One thing is to tell the stories about going back to the roots and enjoying the life at the countryside, the other thing is to actually walk this road and adjust to the realities of the life and work in the backwaters of Georgia.
Me and Temur- main man of our rehabilitation process.
During the last 12 months I have made 11 trips to Georgia, but it was not until the beginning of March this year, that I stayed in Kutaisi on a more or less permanent basis and started to organize the work at our first plantation. The initial rehabilitation works were carried out by another company, so we were not involved on a daily basis. This process was finally concluded at the end of February, some 2 months behind the schedule, but it was not a huge problem, as during the winter there would have been not much to do anyway. But in early March, I arrived with a big suitcase, took the keys of the house we rented for our team in Kutaisi and tried to settle in.
I am old enough to know, that usually things do not go as planned and I was mentally prepared, that the beginning will not be easy. I also knew that I was largely on my own until our other team members arrive in mid-April. So, all in all, I can happily conclude, that everything has gone more or less as expected. Probably the most important thing is, that I have enjoyed my new life as a farmer, even if I often did not enjoy the challenges I have faced. Now, one month later, I have learned quite a bit, solved our first crisis's and at the same time, somehow managed to stay as enthusiastic as I was 🙂. It can only go better as we go forward.
What have I learned about Kutaisi and Georgia?
First. I have understood, that there are actually 3 different Georgia's – Tbilisi, Batumi and everything else (including my new second hometown Kutaisi). In Tbilisi you can have a fairly similar lifestyle as in Tallinn, Hamburg or any other big European city, if you prefer so.
In Kutaisi, it's slightly different. Life here reminds me a lot the life in Estonia some 20 years ago. For example, there are no big shopping malls and most purchases are made on the huge bazaars (markets), where hundreds of traders sell all the imaginable goods of various origin and various quality. The first multiplex cinema was opened a month ago, and we are looking forward to the first supermarket, that hopefully will arrive later in 2018.
It has been difficult to adjust to the reality, that some weeks half of my time goes to find the required tools and materials, that I need to purchase for our Estate. You just cannot go to the big speciality shop and get the things you need. Instead, you run around between 10 different mini-shops or browse one of the 3 big bazaars. If you need 15 similar tools, it might take a whole day to find them. In one shop there is 3, in the next one 2, then you need to go to the other end of the city to get the next 4. And you hope that next week you will find the rest.
Second. In rural Georgia people have long lived in "survival mode". For most, there has been no permanent employment for the past 25 years. Some people have left for Tbilisi, some have gone to Turkey, Greece or Russia. Those who stayed, have learned to live without stable income and regular work. They grow vegetables and fruit at their small land plots next to their houses. Each family has a cow or two for milk and they make wine, cheese and other (in most cases very tasty) food at home. And if there is an occasional possibility, they take temporary work assignments nearby or in Turkey.
Georgians are naturally optimistic and friendly, but due to the recent economic hardships, people from small towns and villages don’t have many long-term plans. Living day-by-day, they also try to optimize as much as possible – to get as much out with as little effort as possible. Future is unknown, so no point of making investments into the future or having high hopes for tomorrow.
Marketlife of Kutaisi. Photo: Tomi-Andre Piirmets
What have I learned about myself?
I'm not really a guy who likes to run around, talk to 20 new people a day and always organize something. And although as CEO I was more of a "hands on" type, rather than sitting in the back office and theorizing, the life of a starting entrepreneur is something different. There are no systems, no specialists and professionals next to you. You are alone with your few partners and you just need to go step by step. Every day there is some new issue or problem that you need to solve and, in most cases, you don’t know, how to solve them, before you dig into it, and try to find a way. Often the first solution is inefficient or even plainly stupid. You learn and adjust.
What has also surprised me, is that what concerns tea growing in Georgia, then you easily find experts of different kind, who have had some previous connection or experience with the tea industry. But whatever is the specific question, their suggestions or understanding of the solutions could be completely opposite. One says, that fertilizers are absolutely necessary, other says, that no fertilizer is needed. One says you should definitely prune the bushes, others say, that it’s the worst thing you could do. One says, that the best rehabilitation tactic is to just set everything on fire, the other says, that the first person is an idiot.
What have I learned about our Estate?
Honestly, every time I return to Georgia after being in Estonia and go around in our plantations the first day, I get overwhelmed. There is so much that we need to do. And so much we need to learn. But I have always considered the ability to learn and adjust one of my biggest strengths. One thing I have learned in the last few weeks is the power and speed of the spring in Georgia. In the middle of March, there was almost nothing green yet, and there seemed to be sufficient time to set up the weed-fighting processes. 2 weeks later, parts of the plantation were conquered by the bright-green fern that was almost a meter high. Wow... Let's see who wins in the end...
Its now mid-April and the main part of our team is finally together and able to fully focus on the many challenges ahead. Game on.
Kristiina, Hannes, Miina, Tomas. Foto: Tomi-Andre Piirmets