Episode 14

Achieving Self-Sustainability in Bosnia

Published on: 30th July, 2023

Join me in this captivating episode as we delve into the fascinating world of self-sustainability in Bosnia and Herzegovina with Ivy Šibinčić.

Ivy is at the forefront of the self-sustainability movement in her region, working tirelessly to empower local communities and promote eco-conscious practices.

During this conversation, Ivy shares her personal journey and the challenges she faced while advocating for self-sustainability in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Ivy and her husband Slaven, have been actively involved in projects that transform communities and promote self-reliance.

We explore the transformative impact of sustainable practices on the local economy and the environment, and how these efforts are shaping a greener, more resilient future for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Find out more about Ivy on Instagram HERE

Listen to a previous podcast episode featuring Ivy HERE

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It's an Englishman in the Balkans podcast and today we're talking about sustainability and in particular how a couple that live, I don't know, about 50 kilometres away from me have developed a seed bank. Now the couple we're talking about is Ivy and Slaven Sibincic. Some people in the agricultural world in Bosnia and Herzegovina know about them, their neighbours and people in the immediate area where they live.


know about them, but I suspect that you listening wherever you are in the world most probably won't. And I think this is going to be a very unusual story from Bosnia and Herzegovina. So first thing, Ivy, for you to start off with, you've moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina some years ago, but what made you and Slaven decide to focus on living a sustainable lifestyle?


Slaven and I have both mutual understanding of the life we want to have for our growing family. And we believe that Bosnia and Herzegovina is the perfect place that we're going to settle down. And as you see, it has beautiful nature and Slaven's family are all here. And we would love to live our dreams. And we are grateful that we are now living our dreams. It has been five years that I have been living here.


We can say that we're truly blessed for over the years because we are blessed with three beautiful children. And now we are engaged with sustainability and we can talk more about it today. When I last spoke to you, you were very excited about how things were developing. And I'm going to put your Instagram link at the bottom of the show notes. But at the end of last season.


the agricultural season is you were very occupied, the two of you, in showing people how you were gathering seeds, how you were storing seeds, and how you have made a seed bank, which I think is the first seed bank in Bosnia and Herzegovina. So two questions for you. Am I correct in saying it is the first seed bank in Bosnia and Herzegovina?


Could you walk us through the process of how you collect and how you preserve those seeds and how you ensure that the quality and viability is good? First and foremost, when we started, we thought that it's just us. But later on, we found out that there is an organization in Mostar where they also collect seeds from personal collectors and local communities.


and we donate our seeds there because they're bigger than us. We're just a family. But then we also met many collectors from Republika Srpska in other side of Bosnia, as well as Serbia and other Balkan countries. Now we slowly collect as much as we can. For the previous years, I think that was two years ago when we had our first podcast,


Now we have over 650 varieties and our goal is to have at least a thousand. And it's a challenge growing all this because we only in Boston, here's the Gobi Nights, four season country and we only have a short time to grow this heirloom vegetables. By the way, this family seed bank is for heirloom vegetables. We try as much as we can to collect the old


What we do is to first collect. Once we collect, we start growing them in our field, in our home. And once we grow, we try to multiply them. So that's our way of conserving or preserving these earlobes. By the way, most of our earlobes are also native and heritage seeds. We collect from our


grandmothers, people that we usually know, those old people that have been growing it for a very long time. And we would like this to be part of our collection because we know these are the seeds that are very valuable. And we are into saving these seeds. Now, once we grow it, we first one receive the fruits and the good ones we save and make them mature.


so we can get the quality and seeds, the one that are really viable seeds. So it's a long process. By the way, it's not easy because we need to collect. We also have to shell out our own money so we can also get seeds from companies that are selling heirloom seeds. But then we collect it. Once we have grown it,


we collect the seeds. And for the seed collection process for the growing, it's a challenge also because most seeds needs to be really taken care of. Most of them needs to sprout long time and we have to step by step process from growing it, then getting the fruit we...


have to make sure that we successfully grow it so we can get the seeds, we can get the fruit where we can get the seeds from. Once it has into, once for example, once cabbage has bolted, we will need to get the seeds, try to collect it and then once we collect the seeds, we need to put it in storage. So it's different in each type of crop. So they're like


tomatoes, there are watermelons and melons, there are corns, there are different types of species that needs a different way of collection and seed saving. So right now at the moment, we actually started to collect seeds now it's summer and we have collected some already like the brassicas. Some brassicas takes one year or the second year to get the seeds. So you see the process, it's not like instant.


