Reflecting on my experience with the Erasmus Young Entrepreneurs program, I must acknowledge that I feel very happy and very fortunate to have been part of it. It has been short but also very intense, we worked hard to meet the objective: “find the way to start a sheep farm in Ucieda, Cantabria”. The task did not seem easy, given the number of inconveniences we faced, and the cold and rainy weather did not help to lift our spirits. Nevertheless Matias (HE) never doubt this project was possible.
Among all the things I learned, perhaps the most significant one, or the one that has marked me the most, is that there is not only one way to reach your goal and the more flexible and open you are, the easier it is to make your business dreams come true.
I am thankful for all the people I have met during this period and all the knowledge they have shared with me. I made good friends, some of them even mentors that will guide me when I establish my own farm. This experience also showed me the hard reality livestock farmers face in Spain, a bit different of what I know from Denmark. Nevertheless, in the development of this project I also got the key to get to know and face all these problems: “talk with the locals and collaborate with them”.
In this manner, I had the opportunity to engage in conversations with many people, encompassing various backgrounds such as scientists, rural residents, urban dwellers, and of course, farmers. This methodological approach proved to be highly enlightening, giving us a comprehensive perspective on how the project is perceived. Furthermore, it generated diverse ideas on how to address both their requirements or demands and our objectives.
I discovered that my outlook is more pessimistic than I initially perceived, and I became aware of my need for a sense of security among other things. Our research brought up numerous challenges. Even the villagers showed big scepticism when we said we would get some sheep soon. The wolves, the bureaucracy, the economic uncertainties really concerned them. All these troubles made me think rapidly that we were doing something impossible and non-sense. But Matias showed great determination believing on himself. He is a very empowering person, with a generous heart. He seeks to show and fight for the potential of small-scale farming, shortening the bridge between producers and consumers while at the same creating new chances for fresh energy and innovative ideas into a sector that appears exhausted and somewhat neglected. He always wants to help everyone, and this altruism yield its own benefits.
Recognizing the importance of community support is a key player in the development of this project. Matias engaged with local farmers, supporting them whenever they needed a hand. This way he gained their respect and support and in fact they will start collaborating very soon. As part of the project Matia’s flock will be shared with two other shepherds depending on the seasons.
The “field trips”, and the approach employed during these excursions is something I take with me, and I highly recommend, mirroring the intent of initiatives as Erasmus grant. To understand the challenges inherent to my HE’s project, we undertook visits to various farmers. Nevertheless, these interactions were never structured as formal interviews but more like a cooperative effort. We settled to spend the day or some days working with the farmers. And it was during the informal conversations that unfolded over the course of the activities that we got the most important information. They proved to be genuinely open to sharing their experiences, mistakes and reflecting on alternative approaches. While their willingness to share valuable knowledge was evident the time, we spent there was a key component of this knowledge exchange.
The first steps of the project will happen soon, when the association will get 10 sheep. Matías has been offered to collaborate with two of the farmers, they don’t know each other, but they both want to help and support Matias. So, they accepted having Matias’s flock together with their sheep for some periods of the year. In this sense Matias also got offer of another fellow countryman that will provide the hay for the winter as long as it is Matías who takes the cuts.
All these small collaborations will contribute to the feasibility of the project. While at the same time Matías will have the chance to fight for the benefit of the farmers from an inside perspective exposing solutions with a young and innovative approach. An example of this is the idea of offering consumers sheep adoptions, where they would get their sheep product at the end. This way civilians will get a closer approach to the produce of the product while being aware and somehow sharing the cost of disease outbreaks, wolf encounters, or other problems the farmer can face.
I feel very lucky I got the chance to share this time with my HE. Not only for everything I have learned from him, but also for all the people he introduced me to. I look forward to starting my own project and set some deadlines as Matías did, but overall to start the beautiful process of engaging with the local community. Thank you, Erasmus young Entrepreneurs, for providing this opportunity.