The FINANCIAL -- Jammy Green was established as a German-Georgian company with a philosophy of producing healthy vegetables without chemical additives. The company pays big attention to protecting the growing environment of plants and supporting it with sustainable agriculture.
The seeds they use are a product of nature and developed in Germany under the highest regulated standards, as well as native Georgian vegetables seeds which are developed in Georgia. The soil is checked regularly by analyses conducted by the University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim.
“The agricultural knowledge in the country needs to be improved as well as the education of farmers,” Jochen Jager, Director and Manager of Jammy Green, told The FINANCIAL.
“Our company works in an organic way without the use of chemicals and GMO. We see Georgian farmers as a big family with a target to increase the market’s position. We don’t want to have any enemies in agriculture. It’s a huge market which local farmers can enter easily with any education.
Q. How did you first start in this business?
A. We started business with a small investment of EUR 5,000 back in 2009. The land we had at first was just 1 hectare, which we were renting. We didn’t know if organic vegetables would grow here, it was just a test. Now we have bought the land we use, which is about 8 hectares. When we first started on a small scale, it was more or less by accident. I was working as an architect and project manager in Georgia. And I recognized that at that time Georgia had not very many vegetables and almost no salad.
I am mad about salad. And I just started things myself. Then lots of people heard what we were doing in terms of organic agriculture, those who had some connection with Europe were informed about organic vegetables and there was more and more interest from their side. So they asked me if I would sell to them and this was the way it started.
Q. How hard was it for you at first?
A. Of course it was hard, because we needed land, promotion and supply. I also needed to be in Germany because I had an architecture office there. I was dividing my time between the countries and I needed to earn some money to finance this business in Georgia; I invested all the money that I could from one business to another business.
Q. How popular is your product?
A. My experience is that most of the people in Georgia don’t know what an organic or bio product is so they have no idea why they should buy such a product. Some people in Georgia know about it. They have been to Europe and know about certified organic and bio products. They know the difference. Organic products are healthy, tasty and of good quality.
Lots of people are not very well informed about organic agriculture. It needs to start on a small scale, for people to become informed through the promotion of organic products, through interviews, for them to be given them some basic knowledge on why organic products are important for the health, this could be done in school, on TV, in magazines etc. It was the same in Germany. It was like an island in the sea for organic producers, and everybody laughed about it. But now you can’t find a supermarket there where organic products are not sold. And this will come to be in Georgia as well, I don’t know how much time it will take but Georgia in some ways is quite a fast-developing country. It’s also our management’s policy not only to think about today or tomorrow; we are planning for the next year and the year after that too. We have different crops to implement in Georgia. We don’t want to be competitors but together we are stronger in the market.
As far as I know, the South Caucasus is the gene pool in the world where most of the crops that we have come from originally. Thousands of years ago they were taken away to Mesopotamia, Egypt Greece and Italy and finally arrived in Northern Europe where they were domesticated and perfected. So we are just bringing them back to their origins.
Q. How profitable is the business?
A. We are developing every year and as Georgia is a very fast-developing country we now have to provide larger amounts. However, it’s not organized like it is in Europe where people inform you in advance. Here people just come in one day and ask us for 20 or 100 kilos of tomatoes. This makes it quite a difficult situation to be in - not wanting to disappoint our clients, the clients which we deliver to every day.
Q. How do you grow the vegetables, do you have land or greenhouses?
A. We have some greenhouses and land where we develop our crops. Each crop has its own time. At the moment we can start from February-March, but I am going to install some heating system so that we can work all year round. Our crops are first developed in the greenhouse and afterward, when the season starts and the climate is better, they go out while the next crops enter the greenhouse.
Q. Do you pre-pack any of your products?
A. Not yet, but we are thinking about it. At the moment I don’t have the investment to get a device for packing but I already have many ideas in mind. You can do a lot of things, even go into frozen products and so on.
We have clients such as supermarkets, hotels and restaurants.
Q. How do you ensure the products that you deliver remain unspoiled?
A. We have a refrigerated vehicle, and we deliver our products fresh. We harvest early in the morning and then it goes straight to our clients. Unfortunately we have no influence over how our customers treat the products. But most clients are aware that vegetables are very delicate products, and we are also monitoring and controlling what they are doing with our products. Because of the fact that we are working at a high level of quality we want to keep this quality until the product reaches the end client, who will be buying or eating the product.
Q. What is the harvest period?
A. We harvest in every period, we have different crops which grow at different times. In autumn or winter we have salad and other crops. At the moment we are harvesting tomatoes for 4 months but I want to expand this to 9 months. However, first I need to do some tests as I don’t want to end up with mushy, watery tomatoes, with no taste or smell. We want to retain our quality. If this doesn’t work then we will stop. We always do tests in advance with each crop, to understand how they grow, when is the best season for them, when they have the best taste, and when they are of the best quality in general.