But we are trying our best to keep up because we would love to have our family have this legacy. So this is not going to be for us only. We want also other people in the community to continue growing this year long. Because as you see now in the modern world, everyone is growing hybrids because it's easier, because it's faster. But they don't know that.


heirloom are the most delicious, very healthy vegetables that you can encounter in today's world. And we would like that tradition of our ancestors to continue. And right now, we're trying to educate people, inspire people. That's why even though we don't have enough time to show growing process, everything, but we show them our colourful harvests. So they get to...


We interpeed them what's this crop, what was this crop all about, how to use it, what's the nutrients in this crop. So we want to encourage them to grow and inspire just like what we do because we need to go back to our roots. And we are just passionate about collecting different heirlooms around the world. Right now, we actually were able to have established a connection.


collaboration with the Baker Creek heirloom Seed Company from the US. It's the largest, the number one heirloom Seed Company in the world. And we have sent the Balkan seeds to the US because we have encountered many people messaging on our page. Can you send us this, for example, Yabu Char? This is a specific favourite here in the Balkans, the type of tomato, the Chari Ne Kukurus,


Mahuna, they would like to have the seeds but unfortunately we could not support everyone in sending this. We don't have the power. So what we did is to send our seeds to the US so they will be the one to multiply it and send it to the people, the Balkans who miss their comfort, their own vegetable crops way back home. And we're glad that we're able to do that.


And we also have our free seats project. Actually, it's our fourth year doing that. We give free seats. And we also shorted the postal fees that year, three years ago. And then last second year, we decided to do it in neighbouring towns like Prnjavor and Derventer. And then third year, we also sent to the Philippines because I want also my people to.


have the access to the seeds that we are saving. And we also send to neighbouring European countries. And we feel blessed and humbled that we are able to save the seeds and let other people also enjoy it so they can grow it and they can enjoy the magic. We tell them that there's really a magic when you start from seed. And when you know that these seeds are non-GMO,


the natural seeds and these seeds that were grown, when we saved the seeds, they were grown in perfect conditions, in natural way. These are non-zero, I mean, zero chemical, 100% natural. And so we want to let them see that this is the healthiest and happier way of living life, to grow your own food, to grow it from seeds, especially from the seeds that have been forgotten by most of the people here.


We are on this fight right now. We, most people we encounter are not open-minded, to be honest, here in the Balkans. Most people don't like, why is this tomato black? Why is this cucumber white? So we want them to, and this corn is colourful. They're not, they're used to having this red as carrots should be orange, tomato should be red. But we're trying to educate them that these are not only limited.


Vegetables are not only limited to those type of vegetables. There are many realms in the world. And our goal is only a thousand, because we cannot manage everything. But at least these thousands are the ones that are, we think is the best to be kept. So our goal is to have them saved. Right now we are accumulating lots of seeds and we freeze them in the freezer. So we can be saved for many years. And the...


Our dream is to make a living out of something we believe in. And in the past year, we have managed to sell our excess seeds also to the community. And also our seedlings and fresh produce. We just hope that now we'll get bigger one day because we cannot manage right now. Because we just started the journey and we have other priorities. And but we're blessed that...


The life that we're doing right now, Slaven and I are now focused in agriculture, in what we do right now. So our home is filled with lots of heirloom fruits and vegetables. So we now have heirloom vegetables. Also, we have heirloom fruits. So we also grow native fruit trees. The varieties here in the Balkans that are mostly forgotten. And we are trying our best to multiply those fruit trees.


especially the fruit trees that are heritage ones, the ones that, for example, our great-grandfather have grown. It's 250 years old, krujka, or pears in English. So we're trying to grab that and save that and label it, where it came from, which family it came from. So we want to continue that. We want to save this the natural way.


preserving family heritage, and saving the biodiversity. So who knows what will happen in the future if some catastrophic get-for-bid will happen. These hybrids cannot sustain that. They cannot thrive in harsh conditions. And these heirlooms, native fruit trees, these are the ones that will thrive in case any problem happens. And we are also...


