With help from the European Union, Maria Minciuna has set up a rural jam-making business that tourists love
Acacia, elderflower, rose hip and pepper jams – these are some of the products that are making a name for newly minted entrepreneur Maria Minciuna from the village of Slobozia Mare in Cahul District in Moldova.
Combining 30 years of experience of jam making, using traditional recipes from her mother and grandmother, Minciuna has created her own business with support from the European Union.
Her brand – “La Tanti Mașa” (Auntie Masha’s) – is already a hit with tourists to her picturesque rural home region and with food lovers alike.
“(Auntie Masha) is what everyone calls me, even though I'm Maria – that's what they’ve called me since the old days,” says Minciuna.
And since the old days cooking has been a passion for Minciuna, who over the years has prepared dozens of wedding feasts for hundreds of guests. But the idea of making a business of her skills came slowly, along with the increase in the flow of tourists to Cahul District. Since regaining independence, Minciuna’s home region’s charming vistas, traditions, and the distinctive cuisine of southern Moldova has been steadily attracting more and more visitors.
Having raised a family with her husband and now finding herself in an overly spacious house, she hit upon the idea of turning her passion for cooking into a small business.
“When I was left alone with my husband, we renovated the house and decided to open our doors to tourists as well,” Minciuna says.
“And everyone who comes to visit us now already knows that they can get a taste of my elderflower and blackthorn jams. We have loyal customers who regularly order pepper and acacia jams and who can’t wait for us to deliver the products to them!”
Encouraged by her son and by the demand from loyal customers, Minciuna applied for financial support from the “Lunca Prutului de Jos,” local action group, named after the local area. She was awarded EUR 4,172, which she invested in modern jam making equipment.
The villages in the “Lunca Prutului de Jos” area have a rich history and culture, and the region has numerous natural sights that attract tourists from far and wide. The area of the local action group thus has both favourable conditions and great potential for developing tourism. Minciuna's business is an example for other future entrepreneurs in the area, encouraging them to believe that their own skills can be turned into a business.
“While at the beginning we were cooking in domestic conditions and in small quantities, now we’ve already got modern equipment, which makes our work easier and helps us to increase our output of products,” Minciuna says.
“We bought special ovens, with which we cook over a wood fire, and we also have a dishwasher, and a slicer.”
Most of the visitors to Minciuna's household are tourists from Romania, but local people from the area who have moved to towns also come back to visit, eager to relive childhood experiences. In her spacious yard, Minciuna holds various activities and runs cooking workshops. More recently, her gastronomic business was included in a regional tourist route.
The area is also getting help from European funding made under the EU4Moldova: Focal Regions Programme: Using EU support, in 2021, the “Lunca Prutului de Jos” local action group held a micro-project contest called “Together for Sustainable Change,” and picked 10 local economic development initiatives to support. The new projects generated 6 jobs in the member communities of the local action group in this area, which has great development potential. With the EU development support, more than 30,000 residents from 10 rural localities will gain the chance to enjoy better living conditions.
“Thanks to the trust in us granted by the European Union and the fact that we were supported when establishing our business, we can also pass on the traditions and authentic taste of our dishes to the younger generation,” Minciuna says.
The “Lunca Prutului de Jos” local action group is one of the four beneficiaries of a EUR 50,000 grant awarded by the EU4Moldova: Focal Regions Programme, with financial assistance from the European Union under its EU4Business Initiative.
The “EU4Moldova: Focal Regions” Programme (2019-2024) supports smart, inclusive and sustainable social-economic development in Cahul and Ungheni regions, in order to ensure a better quality of life for citizens. The program has a total budget of EUR 23 million, funded by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).