ALTHOUGH FOREIGNERS OFTEN TELL VESNA THAT HER PRODUCTS ARE CHEAP, SHE SHAKES HER HEAD AND SAYS THAT SHE PREFERS THEM TO BE AFFORDABLE FOR ALL AND NOT ONLY FOR THOSE WITH WELL-LINED POCKETS
Owing to her personality and attitude towards life, Vesna Rožić stands out among a large number of ecological agriculturists. Living on her property in Nerežišća on the Island of Brač, this always active 63 year old lady returned to Croatia after spending five years in the USA. Taking with her the best America offered in the form of new knowledge and skills, she returned to the South Dalmatian Island of Brač and fell in love with the land and plants. “My granddad is the one to be blamed for everything. Because my mom and dad both worked, when I grew up a
bit, I constantly stayed with him on this very same estate. My first toy was a little mattock, the gift of my dad” – says Vesna good-humouredly.
Ecological cultivation in harmony with nature
Vesna’s property, Zogeterra, was named after her family’s nickname. My granddad Mate Pavišić was nicknamed Zoge after a game played in the village of Nerežišća, at which he was a true master. This is how my family farm got its name, explains Vesna.
She returned to Brač in 2008 with her ex husband. When they arrived, the property had been neglected for 50 years. It took them three years of hard work to prepare the land for cultivation. “It was difficult, but we worked with joy. They told us to use poison to uproot the weeds and bush plants, but we didn’t want to. The only acceptable thing for us was ecological cultivation in harmony with nature”, emphasizes Vesna.
“In the USA I came in contact with permaculture and wanted to learn more about it, in order to be able to apply it”. On her 1,7 hectares property Vesna grows cherries, almonds, olives, figs and medicinal herbs. “We also own an olive-grove near Trogir, and another with 15 olive trees near Nerežišća, so I have my own olive oil”. This diligent woman actually started her Croatian Odyssey with cherries, the brand-name product of the area. “When we arrived, they were the only fruit-trees that bore fruit. I soon realized that two weeks were not long enough to pick
and sell the cherries, so I decided to make jam. Luckily, people liked it, and that was a start”, says Vesna who, in addition to her work on the land, likes to spend time in the kitchen. “In the old days, everybody used to prepare food for winter, and I enjoyed being around the stove while fruits and vegetables were stored in jars for the cold season”. She adds that today, there are not that many cherries because the old trees are growing older, and the young ones still haven’t reached their most productive period. “All cherries that get ripe are sold immediately. As soon as the cherry season begins, old customers ask to be included on the list,” says this amiable resident of the Island of Brač with a smile. In addition to cherry
jam, she makes fig jam, she dries figs, and her almond trees recently started to bear fruit. “The head pollinator almond tree had collapsed from old age, so for a time we didn’t have almonds at all. But I am happy to say that we have them again”, says Vesna happily.
“Apart from cherries, figs, olives and almonds, I collect self-grown plants. Most of them are growing wild, but I also planted some, including lavender, rosemary, immortelle and sage. They are all from the natural environment, and we grew all the seedlings ourselves”, explains the woman whose teas and herbs can be found in Croatia’s only licensed ecological snackbar in Bol on the Island of Brač. Her products can be acquired in several shops in Split, and she has a small shop in her house.
Animals are part of biodiversity of the property
We ask Vesna how she managed to survive the two years of the pandemic and sluggish tourist seasons. “Fortunately, we sold one property so I had small savings that helped me to survive. I don’t know how I would have managed without it. Much to my regret, most of my income is connected with tourism. My wish is thus to encourage the increase in the number of organized visiting groups and to facilitate the accessibility to local products. When asked if she regretted returning to Brač from America, she explained that every climate had its advantages and
disadvantages. “From America I took its best, I learned about permaculture, sustainable development, and solar and wind energy. One can easily obtain information in the USA, while here the system is very slow, and everything is more difficult, more complicated, less accessible and more undefined. This makes me very sad because our country abounds in potential and possibility.
If we could combine America and Croatia, the sky would be our limit”, she states with a smile. In conclusion, we should not forget to mention that, apart from her plants, Vesna
has her animals as a major part of her property’s biodiversity. “I have chickens, ducks, geese and peacocks, and their eggs are sold out in advance”, says Vesna contentedly.
We finish the conversation with this diligent woman who, at the age of 63, is still full of plans and ideas. Owing to the experience she gained in America, another small part of Croatia has become a better place to live.
Preservation of antique varieties
The only certified permaculture designer in Croatia, she dedicated herself to the preservation of antique seed varieties. Using her antique seeds, a farmer grew 15,000 seedlings of various vegetables. “Unfortunately, I had to give up the seed bank due to the lack of free time. I brought my first seeds from America’s rich seed bank, because the tradition of preserving antique varieties is well organized there. In the past mu cousins brought to America the seeds of broad bean, cherry and grape that do not exist here anymore”, says Vesna, one of the few permaculture agriculturists who actually lives on her production income.
Translated by IvAnA JurIšIć