Walk to Folk: Enjoying Belarusian Traditions

Karina Sitnik, participant of the Biz4all social entrepreneurship training programme and creator of "Walk to Folk" commercial project, invited ODB Brussels on a bread baking trip in order to show how the project works and to give them a chance to spend time together in the warm atmosphere of a Belarusian agricultural estate. A pleasant bonus is the new skill of baking home-made bread using leaven with a century-long history.

At the moment, social entrepreneurship in Belarus is often considered to mean “helping vulnerable groups of population”. Other countries, however, state that, in addition to addressing problems of vulnerable social groups, social businesses also deal with projects aimed at sustainable development: culture, environment, nutrition and preserving national traditions. Lately, such projects have also appeared in Belarus.  Walk to Folk is a good example.

Biz4all-2 training is part of the "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator”  programme organized by ODB Brussels (Belgium) in partnership with TNU Network University (Netherlands) with financial support from the European Union.

A year ago, Karina set up her private unitary enterprise “Folk Adventures”, which organizes tours to the Belarusian countryside: bird watching, collecting and fermenting medicinal herbs, training people in baking bread. Having worked in tourism for a number of years, Karina decided that she is ready for her own business.

 

Karina Sitnik, creator and manager of the  Walk to Folk project

Photo by: Anzhelika Hrakovich

"Initially, I had an idea to not only take groups on tours round Belarus but also engage regions by providing support to local residents. First of all, I work with agricultural estates owned by people from the countryside. Thus we came up with the idea to organize a one-day bread baking tour: we take people for one day to an agricultural estate, talk to them about leaven and teach them to bake bread. We have also adapted our recipes, so that people can follow them and bake bread in an oven in a regular apartment”.

The bigger the loaf is, the tastier it is

Volha Dziuban,  Walk to Folk expert on bread baking and fermented herbs

On a snowy Sunday morning, all the participants of a bread baking tour gather in an agricultural estate near Minsk. Here, we are greeted by Karina and Volha Dziuban. Volga is a biologist by training who teaches at the Faculty of Biology of the Belarusian State University, bakes her own bread, collects and ferments herbs, and makes eco-friendly cosmetic products. Karina shares the story of meeting Volha: “Once you fall in the right environment and the right groove, you encounter useful acquaintances and enterprising people all the time, which helps you develop and provides emotional support: you want to do more, to create something more interesting”.

Volha can talk about bread leaven for hours: it has been more than ten years since she last bought bread in store, as always bakes it at home herself. At first, the girl tried to bake her own leaven from herbal yeast, but then, having studied the subject from old documents and books, she understood: the older the leaven is, the tastier the bread is. Today, Volha prepares bread from the leaven that is more than a hundred years old, which she brought from an eco-settlement “Rossy”.

 

On this homely and hearty Sunday, we did not just learn to bake bread: each of us also took a spoonful of leaven home, meaning that we can now bake bread at home all the time in a regular oven. This tour costs 60BYN and includies the transfer, a bread baking master class, two informative lectures about different types of bread and herbs, and a hearty rustic lunch.  

 


Tour "Forest Weekend”

Photo: official Facebook page

Tour "Bread"

Non-formal education as a tool for growth

As for the social component of the  Walk to Folk, it has two: a cultural one and an environmental one. Culture is preserving and promoting national Belarusian customs. Belarus has traditionally been a rural country, but now the majority of people live in the city, so a lot of skills that used to be developed and passed on from generation to generation for centuries are now being forgotten. Karina wants to help preserve these traditions and transfer them to a new urban environment: baking home-made bread, harvesting and preparing herbs. They are also developing blacksmith tours, tours dedicated to other traditional Belarusian crafts, as well as gastronomic tours. At the same time, unique programmes of  Walk to Folk always focus on the environmental component: promoting a friendly attitude to nature, learning how to enjoy it in a new way.

  Karina Sitnik, creator and manager of the  
  Walk to Folk
project

  Photo by: Anzhelika Hrakovich

Karina launched her own business a bit less than a year ago, but has already realized that she needs to be more consistent for it to achieve success and become profitable. She has been aware of how useful educational programmes can be and how training can change one’s attitude for a long time, since she first took part in a long-term training programme, dedicated to gender issues. “This was my first focused non-formal training that helped me get a different perspective on the women’s community and understand how we could be useful to one another”. At the end of the course, they had to come up with a project, so Karina with her classmates developed a project called "Fajna", which organized hikes for women. “This is our non-profit initiative; we have been organizing environmental hikes for women for two years now. A hike is a cheap but powerful way to unwind, become mindful, find new acquaintances”.

Karina says that she applied for the first Biz4all school but didn’t get selected. “Now I understand that I had a half-baked idea, and it is obvious that the best time to learn and develop is now. Throughout the course, I can monitor and analyse my work, so I can see that everything I do at the moment is spontaneous and I need a clear plan. If this course helps me develop a clear structure for my business, I’ll consider that a success”. According to the young entrepreneur, non-formal education in social entrepreneurship has one crucial advantage: the opportunity to get to know other teams. “It is very useful to see what challenges others face and how they overcome them, because it inspires you and helps to get a different perspective on your own problems”. Walk to Folk team took away one important truth from the task on interviewing: people are not going to buy goods or services just because a company has a social focus. High quality of the product is always a priority for people when they choose services.  

 

Tour "Bread"

The summer of 2018 will be the second summer in the life of the project. Karina shares her plans for the future, saying that she has already set up an English-language website WalktoFolk to draw foreign tourists to Belarus. They also plan to considerably expand the number of tours on offer. "Walk to Folk" now offers seven full package smoothly-run tours and has already built a loyal customer base: more than 20% of people come back again. Now their focus is on improving performance and expanding.


Text by: Valeriya Nikalaichyk

Photo by: Mariya Rolskite

 

The goal of the programme is to develop a package of social entrepreneurship training programmes in Russian using innovative international practices, as well as the experience of Belarusian diaspora representatives who have become successful entrepreneurs in European Union countries and the USA.

The material was prepared within the framework of the "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator", implemented by ODB Brussels in partnership with TNU Network University (Netherlands), Belarusian Youth Public Union "New Faces" and International Civil Association "Union of Belarusian of the world “Motherland", with support from the European Union.