Source: eKapija | Thursday, 02.05.2019.| 15:15
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Eko Park Beograd in Beli Potok opens for visitors – An oasis to evoke childhood memories

Looking to provide a green oasis for themselves and their children, the young married couple Ristic from Belgrade came to the idea of starting their own farming production. As they had a farm in Beli Potok, the location was not difficult to choose. Today, nearly five years later, at the foot of Avala, only 12 kilometers from Belgrade, a green oasis is available to all those who appreciate life in the nature – Eko Park Beograd.

– Some five years ago, we started looking for a place where we could grow some products for our own needs, to have our fruit, vegetables and everything a large family needs in its everyday life. As my family originates in Beli Potok and as we had inherited some land there, we bought some more and started turning our idea into reality – Bojana Ristic, the director of Eko Park Beograd, begins her interview with eKapija.

The initial idea was to start their own production and plant fruit and vegetables for the family’s own needs. However, step by step, their whole endeavor started expanding.

– We went into farming just for the needs of our family. But, when we saw how good and tasty the products were, we started considering organic production. They advised us to test the land and water, as there’s plenty of spring water and streams in the area. The biological-chemical analysis confirmed that the land is very fertile, but also that the water is clean and that it can be used for irrigation. We then started inquiring into the possibility of obtaining organic certificates. We initiated the certification process in 2016 and the Center for Food Analysis gave us the organic status in early 2017 – Bojana says.

Today, this farm takes up seven hectares, on which over 900 fruit seedlings are planted, as well as over 1,000 vines, various kinds of vegetables, and the area also features three plastic greenhouses.

– In the first two years, we started organic livestock farming activities too, first with egg-laying chickens. We now have quails, geese, ducks, turkeys, as well as goats, from which we get milk, we make our own cheese... We’ve tries to sell all these products in the retail market, which proved very difficult, as the deadlines are short, the margins vary... We then got the idea to establish a facility through which we could further push these products, while also incorporating everything so that our children, but also the children of our relatives and friends, can come here and have a good time. Little by little, in the past five years, this whole project has developed that we now call Eko Park Beograd – says Bojana Ristic, who came back from Canada to Serbia, where she married.

Life in nature is the idea behind the whole project, which is apparent as soon as you step into the park. You are welcomed by peace, quiet and greenery – the lake at the very entrance, where you can fish, the brook that runs throughout the park, the fruit and vegetable plantations, the plastic greenhouses, the benches where you can rest, enjoy the view, the colors, the scents and the clean air.

As you go further into the park, the sounds of nature are complemented by the sounds of children playing, coming from the two outdoor playgrounds, featuring a birdcage, but also a mini zoo, where children can pet goats, pick up the freshly laid eggs, ride horses...

As Bojana says, this was the main goal – to allow children to experience childhood as it once was, without phones and tablets.

– It’s a special feeling when a child can pick a cherry from a tree and eat it, without even have to wash it, just like we did when we were children. We are trying to help children experience real childhood, spend time in the nature and play with their friends. This also helps us evoke our childhood memories – Bojana says.

A hanging bridge, playgrounds, but also business meetings

Above the park is a forest, which is connected to a hanging bridge, which provides a magnificent view to the whole property.

– We are especially proud of our hanging bridge, which connects the forest to our organic orchard. Right next to the orchard is a big terrace, where visitors can relax and enjoy the view to the Avala Tower. If the season is right, the guests can safely pick fruits from the trees. All our fruit and vegetables are treated with nettle exclusively. It is first soaked, and the water is then used to treat the plants, all in line with organic regulations.

As everything in Eko Park Beograd is child-oriented, in addition to the two outdoor playgrounds, the property also features an indoor playroom. The whole area is suitable for birthday parties, but also for field trips and excursions organized by schools and kindergartens.

– The business sector is important as well. Various business meeting, seminars and training courses, as well as other events, can be organized in our restaurants, but also in the multifunctional room. There’s also the restaurant for business lunches, but also for other events, such as birthday parties, bachelor and bachelorette parties, even smaller wedding parties for up to 100 people – Bojana Ristic says.

