospitality services, etc. Many changes are already visible for any passerby, such as new roofs and better taken care of public spaces. Other improvements – village-level cooperation on milk collection and, most certainly, children’s education, while quite tangible, would require a more discerning eye.

* * *
In case it was not clear, the Foka sisters are nuns, and their Mother Mary is in fact called Mother Elizabeth. While they have the ability, they are not on a mission to build a business empire. Rather, they remain a very small community of seven women trying to balance hard work with learning and spirituality. Yet, their achievements should shine on all of us, giving strength to desolate communities and desperate families, and inspiring the Georgian nation as a whole. Let it be!

By Eric Livny

ISET Economist Blog

Source: Georgia Today
Other Stories
TGM Consultants Expands its Caucasus Presence with New Leasing Appointment at Armenia’s Rossia Mall
Dubai, United Arab Emirates - May, 2016: The owners of the recently launched Rossia Mall in Armenia have appointed TGM Consultants
Tourist Complex to Be Built in Georgia’s Racha Region
Tbilisi – United Arab Emirates-based company Israel Ahmadov Investment announced that it will build a USD 500 million tourist complex near Shaori Lake
 Georgia ranked 29th among 50 cheapest countries to live by US website
Georgia has been ranked  29th among 50 cheapest countries to live by an American website TIME.com
Georgian wine company wins gold trophy in France
Another pleasant news for Georgia and Georgian wine-makers. The company “Winery Khareba” had another success at the prestigious wine contest-“Citadelles du Vin”
Delicious diversities of dried fruit produced in Georgia
Dried fruit producing is becoming more and more popular in Georgia as numerous factories have appeared throughout the country.
“Sweetest news” from EU Ambassador: Georgian honey to be exported to EU market
"Since signing a free trade agreement, this is Georgia’s first chance to export Georgian honey to the EU market without any additional fees,"
Spanish Jamon to Go Georgian?
A delegation of Deraza Iberico Company visited Georgia to study varieties of Georgian pig
Georgian philologist runs kiwi plantations in Samegrelo
A philologist by profession, she set up kiwi plantations in Samegrelo’s village of Zemo Etseri in 2011 and USD 200 000 investment has now become ten times more.
Frontera Announces Work Upgrade for Gas Complex in E. Georgia
TBILISI - Frontera Resources Corporation, a US-based independent oil and gas company, announced an operations update
Double-decker trains to start functioning in Georgia soon
New double-decker trains equipped according to European standards will be available for the passengers in Georgia
Google to finance Georgian students’ startup
A team from the Georgian Free University has become the winner of Tango Project App Incubator competition held by Google.
Georgian teenagers start producing perfume
Four 10th grade students from Tbilisi’s 51st public school have produced a perfume under the brand called Magical Potion.
First online wine-shop starts functioning in Georgia
An online wine-shop called “Bino” has emerged at the Georgian market recently.
Traditional Adjarian Baklava to appear in Tbilisi soon
Soon anyone will be able to buy and sample delicious delight Adjarian Baklava prepared according to old technology.
“Populus” – Unique wooden handbags created by Georgian students
Recently, three Georgian students created a brand of handbags that are unprecedented in the world.
Famous LiteForex company branch opens in Georgia
A branch of the world-famous LiteForex company has opened in Tbilisi, Georgia.
Georgia’s former Prime Minister outed for offshore wealth by the Panama Papers
One of the world’s largest data leaks, called the Panama Papers, is shedding light on the world of offshore financing
Innovative wooden watches made by Georgian students
A new Georgian brand named Handy has appeared on Georgian market.
Socks with most creative paintings - Made in Georgia!
A new Georgian brand named AlterSocks producing extremely creative socks with national motives and various patterns
Georgian student to start a strawberry greenhouse enterprise
21-year-old student, Giorgi Tsirekidze has begun a strawberry greenhouse enterprise.
New high class hotel opens on Agmashenebeli Avenue in Tbilisi
One more new high class hotel named City Avenue was opened on Agmashenebeli Avenue #140.
Georgian Lari banknotes win international prize
The new Georgian Lari banknotes have received international prize.
Georgian wool to be exported to EU countries
Wool is the first animal product that will be exported from Georgia to EU countries.
Georgian wines featured at Germany’s ProWein exhibition
More than a dozen Georgian wine companies are taking part in the 2016 ProWein Exhibition
European market needs indefinite amount of Georgian blackberries
Since 1978, Izoldi Kitesashvili worked as a doctor-neurologist. Recently, she abandoned her position of the head of neurology department
PHOTO OF THE DAY
GEL Exchange
USD
1
USD
2.1472
EUR
1
EUR
2.3913
GBP
1
GBP
3.1362
RUB
100
RUB
3.2507
Other Stories
A new Georgian clothing brand named Person has emerged in Georgian market.
Georgia is in the midst of an economic maelstrom, Euronews reports.
Situation at Georgia’s mineral water market is interesting: over the last year, the volume of export has grown by 56 percent. According to “GeoStat”, over $114 million worth of mineral water was sold
Some of Georgia’s commercial banks are already buying at 2 GEL per $1. Their webpages are publishing information regarding national currency’s exchange rate in real-time mode.
Georgia's central bank governor Giorgi Kadagidze says Ukraine is in the same bind as Georgia was in when Russia banned its neighbor’s exports in 2006
Food and drinks at the territory of “Kazantip Republic” became cheaper. Some bars and food providers reduced their prices by 20% to 50%. For example, khinkali that cost 2 GEL
On the 20th of August, at 9 in the evening, “Kazantip” festival was declared officially open, with both multitudes of foreign guests and local denizens attending.
From now on, Georgian national currency, the Lari, will have its own symbol. Georgia’s National Bank declared a contest to select the symbol in December of 2013.
Georgian auto business is under the threat of collapse. There’s an unusual lack of people at Rustavi Automarket, yet despite the forced reduction of prices recently, many cars
Georgia has signed a so called Association Agreement with the European Union in Brussels.