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
Tsinandali wine brought back to life – The first bottled Georgian wine
Georgian modern technology of winemaking was born in the Tsinandali Estate that belonged to the 19th-century Georgian nobleman,
Georgia: RI’s example for business ease
Looking at how Georgia significantly improved its ease of doing business (EODB) ranking from 112th to eighth
Ecomigrant Women in Disveli Start Cheese Production
Every morning since April 2016 has started the same way for three women in Disveli village, Bolnisi Municipality.
Georgia: “Wine Tourism – a growing tourism segment”
The Financial reports about the Global Conference on Wine Tourism which has recently been held in Georgia.
Marketing Forum 2016 tickets on sale now
The tickets for the Marketing Forum 2016 in Tbilisi are already on sale. The forum that is due to begin on September 22
Turning an 8000 year wine tradition into success in Georgia
New opportunities are opening for Georgian winemakers and wine lovers through the EU funded programme East Invest 2
Christian Menegon to present master classes for at Marketing Forum 2016
Marketing Forum 2016 will be held in Tbilisi on September 22 and the main topic is ‘non-standard and innovative trends in marketing and packaging’.
Smart ring by Georgian students – It will replace wallet and can save your life
21-year-old Davit Kvitsiani is one of the 20 winners, who were revealed at Startup Georgia’s competition of high-tech business ideas.
Georgia’s Leading discount website now available in English
Hotsale.ge is the leading company in internet sales. Close to 500 000 users trust its high quality and appreciates its significant discounts.
Tbilisi preparing to host International Marketing Forum
Tbilisi will host the Marketing Forum 2016. The main theme of the event is ‘Non-standard and Innovational Directions in Marketing and Packing’.
“Nobody can do your business better than you” – Young Georgian winemaker tells her story
23-year-old Baia Abuladze from Bagdati, Georgia, has been looking after the vineyard planted on 3.7 acres of land
Which imported products are destroyed in Georgia and which countries are they imported from
The products imported to Georgia are inspected at the border and if any particular product fails to pass the test
Handbags made by Georgian students to appear in Israel and Greece
The handbags produced by Georgian company called Begels will appear in Israel and Greece.
Government Subsidizes Vintage 2016 Harvest
Within the framework of the Vintage 2015 program, the government decided to issue 0.45 GEL per kilogram for Rkatsiteli
New Airport Planned for Georgia’s Mountainous Racha Region
TBILISI – Construction works for a new airport in Ambrolauri – a town located in western Georgia’s mountainous Racha region
Top 5 most popular Georgian wines on export
As of July 2016, the export of wines from Georgia has increased by 42% comparing to the same period of last year.
Healing socks containing silver appear on Georgian market

New type of socks, containing silver and used for medical purposes, have emerged at the Georgian market.

Silicon Valley Tbilisi - The first high-technology center in Georgia
In modern world it is practically impossible to separate business and technology.
Building complex where you want to spend even your holidays - That is exactly how I bought an apartment in 30 minutes
While ago I filled the application form on Facebook. One construction company at a glance offered me an ideal living conditions
Hillary Clinton’s favorite Georgian wine costs 600 GEL
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate in American Presidential Elections, has her own favorite wine in Georgia
Ice cream from Georgian yogurt Matsoni hits the market
Have you ever sampled ice cream made from Georgian yogurt Matsoni?
Georgian student who grows gigantic blackberries in Telavi
23-year-old Giorgi Latsabidze has been cultivating gigantic thornless blackberries
Orbi Group Project Gains Global Recognition
The Orbi Twin Tower, a new 4,500 room hotel complex, is being built on the Black Sea Coast in Batumi.
What to compare before taking a Loan?
Everyone goes through times in their lives when things do not go as planned and they look for a little bit of financial support.
The first wind power plant being built in Georgia
The first wind power plant is being built in Gori, Georgia.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Other Stories
Georgian entrepreneur Guka Tavberidze, who runs his own business in the UK and does it quite well, has been invited by BBC
The grand opening of 7-star The Biltmore Hotel Tbilisi took place in Georgia’s capital on July 31.
DUSHETI, Georgia – The Georgian government and the World Bank will allocate USD 5.6 million (12 million GEL) to fund
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.
GEL Exchange
USD
1
USD
2.3345
EUR
1
EUR
2.6247
GBP
1
GBP
3.0206
RUB
100
RUB
3.6493