Kevin and Tina are people who chose to say goodbye to their life in London and build their own cottage farm in Alino, Bulgaria. They are sure that replacing the urban environment with livestock, fruit and vegetables (all grown by them) was the best change they have ever experienced. We, on the other hand, can experience the results of their efforts in the form of artisanal jams and other delicious produce.
Tell us a little about yourselves: your background, your education, etc.
Kevin: I was born in Kent, UK and joined the Royal Engineers at 16. I traveled extensively, including to Kenya, the Falklands, Cyprus, Germany, and Belize, working for the British Army and the United Nations for eight years. On leaving the military, I worked my way through university, gaining a Law degree, then going on to become a barrister-at-law. After passing the bar, I was offered a lecturing position at this old university, which I took up, saying ‘the clients are much nicer.’
Tina: I was born in London to Scottish parents. I studied business and marketing in London, then worked in marketing for private and commercial banks in the City of London, with some traveling to Australia & the far east in between. Later I gained a degree in Law at Kevin’s university (where we met 13 years ago), but then decided on a teaching career and retrained again. I taught business in a secondary school and a college in Kent, and was a school governor.
You worked in some quite different fields, how did you decide to move to Bulgaria and start a farm?
Our original plan was to downsize and live a simpler, more natural lifestyle, away from the stresses of the rat-race and the endless cycle of working to pay for the house we were never in, for the cars we needed to get to work. It’s a situation many of us find ourselves in, and we wanted to change it. We also enjoy a bit of an adventure! We bought a holiday home in Bulgaria in 2007 and then visited every year. We have loved Bulgaria since; its nature, people, and history, so in 2010 we decided to move there — something we had always planned to do eventually, but perhaps not so soon. So,
After a few months of organization, we arrived in May 2011. We have always been interested in good food and self-sustainability, and this was part of the impetus for us to set up Cottage Farm.
Walk us through the process.
For the first two years in Bulgaria, we lived in our holiday home at Shturkelovo Gnezdo. We kept two pigs, some chickens and ducks, which gave us a taste of small-holding, but the plot was not large enough to develop the idea as we wanted to. In early 2013, we found a derelict house with land in Alino and set about extensively rebuilding the farm house in traditional style and replanting the land. We now grow our own vegetables and fruit, and keep livestock — goats, pigs, chickens, ducks, and geese. We follow organic principles and use no artificial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, routine antibiotics or growth hormones.
Have you had any struggles with that huge change you made in your lives?
but we have been determined. We work well together and are looking for the same things, so that makes it easier to deal with the difficulties. We are happy here, in our rural idyll, working for ourselves and can’t imagine jumping back onto ‘the treadmill’.
How does the local community react to your project?
We have made some tremendous friends there, and they are unerringly positive about what we do (although we suspect they think we’re a little mad). We have been welcomed to the village, and we all help each other. We are also part of the goat-herding co-operative, where we all take turns to take the goats out to pasture. It is a great, supportive community here in Alino and we feel blessed to have been so welcomed.
You are pretty self-sufficient in a way: growing your own produce, keeping your own animals. How has this lifestyle changed you?
We spend much less time in supermarkets buying processed junk! And we’re thinner! It is very rewarding producing your own food, and it definitely tastes better. We have a very seasonal diet now — eggs, cheese, salads in the summer and meat, vegetables and potatoes in the winter – which we believe is much healthier.
You also sell part of the things that you produce, which are they?
We make a range of seasonal, home-made jams, marmalades, jellies, chutneys and pickles, often using traditional English recipes. Our aim is to provide new flavors to Bulgaria. Our range changes throughout the year, with summer pickles, soft fruit jams and pesto, moving to chili preserves and plum jam. We are always coming up with new ideas as we like to offer something new to our customers, and it’s more interesting for us to make a variety of things. We sell at the farmers’ market at Rimskata Stena in Sofia and at various events throughout the year, and we really enjoy meeting our customers and talking about the things we grow and produce.
More and more people are inspired to live closer to nature and further away from the city life. How do you explain that?
People are becoming more removed from nature and the origin of their food, and spend too much time in the city, cooped up in offices.
It is an unnatural environment for us, and people are looking back to when their grandparents lived in the country and grew their own food, and they want some of that for themselves. It is a pattern we have already seen in the UK and other countries like France and Italy. It’s a much freer and more relaxing way of life – we know as we have done both!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow a similar path as yours?
Be brave, be determined,
and don’t give up!
We are hoping to develop one of our buildings into a cookery school/training space with the aim of running classes in cooking, gardening, animal husbandry, etc. Again, we are planning to renovate, rather than replace, in order to keep the character of our historic rural Bulgarian building, and thus we will be using traditional co-building techniques. We will remodel the interior sympathetically, while still offering modern conveniences to our clients. We’re really looking forward to getting started — watch this space!