We were contacted by the Global Seed Vault in Norway, in Svalbard, Norway. And they told us that we have an interesting collection and if we would like to, if they want us to contact the Republic Institute of Genetics, something in Banja Luka, so we can send our seeds and they will be the ones to breed in Norway. So, unfortunately, we don't have time yet to do that, but we are also going to find time, because it's already part of our...


to do and we're glad that this humble home in the village, in the village, it's called Donji Smrtici, Republika Srpska, Prnjavor, we're able to spread our seeds, not only here in Bosnia, not only the Balkans, not only in America, but also in Asia. We're also gonna deal with research institutes in the Philippines, in Japan and New Zealand. So we're working on that. They would like to get samples of the heirloom seeds because they would like to study.


of these seeds and they would like to save us well. And we're happy that we're going this far. It may be nothing for others. It might not be a type of achievement for others. But this is our dream. This is what we want to do. And we would like to save this treasure because we believe that a kilo of seed is more precious than gold. It's love and flying, actually.


He always says that because we people, we most encounter just want to have right away like this, that just buying the grocery in the supermarket without knowing where their food came from. And now we are in sustainability. So it's our sustainable journey comes with many things. A lot, lots of hard work, to be honest, it's really lots of hard work and dedication. And


But it's worth it because right now we see our children are enjoying it. We see our children are healthy and we're living our best lives. And if I used to work in the corporate world and I would not trade my life now to whatever income I had before I was high paid before with my job and all, but, but I, it was not life. It was not sick life. It was not healthy for me. I always get sick and all, but now.


that I have this life, everything has changed and I believe this is my purpose in life, to be in this present time and feel blessed and humbled. I walk around the vegetable sections these days in different places in Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially in the area where I live, which is near Banja Luka. And now in these last years, I'm seeing different coloured vegetables and different coloured


would see in this country. And every time I think of you, how you said that people are very conservative here. They want the vegetables and the fruits that they've been used to. When you introduce them to that, to taste a potato that might not have the same colour that they're used to, to taste a cucumber that you say is white and not green, when they taste that,


vegetable or that fruit for the first time, are they really shocked or do they actually say I'd like to do this as well? So this is what we do because most people here, as I mentioned, are reluctant to, hesitant to try this unusual vegetable. So what we do is we use our social media accounts. We show them how it's grown.


how it looks like when it's ready to eat, how it's cooked, what are the nutrients and all. Because these people are hesitant to try, but they're very health-conscious. So we tell them, for example, the bitter melon or gulcadinha. I think I've shared this before also. My parents-in-law are now eating it because I always tell them, this is very healthy. It's just how I market the nuts.


this heirloom vegetables to them very healthy and you should try this and that's when how they are also are encouraged to try it. So that's when we tell them the superfood that it is so they start now wants to try and then once they have tried they start asking for seeds because they want to grow in their own homes as well.


We're glad because some of these people, there are lots of people now really growing old varieties of long vegetables and the seeds are from us. So now you will see there's lots of people engaging in kitchen gardens and those people are also new to gardening and they were just encouraged because we inspired them and we're happy to see that


vegetables are everywhere and just to tell them really that these are healthy, these are superfood, this will help you with this because most people here have this problem in sugar. So we present to them vegetables that are good for diabetic people. You just need to tell them that these are very healthy.


This can be cooked in many ways. You don't have to make lots of ingredients or effort. You can mix it with your regular eggs or you can even eat it raw. Because we also know some people who are into raw plant-based diet. And we always also, we also grow, by the way, the ones that are very healthy, the ones that are really useful. And I think that's what makes it special is that these vegetables are not, is not hard to market, not hard to sell.


