There’s no shortage of work to do in the village of Orzhytsia, Poltava region. Local residents bring their freshly grown vegetables to the small factory of Green For You Food, where the company’s employees create three dozen kinds of dishes from local products: from jams and juices, to vegetable caviar and cabbage rolls with meat. All are packed in vacuum retort pouches (a modern alternative to canning) and can thus be stored for a year at least without refrigeration.
Tetiana Chernikova the co-founder of a company called Green For You, got the idea of producing portioned, ready-to-eat meals that require no additional preparation when full-scale war broke out. Tetiana and her sister Valentyna had been planning to use equipment that they used for cooking and packaging porridge and varenyky (a traditional Ukrainian dish made of boiled dough with various fillings) in a different way – to make pesto-like sauces from the microgreens they grow. However, the war has for the second time turned the life of these Donetsk migrants upside down.
From a Manager to a Farmer
Until 2014, Tetiana did not even think of having her own business. Her job as a supermarket manager provided a decent income and promised good career prospects. Therefore, when Valentyna, Tetiana’s sister, left Donetsk for Kharkiv, she herself did not dare to move for another two years. With each passing day, however, life under Russian occupation got harder, and the prospects for the future grew dimmer. Eventually, she left her native Donetsk with her husband and two children.
Together in Kharkiv, the sisters immediately started thinking about starting their own business. They had no idea what exactly to do – but every time they visited a market or a supermarket, they looked for one. Later, they decided to grow microgreens. The niche was relatively free on the Kharkiv market, and did not require significant investment.
An acquaintance offered to rent them a house in the suburbs. It was a good starting point for a young business: 0.74 acres of land and a small greenhouse. Still, things did not go very smoothly at first, as the sisters lacked experience and knowledge. It is one thing to grow the first harvest; it is quite another to establish year-round production with stable quality.
They had to learn literally everything from scratch. The sisters took several business courses to master management, studied at a greenhouse economy school in Khmelnytsky, and even asked a competitor already growing microgreens on an industrial scale for advice.
They later added another greenhouse, and the sisters mastered modern automated cultivation technologies on their farm. Prior to the Russian invasion, Green For You produced up to 500 kilograms (about 1,102 pounds) of microgreens per month. The produce was readily bought by restaurants and flew off the shelves of the city’s supermarkets – Kharkiv residents were quick to appreciate the tasty and healthy greens.
Porridge instead of Sauces
On the eve of the full-scale war, the sisters were about to expand their production. They had bought special equipment and rented and renovated additional premises. But the war forced them to change their plans.
At first, the sisters, together with the restaurateurs they knew, began cooking for the military and Territorial Defense Forces, and did not even think about moving. But the constant shelling of Kharkiv eventually forced Tetiana to leave with her husband and children.
The newly purchased equipment was also taken to Orzhytsia – as the investors in their company had demanded.
“Local authorities helped with premises, they offered us the building of a former café,” Tetiana recalls. “Here we placed all the equipment and started arranging everything for fruit and vegetable preservation in retort pouches. We hired local women and offered community farmers to bring the vegetables they grow to us.”
Later, a food technologist developed the recipes and all the necessary documentation for a line of ready meals packed in retort pouches. Also, the word “Food” was added to the name of the Green For You company.
With grant money from the United Nations Development Programme and with support from the EU4Business Initiative, the sisters launched a modern online store, selling delicious spaghetti with sauce and chicken, stewed cabbage and beans, jams, vegetable caviar, and other tasty and healthy dishes that can be stored from one to two years, even without a refrigerator.
“Many of our products are bought by volunteer organizations, and the soldiers on the front lines gladly eat them,” says Tetiana. “They’re not only tasty, but also convenient. The packages are easy to open and the food is very easy to heat up – this makes our products almost irreplaceable where there’s no access to electricity, heat, and water.”
Now Tetiana is planning to step up production. She wants to open a second factory, expand the line of ready-made Green For You Food dishes, and put them on the shelves of Ukrainian supermarkets. She says their equipment allows them to cook almost any dish, even borscht. Moreover, the unique recipes and local farm products used to make Green For You Food dishes mean they’re some of the tastiest and healthy ready-to-eat foods you can buy, she says.