Oleksandr Dzhyha has created a farm in the small village Vasylivka, Podillia. Besides vegetables and fruits, the man successfully cultivates the high-priced mushrooms there – truffles.
All his childhood, along with other locals, he had been eating the mushrooms unaware of their cost. His family gathered buckets of truffles and made “varenyky’ with them.
However, when the farmer found out that he was walking along a delicacy, the price of which is measured in thousands of euros per kilogram, he actively took up business development, hoping to revive the truffles business in Ukraine.
It turns out, there were a lot of truffle plantations on the Ukrainian land, which have decayed during the Soviet times.
This story is about how an ordinary farmer took up an unusual business, opened a gold mine, and with his experiments knocked experienced biologists into a cocked hat.
The Vasylivka village, near Tyvriv, has an interesting history. In the picturesque area, there were found golden jewellery of Chernyakhiv culture and defensive embankments that protected the neighboring city of Tyvriv.
The remains of the lordly constructions of imperial and Soviet times, even if they are in ruins, confirm that houseproud persons lived in Vasylivka. It was they, who started the truffle farming business here, which was continued by Oleksandr Dzhyha.
— The history of truffles on the territory of post-Soviet countries is quite old. The first plantation of truffles, which I have visited, was laid by Suvorov. Two hundred twenty-two years ago. My great-grandfather gathered mushrooms at that plantation, then he taught my grandfather, and my grandfather taught my father. So I started gathering the truffles. Although I did not know what it was. Suvorov and other cunning landlords said that it was “cow’s heart” so that the hunters and foresters would not gather those mushrooms, – says Oleksandr.
The locals gathered buckets of precious mushrooms for decades, without even knowing what they were tasting.
Give the Papuans the iPhone, and he will start using it as a mirror or a hammer. The same we are with truffles. While we had not known that it was a truffle, we boiled it and thought it was a little better than the porcini mushroom. Because it is more crunchy, more flavored. And it should be eaten raw.
Once we were driving from Mykolaiv and stopped to take dried porcini mushrooms. I saw the black summer truffle rolled up in the jars. I asked: “What kind of mushroom is it?”. “It is crumbly. They’re edible, do not be afraid, you will not get poisoned”. They were even half cheaper than porcini mushrooms because nobody would like to buy them. As I said Papuans — compares the man smiling.
For Oleksandr, the truth about the precious delicacy, which he tasted when was a child, was discovered by accident. His friend Volodymyr, a microbiologist asked him if he had heard about such an expensive mushroom — the truffle:
— I said that I’ve heard. In my childhood, my father would always joke when I did not want to eat something. He said: “You might want a truffle in leopard sauce?”. My father also heard about truffles, but we did not understand …
Volodymyr offered to start the truffle business since the Ukrainian climate is similar to the French. There was a question with seeds or seedlings of a high-priced mushroom. But when Oleksandr saw the “cow’s heart” on the picture, all further questions disappeared.
Now, Sash, if someone reproach you, you will say – what are you talking about, I eat truffles every day.
The man raised the archive materials and found out that Peter the Great started to popularize truffle, and the landlords learned to cultivate it.
— According to the written records, the first artificially cultivated truffles were officially presented in the 1880 year at an exhibition in Paris, France. I found a Russian book of the 1812 year, where it was described how you can cultivate a fungus, how you have to look after it, what the conditions are, what kinds of mushrooms exist. Maybe the French just kept it in secret, – the farmer laughs.
He learned that there were even laws about truffles in the Russian Empire. In particular, it was forbidden to collect it with bears. It turns out that people often went with bear cubs for a high-priced fungus because they are as good in search as pigs and boars, but hardier. Mainly women were engaged in this business. Animals were treated rather cruelly: their teeth were pulled out. However, their claws were not touched. Therefore it happened that one grown-up bear tore a woman. After that, such “hunting” was banned.