They just need to start trying because they just need to inform them. You need to educate them. You need to... It's like we're in the face of having information drive to them about raising and growing and eating this type of early vegetables. Because these are not GMOs. They will think it's GMO because it looks funny. It looks different than usual. But you need to start educating them so they will open up.


they will be enlightened that these are beautiful vegetables that are really healthy and growing not only in the Balkans but across the world, that we should always try to preserve and grow. We should not be limited to the ones that we always encounter in the supermarket. In full transparency, we know each other very well. But for people that have never met you before,


I would really encourage them to check out your Instagram account, which I'm going to put a link in below. But you have a tremendous amount of interest from international media. Your ambassador comes to see you quite a lot. Your national ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina. You have people who have got serious, how could you say, media leverage.


They actually come to see you, TV stations, magazines talk to you, you've been on podcasts. You must feel very proud of yourself when people from outside the country get in contact and say, heard about what you're doing, tell us. A bit like me, actually, today. But you must, you and Slava must be tremendously proud of what you've achieved so far. So far, we are, we just feel humbled and grateful and blessed because the media,


and the people saw the hard work that we are doing, the fight that we are doing, the love that we are doing. And we're just actually living our life. We are just, it's just our life, our family life is our message to the world. And we are grateful that people start to see the beauty of what we're doing. And this is actually a normal life. This is the normal life of our ancestors before.


It's just that people forget it. People start to do different things. But then, now we feel blessed because right now we get lots of messages from people everywhere. We are surprised because some are from places that we don't even imagine. And we're happy that it's heartwarming for us when we get messages from people saying,


growing our own food. Thank you so much because we start saving our seeds and realize you are right that we should grow from our own home, that we should save seeds and because they want to ensure their food safety and food security and it's something humbling and it's hard to explain how we feel about it because I didn't expect this to happen because at first we just want to have our own family sit back.


We want to have, because last three years ago, how many years was Corona pandemic? We were very, we were not experiencing problem. We had everything in our doorstep. So when you have seeds, you cannot go outside and you can just grow because you have seeds. So see the beauty of saving seeds. You don't have to, if now, if the government controls seed saving and all.


are not selling these seeds anymore. We already have lots of seeds for saving that will take even to the next 20 years. So, we want to be secure. That's why we're living a sustainable life. It's not only about our seeds, but we try to do produce, grow, raise everything at home. So we don't rely on grocery stores. That's...


because we want to be independent, we want to be living off the grid, we want to have a sustainable, healthy lifestyle for our growing family. And I think this is the best for our children. Each of us have different perspectives in life, and we think this is the path that is best for us. This is what we wanted ever since. And it was just a matter of just going and starting, because if we don't start now,


we might regret it. So we want to take risks. And we are still young couple and we no regrets that we have started this journey because we can already see the fruit of our hard work. We started very small. It's like from scratch because we're just ordinary family and but we're blessed that now we have successfully grown Alpine Regina strawberry.


the little plantation of that, the Slaven grown by himself, also the hazelnut plantation. Now we're working on the fruit trees, native fruit trees, and slowly but little by little. So we want to fill our property with all this native and heirloom nature's bounty. And we could not have done it, by the way, without the support of wonderful and generous people that who have shared their seeds, their seedlings.


And so we are trying to also give back by saving these wonderful bounties. And we try to always encourage others to do the same because we could not do this alone. And that's why we give free seeds of this Erlum seeds to other people so they start growing it. When other people see it, then they might start also, so it will rip out.


We hope that from our small family, from our local community, it will rip out globally. And we're starting to be on that phase now. And we hope it will not end from there. And those media coverage, those recognitions that we receive from people, it's just a bonus. Because this is just actually just our life. And we're happy that we are.


on this journey so far? What advice, because you've actually done this, got this far, what advice would you give to somebody that wants to pursue a self-sustainable life? You said, if we hadn't have done it now, we might never have done it. Being where you are in the journey.


of self-sustainability. If somebody is watching or listening to this podcast today and says, I really would like to do that, but I don't know how to start. What one piece of advice would you give them Ivy? I would like to tell them, just follow your heart because that's what we did in the first place. This is our dream. And we actually was, we were actually discriminated, criticized, and lots of people commented.


about this journey because they always tell us, come on, you're young people, you're young professionals, you can do better outside Bosnia, you can do better doing your profession. But firm, we are firm with our goals, we know what we want in life. And if, don't let this fears hold you back because if you start doing it, the rest will just follow. Just keep on believing.


