Love, asparagus, exotic business

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More than a decade ago she planted 19 acres of her garden with a strange vegetable - asparagus — in anticipation of her Swedish husband and Chumak company founder Johan Boden’s birthday. Back then it was almost impossible to buy asparagus in Ukraine. Almost impossible. So she arranged through Hungarian farmers for the delivery from the Netherlands of 1,500 seedlings at 40 cents apiece. 

"With this investment of $700, everything started," Larisa Boden says..

To date, she and her partner have invested more than $200,000 in the production of asparagus. Today her company grows this crop on more than 20 hectares and plans to expand the area to 35-50 hectares. 

"Now we do not even cover the demand that exists on the Ukrainian market," says Ms. Boden, adding her company has plans to supply abroad.

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Larisa Boden turned her birthday present to her husband Johan Boden (in the photo they are together) into a successful business

A profitable vegetable

Asparagus in Ukraine is little known to the masses. 

"They don't even steal it from the field," Boden says. 

Back in 2007, this vegetable did not interest anyone at all. Nevertheless, several years ago she managed to convince her current partner Konstiantyn Sosna to change his strawberry business for asparagus.

This Mediterranean low-calorie vegetable is rich in proteins and trace elements and contains vitamin A. It helps normalize the gastrointestinal tract, helps the liver. It is popular in Europe and the United States. In Ukraine, it is mainly sold in two forms — white and green, but there is also purple. Green asparagus grows on a usual bed, and white (it is considered a delicacy) — under the ground and covered with a special sunscreen film. White asparagus is made with side dishes and soups, and green is baked with sauces and parmesan, cooked on the grill.

Green asparagus is easier to grow, and the bulk of its sales come from it, although we also grow white asparagus, says Boden. 

Retail price differs significantly. A kilogram of green asparagus costs 90 UAH, and white — UAH 100 to UAH 120. And at the level of European prices and even higher — in Europe during the season the price is about 3 euros per kilogram. The cost of production of the first type of about — UAH 40 and the second — about UAH 55. But the yield per hectare of white asparagus is greater.

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Photo: First on the village

The peculiarity of asparagus is that it can produce 10 and sometimes 16 years in a row. But it is better to change the culture after eight years, so that the earth can "rest." The main costs in this business are the cost of seedlings (about EUR 5,000 euros per hectare), as well as drip irrigation (this is another EUR 2,000 per hectare per season).

But these costs are paid off quickly. According to Konstiantin Sosna, the first full harvest per hectare is about three tons, and in a few more years — already five to eight tonnes

Shoots appear in spring, asparagus bears fruit from April to June. Asparagus grows very quickly — up to seven centimeters per day. They collect it twice a day, at the output it turns out to cut 200 kg per hectare, maximum — 300 — 500 kg. Therefore, in just one week you can get 6 tonnes of crop per hectare. The hotter and sunnier — the greater the yield.

Another advantage of this business is that the culture can be grown on sandy light rocks. Chernozem does not suit asparagus, which does not like "heavy" soils.

The difficulty of making asparagus

The main problem in growing asparagus is manual labor. It has not yet been possible to mechanize cultivation, neither in America nor in Poland nor in Germany. In the United States, it is harvested by Mexicans, illegal immigrants. In Europe, by Ukrainian "workers." The Boden company seasonally hire 30 to 50 local residents.

They collect asparagus, and in the spring and autumn they roll up special ridges 35–45 centimeters high. Depending on the age of the bushes, mount grows higher along with the rhizomes of asparagus. Also, workers carefully process the delicious white asparagus. To prevent it from turning red after cutting, it must be immediately processed with cold water and packed in a special container.

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Photo: First on the village

But probably the most difficult thing is to find a buyer for this exotic product. Boden and Sosna supply it to two dozen metropolitan and several Kherson restaurants. Retail traders take asparagus reluctantly. Currently, their asparagus is sold in the Silpo, METRO, Billa, ECO Market and GoodWine retail chains. Three times a week Larisa and Konstiantin deliver it to distribution centers of their own distribution networks. To do this, rent a special refrigeration truck. 

This is enough to sell all their products. "Today, we do not even cover the demand that exists on the Ukrainian market," says Larisa.

The partners have plans to enter the international market. To do this, it is necessary to increase production volumes. On the Ukrainian market, lots of one and a half to two tonnes can be called large. But for deliveries, for example, in Poland you need at least 5 tonnes. Now partners are negotiating with suppliers. 

"I think that by December we will understand whether we can begin export deliveries next season," says Sosna. To do this, the company wants to increase the area under planting culture — up to 30 to 35, and possibly 50 hectares.

To make this happen, the company acquired an automatic sorting line, which will allow more quickly to wash, trim and calibrate the harvested vegetables. This pleasure cost about 50,000 euros. But entrepreneurs expect that the investment will pay off: if before a tonne needed to be processed all day, now it can be done in an hour. And it is also necessary to purchase a hydrocooler, find storage facilities and invest in a brand.

For this, large investments are needed, and for two people this task is still too difficult. 

"I’m interested in having more partners — big, small, here, next to us, so that we can put together a large batch and send it to Europe," says Boden.

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