Today, Оleksandr invests all the forces and resources in the truffle business, knowing what wealth is hidden under his feet. He had to start this case with his family and friends from scratch:
— When we found the price of truffles, the attitude changed at once. This year, I ate truffles only once, because the guests arrived, we had to feast them. And so, you hold a truffle in your hand and think: eat truffles or earn money to build a plantation, because the plantation is quite an expensive thing. We want to legitimize everything and have a license, a genetic passport to export and sell it officially. Therefore, we try to save every penny.
Thanks to the old archival books of the XIX century and numerous experiments, the farmer mastered the technique of artificial cultivation of various types of truffles:
— There are seven books about truffles. These pre-revolutionary books describe the technology of cultivation and plantation, where the landlords were previously engaged. In Ukraine, part of them was destroyed, another part was remained.
Truffle is a fungus known as a delicacy that has a savory taste and an unusual aroma.
Fruit bodies of the “earth heart”, as they are called the fungus, are located underground, in shape they are similar to a bulb, have a fleshy consistency.
Truffles grow in deciduous forests and create mycorrhiza* with roots of trees. A separate type of fungus creates a collaboration with different trees: black and summer grow near the oak, beech, and hazel; piedmont – near birch and poplar.
*Mycorrhiza is the connection between the root systems of the fungus and the plant. Under appropriate conditions, this connection is mutually beneficial, since the fungus receives from plants glucose, and it supplies the necessary nutrients and water instead.
During the conversation about a high-priced fungus, the undisguised admiration of his “subject” is heard in Oleksandr’s voice.
— Such scent is unique, not like anything else. It consists of the smell of a tree on which it grows. Black and summer truffle can grow on oak, on the hills, and on some coniferous trees. Accordingly, if you take an oak one – the smell is more pleasant and more people love this particular truffle. It is a bit more expensive than the same species that grew on the pine trees, that have some scent of rosin because of pine-like smell. It has the smell of the land on which it grew. Well, there is also a smell of some spices of some overseas.
In one of the pre-revolutionary books was written that “ladies refrain from using truffles at dinner parties to not get aroused”. That is, it is a natural aphrodisiac.
Frankly speaking, when I ate them I didn’t feel anything like that. Perhaps it affects women in a different way. But my wife is afraid of eating raw mushrooms, she is capricious.
Oleksandr learned all about the truffle: what are the peculiarities of its development, how it multiplies, which microelements it takes from the earth, how to look for it and what conditions it needs for development. The farmer admits that such a business requires total immersion, but he does not spare any finances or time for the necessary researches. He took an analysis of the land from centuries-old truffle plantations, because there, respectively, there are optimum conditions for the growth of fungi. Besides, some of the results contradicted certain scientific aspects:
— I spent a great money on it, but now I know. When I was at the conference for the first time, there were microbiologists from universities that have been studying fungi all their lives. When I had told about my own experience, they stated: “this can not be so”, “this is not doing like this”. I advised them to tell it to the truffles. Because they’re growing.
However, Oleksandr relies on the old signs and his father’s science in search of mushrooms, despite all the researches. In particular, buying a specially trained dog is very expensive, and the man prefers to invest all the assets in the development of the business. That is why he looks for mushrooms without a dog because he is hawk-eyed.
— Two or three years old dog costs from three to six thousand euro. One hectare of truffle plantation with a fence and with drip irrigation is about seven thousand euro. It is better to choose the plantation when you choosing between the dog or the plantation. And we will dig up by ourselves, – Oleksandr explains the saving.
The truffle should get plenty of the sun for good growth. That is why the “earth heart” should be looked for under the trees, the crowns of which are not closed up.
You should look at places where wild boars or goats dug up the ground because they also love this delicacy. If there is a mycorrhiza – a white fluff – it means that there is truffles’ place, and the boar missed a few mushrooms.
That is interesting that the mushroom does not grow in the singleton. Usually, there are about six “neighbors” in the nest. So you should look carefully, as the great truffles are in the deepest place.
