Rel Davis, Peace Corps, 55 Xemus, bx b, apt. 10, Straldja 8680 – 011-359 4761-24-46

Рел Деивис, Корпус на Мира, 55 Хемус Ул, Бх Б, № 10, Стралджа 8680 -- 04761-24-46


The newest (and one of the oldest) health foods might well be milk from the water buffalo, an animal with an immune system so strong it has no history of cancer.

A small farm near a small town on the plains of eastern Bulgaria is in the forefront of the trend. The town is Straldja and at first glance it looks like any of a thousand farming communities on America’s Great Plains.

Nestled in a broad valley at the foot of the eastern extremities of the Balkan Range (known in Bulgaria as the "Old Mountains"), Straldja is surrounded by fields of wheat, American corn, and sunflowers. Herds of cattle and sheep, and flocks of chickens and turkeys, continue the illusion. But when you look into the many gardens in the town and see watermelons and cabbages and tomatoes galore, you could almost imagine yourself in the middle of Kansas somewhere.

But as Dorothy said in Oz: "I don’t believe we’re in Kansas anymore." In fact, if this were America, it would be an America in the grip of the Great Depression!

The differences strike you immediately. Wagons pulled by horses or donkeys share the streets and highways with small eastern European autos. Herds of sheep and goats fill the town streets every morning and evening on their way to, and from, daytime pasturage. Gypsies in their colorful, if ragged, clothing are a common sight (nearly a third of the town’s population is Roma, as they prefer to be called). And shawled "babas" (grandmothers) are the ones most likely to be tending the watermelon patches.

Another sign that you aren’t in Kansas is that the infrastructure of the community shows the signs of ten years of neglect as the nation of Bulgaria has tried to move from a controlled, communist system, to an open market system in perhaps too short a time. Public buildings need paint, roads need mending, and everything, well, looks a little worn around the edges.

Out in the country, however, the miles of wheat fields demonstrate that the agricultural economy of the area is very much alive.

The water buffalo farm lies just north of town, in the shadows of the nearby mountains. Managed by two experienced livestock producers named Stoyan Stoyanof and Yordan Yordanof, the three-year-old operation currently feeds and milks 40 cows and boasts a like number of calves in the 180 to 300 kilogram range. The calves are currently available for export. Producers in countries like Great Britain, Argentina and perhaps the U.S., looking for an opening into the health-food market or facing the uncertainty of a market with mad-cow disease looming on the horizon, are potential buyers of these extraordinarily healthy milk producers.

The milk of the water buffalo, long famed for its health-benefiting nature, is not only consumed as a potable drink, it also is famous as a base for two of Bulgaria’s best-known food products, yogurt and cirene (a soft, feta-like cheese.) But with Bulgaria’s economy in transition, most of the milk is now sold mixed with normal cow’s milk, because Bulgarians cannot afford the higher price of water-buffalo milk alone.

What lies in the future for the farm is unknown; the milk is on the market, but none is now being exported. One future for the business lies in potential export markets for the water buffalo themselves.

Potentials for American cattlemen, investors and entrepreneurial enterprises fall in three categories: import of water-buffalo dairy products, import of calves for breeding and production purposes, and direct investment and/or partnership in the current operation.

The farm is capable, at present, of handling up to 200 water buffalo, but the equipment and operating plant are old, dating back to the communist era. Loans in Bulgaria are difficult to obtain and interest rates are extraordinarily high. Further expansion will be difficult without some financial input from outside, either in terms of sales or investment.

Inquiries from American firms and potential investors can be directed to the following sources: (calls from the U.S. should begin with 011-359-)

In Bulgarian: (the farm itself) (0)88 433-629 or (0)88 915-575.

In English: (local Peace Corps Volunteer Rel Davis) 4761-24-46

In English or Bulgarian: (the local JOBS or business information office) 4761-40-17 or (0)87-261-631

Note: The Bulgarian word for "water-buffalo" is Бивол (Bivol).