takes lots of hard work. But I'm telling you, it takes a lot of hard work, but very satisfying, very self-rewarding. When you see your family eating food from your own hard work, it's very rewarding. You cannot know it's these things that money cannot buy. Maybe we have


We just want to have a simple life, peaceful life, harmonious life, living in nature. That's all we wanted. And the rest will follow. Because right now, at first, we were thinking, if this lifestyle, we will not be able to have the financial luxury. But it's starting to follow right now. Because right at the moment, we started to burn a little. Because we actually don't also aim for too much.


the financial security, we just want enough for us, for our family and also for other people who deserve it the most. But for our children's future, right now we start to, Slaven is unemployed at the moment, we focus on agriculture, but we're still surviving so far. So we're able to sell our seeds, we are able to sell our seedlings, we're able to sell our fresh produce, homemade products and so on.


We start earning. It might not be big for now because we're still building our foundation. We're still working on lots of projects at home. It's hard at the moment because we don't have the financial resources to do that. But slowly, we appreciate the process. It's how you learn how to grow and you experience better. And we feel stronger as a couple, as a family, as we go through this process. And I think that's beautiful.


And I think that's what life should be. And if you want to start, please don't look back. Just go ahead. Don't be scared. Don't be afraid of going out of your comfort zone because a reward is waiting for you. I believe that this hard work will come into fruition one day. It will fruit one day. Just keep on believing and be positive because if you work hard for it, if you dedicate yourself to it, for sure,


God will reward you for your good deed. And this journey is actually sustainable, life-shall journey is very rewarding. You know why? Because you are feeding your family with food that you know where it came from. You are abundant with food and the experience with your family, growing your own food, raising your own food is immiscible happiness. Imagine your children.


growing, they know how to grow from seeds, they're picking your harvest fresh from the garden. These are things that you don't usually experience when you are in living in the modern, usual world now. So it may be lots of, you may be hesitant at first because what they, so it's your time to turn that what if questions to


get the answers that you need. So if it doesn't work, don't worry. It will, you get other options later on. But for now, just try, try, because you will never know it unless you really try. So that's what we're doing now. Imagine we studied hard, we had to finish a college degree, another diploma and all those things, but we decided to do all those things because our focus now is our family life. So it's different when you become adult, you become parents.


It's just me and Slaven. Slaven might have different inclination about the world. We are into this goal together. We want this type of lifestyle. It may be, it's actually hard if it's for starters, but later on you will, as you go through, it became a routine. It became a healthy lifestyle that you get to use too. And not only your family is enjoying your fruit of harvest, you can also share to your family and friends.


And all, and you can always tell stories to your children, to your grandchildren one day. Oh, this fruit tree, my grandfather's love and planted it for us. Now we're enjoying it. How beautiful that, that's the kind of life we want for our family. And we're blessed that we are on this path. We are now trying our best to move up slowly. So we learn to slow down because


last five years is too much for us because we're also raising our family at the same time. We have three small children. We're grateful for our in-laws, for my mother and father-in-law who is helping us watch the children when it's love and I need to do the work. It's just us, the family, working in all the things that we do at home. So it's a bit challenge but it's very fulfilling and challenge telling you I've been spending time in the garden and with the animals and all.


It's because I don't know for others because I used to grow up to live in an island and I work in city. So it was it was beautiful. It was good for me when I was single and all. But now that I'm married, I have family. This is the life I think we think my husband, I think this is the best life we would like to have for our children. And if you want the same, if you want to also experience the same life that we have, just don't be scared.


because you will get the reward later on. It might be not glamorous life, but it's a healthier life year and happier life one can have. And it's something that is gonna be the best for your children, especially the childhood for your children experience. They will, it will help them learn life skills. It will help them appreciate life. And...


they become better people in the world one day because they see how, where their food came from. They will learn to become passionate type people and we see that from our own children. And you learn to grow as a person also. You become more positive about life. You release all those bad energies in your system and when you have this type of lifestyle and if you want to, if you get the chance to do that,