— The white truffle is guarded by Vasylivka’s mosquitoes. That is why (in the woods – aut) it is dangerous to go there without me – Oleksandr laughs.
The owner modestly remarks that his greenhouse is simple and economical:
— Do not judge strictly. There is always not enough money for everything. We did not try to decorate anything, everything is in the village style.
But the major experiments are taking place on these eight square meters. Besides truffles, Oleksandr is growing the vegetables. So he decided to combine two businesses. In particular, the farmer artificially mycorrhizes (creates a symbiosis of the roots of the plant with the roots of the mushrooms- aut.) truffle with other plants to increase the yield of mushrooms and improve the quality of plants.
— There are cucumbers in this greenhouse, part of which I mycorrhized with black truffles. It can be mycorrhized with other plants, but not with trees. Then we wash the root system and see how much it will get bigger or smaller. It will be definitely bigger – the farmer shares plans.
Oleksandr even uses the experience of the Japanese, in particular, their method of creating natural fertilizer. They mix manna porridge and rice with various adds: algae, fructose, starch and bury it on the ground. It turns out something like a forest Petri dish. An entire ecosystem of different mushrooms appears for the certain time and with the necessary humidity and the farmers cultivate fields by it.
Oleksandr is ready to share the results of his experiments with others:
— To show people this technology, not just to know for ourselves. When you tell people about your experience they do not believe. If you show a photo or even a video or they come and try for themselves, it is much better.
The man dreams his village has a specialty of farming, such as cabbage greenhouses in Transcarpathian villages, which the inhabitants locate in almost every courtyard.
However, such a fidelity to the business produces a misunderstanding or even derision with villagers.
I made my greenhouse to impulse the village to vegetable-growing. People laughed at me that I’ve thrown my money away. Finally, it worked and one man has built also a greenhouse, but not as mine. But still, it was first step.
Oleksandr is sure, that people in the village can earn a lot of money if they work wisely and are ready to invest money and take a risk. Moreover, people should work outside their own garden and think about how it is better to realize their product. There are all opportunities for it: rich land and not strict tax system.
— These cherries. — Gather them, buy sugar, conserve them, convert to some jam and after that sell on the internet. — For the reason to have some money. But no. Nobody does it. If people sell raw stuff, entrepreneur complains.
Oleksandr considers that the problem of Ukrainian farming is in the generation gap that arose through the actions of the Soviet government and war. People were torn from their land by force; they did not work for themselves:
People in the villages can not think and create something on their own. They got used to doing everything a little and anyhow. They forgot about truffles as they forgot about everything. Everything can be forgotten in such a macabre time like famines. People did not think about delicacies. People thought about how to survive, they hide the last kilogram of grains to save it from taking away to the kolkhoz; they thought about how not to be killed at war.
Oleksandr notices a similar situation in his own business. The man honestly tells about his attainment and testifies that he does not fear the competition.
— How do you think, will people use this technology (new technologies that the farmer found), if somebody shows, tells and opens them all the secrets? Logically, they will use them. But actually — they won’t. People are always worried about routine. There are more important things, but not enough time and inspiration for them. There is always a suspicion that it can not be so easy, the truffles can not be.
Oleksandr does not complain about lack of clients. Restaurants and common people that want to taste fresh extraordinary dainty often buy this high-priced mushroom. “Earth heart” is also transported to Russia that buys truffles from each territory of the former USSR.
Oleksandr has enough accomplices in truffle business. The farmer noticed that high-priced mushroom is picked up at the Carpathians, in Zakarpattya, and Bukovyna.
Black summer truffle is in the Red Book of Ukraine. We want to restore and distribute it more in Ukraine in the future.
Oleksandr and his colleagues build the plantation near Odessa:
— We practice, but also we combine experience from pre-revolutionary books and a new one from Italians, French, Australians, and Americans. We adapt it to our conditions.
But the main thing is that a man develops his business, and simultaneously he can do something useful for the country. He does not hide the results of his researches, and he is ready to share his experience.