Q. Do you have a warehouse for storing your products?
A. Actually we don’t. Because of a lack of investment we cannot do everything at the same time. Usually we harvest and deliver the same day. Currently, if we cannot sell our products in time then we take them to the compost pile. We want to keep our quality. We don’t want to sell vegetables which are not of a good quality.
Q. What can you say about your competitors in the business?
A. It’s quite hard. As far as I know from having checked this, we are the only officially certified vegetable company. We are at present in a period of conversion and we will have our certification this year. If one is serious about organic vegetables then one needs to be in a period of conversion for two years, and then you get your certification. I know that a lot of farmers say that their product is bio but they only are saying that it is, so there is no way to be sure of whether it really is or not. For this purpose we are monitored by an international organization. They check how we work and that we do not use chemicals etc.
Also, we don’t use insecticides. We do need to avoid certain diseases but we do it differently, in an organic way. When people use poison then the toxins eventually work their way into your system or into your children’s systems. To avoid this we are using natural herbs which all grow in Georgia. We make a special mixture to avoid these diseases and it works wonderfully. Chemicals are not the only solution to avoiding diseases. When you have knowledge about plants, what they need, how to protect them, it is easier for you to find the right mixture of ingredients and use them in a natural way.
Q. What can you say about the price of your products?
A. Our price is little bit higher than average, because we have much more work to do. When you spray your chemicals in the spring or after every 2-4 weeks you get other problems. You destroy the balance in the environment. With a big monoculture, and no crop rotation or mixed culture, you make your soil barren which means you need more chemicals, and so the circle starts again.
Q. How can people know that it is your product that they are buying in a supermarket?
A. We are working on this issue right now. We are holding discussions with markets and hotels to specially mark products that are organic, which is also in their interest. We have flyers for each product, with a description of the ingredients, how to store them, and recipes for what you can do with the products. We are not so interested in being competitors for the local farmers which is why we have red tomatoes as well as black and yellow. And the result is incredible! They are very tasty and we are already selling them successfully. We were invited by DWV to join an exhibition where we were asked by lots of people where they can find our products. Our private clients will be able to visit us very soon to the left of the Shota Rustaveli Monument in our shop.
Q. Would you consider finding an investor?
A. I am ready to talk with any investor but in general investors want a lot of money back in a short amount of time. This is not our way; our company is sustainable, and we want to be sustainable in both crop production and on the market. About this I am very open but it should be an investor who is interested in what we are doing and interested in increasing the Georgian market. They should be interested in this country, in Georgia.
Also it is quite difficult dealing with banks because they have very high interest rates. Banks also have some difficult terms that you need to first satisfy. You need to have been in the market for years, you need to have a high return on investment and this is all quite difficult for startups. Very often bankers have no idea about agriculture.
Q. Where do you import your seeds from?
A. We import our seeds from certified organic companies. We buy them in Germany where the price is high, but you cannot find them in Georgia otherwise.
Q. Would you consider exporting?
A. We are working on this issue but for this year our main target is to supply Georgia, to give Georgians the opportunity to buy healthy products. Export is interesting but not easy. We need to first clarify who our customers are as well as the safest way to export.
Q. What can you say about agriculture in Georgia?
A. Georgia, with its wonderful climate, rich soil and clever people, is the best place to grow crops. Farmers need support and knowledge and education to find a place in an interesting market. We established a cooperative in organic farming and we will have vocational training in September. The German Business Association (DWV) is assisting as an expert in organic agriculture who will be able to give us some basic lessons, for our workers and members of our cooperative.
I am also interested in getting relationships going with agricultural students, getting those who are interested in organic agriculture to join our lessons. This is the best way to see if what we are doing works. It would be a very good opportunity to increase the knowledge of all.
We see Georgian farmers as a big community that has a common target to find a position in the market. Personally, my dream is to make organic vegetables a Georgian brand.
Q. What can you say about the workforce in Georgia?
A. I think that the profession of farmers and land workers is not very well accepted in society, which is a problem for us in having well-educated members. We don’t have enough reliable people on our land. First of all we educate our people by ourselves, but to work on land is not considered good by society. We need people who know about plants. Natural insecticides support plants with their knowledge. Farmers are not seen in a good way but they are the ones who are the basis of the country, they provide people with the food. The main question for young students these days is where can I earn more money. But when you have a good organization in agriculture you can make your money. You need to be organized, have good management and enough knowledge.
Q. What are your plans for the future?
A. We want to implement new crops every year; make them popular in Georgia; stick with our idea of organic food; have a school where we will educate our employees, cooperative members and students who are interested in organic agriculture; improve the standards of hygiene on our land; improve quality; have a new way show to treat our products in cooling, packing, freezing etc. The list of ideas goes on and is too long to explore fully in just a short interview.