“Food is more than a commodity, it’s also a community. What you eat literally becomes you. Every bite connects you to the whole world.” – Ocean Robbins
Shtërpcë/Štrpce, the southernmost, mountainous area of Kosovo, is a vibrant community of Serbs, Albanians and Roma. The region’s collective gastronomic heritage is well-known across Kosovo.
Plates full of hearty pastries, flavourful meats, traditional Sharri cheese and home-style flija (crepe-like layer dish brushed with cream), fill the atmosphere, nostrils, and hungry stomachs of locals and visitors alike. Freshly opened bottles of syrup, wine, and rakija (strong fruit brandy) infused with raspberries and pure honey, delight visitors. In the background, a trio of singers and an acoustic guitarist play traditional music, creating a joyous vibe and positive community spirit for everyone.
This tableau is the Regional Gastronomic Fair, held by the Tourism and Agriculture Development Fund, to celebrate the bounty and wealth of the stunning region. As an intern for UNDP Kosovo, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see and explore the sights and smell of the Fair firsthand. It featured the produce of local farmers and rural entrepreneurs, seven of whom have been supported by grants and advisory services through a UNDP and ADA “INTERDEV” project.
Smallholder farmers and producers in southern Kosovo have been increasing their skills and rural know-how, expanding farms, and growing their yield to bring more income to their families. For them, participating in such events is not only an excellent opportunity for shared celebration but also to promote the fruits of their labour in the region and beyond.
With the locals, I felt their strong sense of community, pride, and perseverance.
When I spoke with Aleksandar Milenković, the leader of a local social enterprise processing essentially any kind of fruit you can find, he expressed to me, “Our story begins back in 2014 when we established first social enterprise in Shtërpcë/Štrpce. Since then, we are growing every day. Participating in the gastronomic fair has let us present our 100% natural products that are now highly demanded.”
In addition to enriching the tables of local families, I also saw how the agricultural and rural products are a common source of livelihoods for the community. Amid the sky-high unemployment rates, the challenge is especially evident among women who are the source of gastronomic wealth, as they experiment, share, and pass down recipes generation to generation. 47% of the UNDP and ADA project’s partner farmers and producers are women, spearheading this impressive push for regional socioeconomic improvement.
“This is the first time our association is participating at the Regional Gastronomic Fair,” Zorica Vuksanović, one of the local producers, told me. “We are on our way to becoming a social enterprise and plan to create work opportunities for 40 women,” adding about the collaboration with the INTERDEV project.
As we continued chatting, she noticed that my plate was empty. In an instant, she filled it with her homemade pastries dipped in rich honey. We shared smiles then immediately burst into laughter.
As I toured from table to table, I couldn’t help but smile as I gleefully sampled the cheese, jams, juices, and other tasty delicacies. There was no shame in carrying the fullest plate, and I knew I was not the only one. As the Fair went on, more people joined to sing, platters and bottles were emptied, and plates were licked clean.
Supporting local rural development through social entrepreneurship is the way to go. It helps reduce the burden of unemployment while also supporting women, youth, and other vulnerable groups with opportunities. Social entrepreneurship demonstrates to not only bring about more local products, but also advance social objectives of providing much needed jobs and income for those who may otherwise be left out of community development. Beyond agriculture and the economy, celebrating gastronomy fosters community building, bringing together the region’s harmonious ethnic diversity.
On behalf of UNDP, we thank the Tourism and Agriculture Development Fund and its partners to have invited us to the delightful fair and to all local producers for showing us what a stunningly rich and tasty gastronomy the region offers!
By Sari Ohsada, Communications Intern
Photos by Haes-Shal Kim