Please do because it's the best choice you can have. And just don't worry if you have because we have friends also, some that are followers on our social media. Pals who started our journey. We also help people the basic ways, basic guides to start doing it. So we meet these people. We tell them the basic things that they should need to prepare. They're not only the mindset.


but also the practicalities like first you need to own a land, first like this how a garden works, how Bosnia works for example in Bosnia because it's a four-season country. Now others really don't have idea how it works so we need to step by step guide for them complete guide. We educate them during spring you need to prepare the seeds and seedlings in the summer you grow vegetables in this autumn you harvest them you make a winter at this zimnica this food preserves homemade


so you can have for your year-round food supply. So we tell them the, it's like a basic orientation of the life for sustainability that they're gonna have. So just need to encourage more people because the more people engage in sustainable living, the more healthier our communities and the more this world will become better place to live. Finally, and looking ahead, what are your future plans and aspirations?


in the next stage of your self sustainability journey? Good question. At the moment we are slowly building, we are in build process, building foundations and this is all for the future of our children. At the moment we have our new bigger greenhouse and glass house and we're blessed with land because love and inherited land of peace.


family. Now, our future projects, our future plans would be to have our fresh produce and products sold out in the market. So we would like to grow bigger, not only for the local community and we hope that we can sell in the supermarket as well. So other people who don't have the chance to grow their own food can have access to quality food from us. And we would like to have that.


chance one day, that opportunity one day to be of service to the people. And right now, we're slowly working on that. And we would like to grow more fruit trees. That's our goal right now, more fruit trees. And this is we have lots of green vegetables already. It's already enough. You'd like to work, focus on fruit trees, native fruit trees. And also, God willing, one day, if given the chance, we also would like to save the native animals.


So we are really into this. So we would like everything natural way. And we are certified organic, it's all natural. And we would like people to have access to our fruit of love and hard work. And in the future, we would like to continue the tradition of saving the seeds and having our seeds available for other people and encouraging more people to do the same.


Also, we would like to, right now we have our hazelnuts and strawberries plantation, small plantations. So we look forward to getting the products, the fruits of these hazelnuts and strawberries. And Slaven is also engaged in beekeeping. So we would like to develop a product one day that we can sell in the market. So hopefully that will help us in the long run for our...


for the future of our children because we also need to provide them. We would like them to have the best life and we're able to support them financially as well. We really hope one day we get to get our own products that will be available in the market. Not only now that we're right now we are selling, we have a milestone of selling our siblings in the Piazza and the farmers market. So it was a cool experience for us.


because we were out there in the Derventer and Prnjavor, selling our seedlings, and we're happy to see that people are now, they send us pictures that, oh, look at my tomato, it has grown, look at my strawberries, it has ready fruits, and look at those seeds that we got from you, it was very good seeds, viable, it grow already. Now we have this yellow watermelon, orange, white watermelon stuff.


from people because we became an instrument for other people's happiness. So, and this, they telling us like, look, because most of the people in Bosnia are living outside now, their families are living outside Bosnia. And these people left here, they're telling us, you know what, my grandchildren were here at home in Bosnia and were able to let them see and eat my colourful watermelons and melons and tomatoes.


happy to see those things. Thank you for your seeds. This type of things like it's feeding our soul. So it's something that we are ungrateful because we are into this path. And now in the future, we would like to continue that. We would like to have that until hopefully our children will continue also what we have started. And I hope many people will also start.


doing the same path like ours because we need more people to do this.

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About the Podcast

An Englishman in the Balkans
Find out more about Bosnia and Herzegovina
Encouraging people to find out more about Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"Welcome to "An Englishman in the Balkans" podcast, hosted by David Pejčinović-Bailey.
In this podcast, you'll get a unique look at life in Bosnia and Herzegovina through the eyes of an immigrant. Each episode, David shares his experiences living in this often misunderstood country, and introduces you to some of the interesting people he's met along the way.
From exploring the rich culture and history, to discussing the challenges and joys of immigrating to a new country, this podcast offers a thoughtful and engaging look at life in the Balkans.
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About your host

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David Pejčinović-Bailey

I am a podcaster, living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and sharing my experiences of living in this often misunderstood country.