This organic farm primarily employs people from Beli Potok. A part of the employees are in charge of working the soil and livestock farming. There are also agronomists, employees at the restaurant, cooks and waiters. On Fridays and weekends, two specially trained young women take care of the children in the playrooms.

– We have tried for everything to be at the highest level possible. We have been doing this for five years, building it little by little. Every problem has been overcome, everything has been tested by us staying here with our children, which showed us what children find interesting and which safety problems needed to be addressed. We’ve really tried to take care of everything – Bojana Ristic says.

Still, even though it all seems idyllic, getting the project off the ground was not easy and, as is usually the case, the Ristic family has faced numerous challenges.

– When you want to start producing organically, you start from zero. The seed has to be organic and the soil has to be of certain quality. The first year was very difficult. We saved everything in order to have seeds for the next year, including our famous red pepper, Kurtovska kapija, which is very hard to find today. We use it to make various preserves. So there have been problems, but they’re not that hard to overcome if you are determined. Currently, irrigation and protection from hail are our biggest problems. We are hoping for a subsidy, as we have applied several times. I hope that we will overcome this obstacle as well, because our orchards cover a really large area and we need all the resources we can get.

Ox heart sauces

Everything seems to thrive in Eko Park Beograd. The restaurant facility is covered with a green, ecological roof, whose rim now features red tulips brought over from the Netherlands. In addition to the Kurtovska kapija pepper, they are also proud of the Ox Heart tomato variety, also very hard to find. The Ristic family found the seeds in Bulgaria and they expect to produce up to 10 tons of this tomato variety this year. They use it to make all the sauces on the restaurant’s menu.

They currently grow lettuce, radish, arugula, and the first organic strawberries are due soon. Throughout the year, organic eggs and milk are available to visitors. All these products are meant for the restaurant, whose menu features organic and domestic, conventional products. Still, whatever’s left over can be purchased.

– I have to note that we have been cooperating very successfully for a long time with the Faculty of Agriculture in Belgrade. When we were finishing the lake, we consulted the best experts in the field, as we did when we were choosing which fish to breed there. We also consulted their experts in certifying our organic products, finding the seeds, seedlings, we consulted them when it comes to pruning... In all these activities, we consulted the best experts in the country, because, even though we often call our property an urban farm, we also want it to be an experimental farm – Bojana Ristic says.

According to her, the plan is for Eko Park Beograd to be operational throughout the year. Although summertime is the best season to be in this area, the property keeps its idyllic qualities in the winter as well.

– We are now considering how to maintain the activities throughout the year. It’s very nice here in the summer, as the temperature is five to seven degrees lower than in the city and there are some nice breezes here. Still, since we are at the foot of Avala, it’s also very nice here when it snows. There’s an idea to organize sleigh rides for children here. There’s a café by the lake, where we can make mulled wine and organize various socializing events – eKapija’s interviewee reveals.

That’s not all, though. As they say, the plan is for an attraction to be added each year over the next five to ten years, so that they could always offer something new to their visitors.

– The plan is to build an outdoor amphitheater next year, where would be able to organize various thematic evenings. We will also install a video projector, allowing us to organize outdoor film screenings. We are also finishing a zipline project and planning to build an adrenaline park in the forest... We have plenty of ideas – Bojana says.

Accommodation facilities to be built as well?

Although the initial plan didn’t include accommodation facilities, it seems that this will change too, thanks to the popularity of the park.

– It happens increasingly often that people come here, enjoy the environment, the nature and the restaurant and then ask us where they can stay. We do have one apartment, but we didn’t plan to build more accommodation units, as it is also very demanding financially. We will let this idea rest for a year or two and see how everything’s developing. We do have an idea where to build, but we are sticking with what we have for now. Still, as the demand is great, we are considering this possibility – Bojana Ristic says.

And the guests’ impressions are more than positive. Eko Park Beograd opened on April 12 and is already attracting numerous visitors, both on weekends and during working days. The interest has surprised the hosts as well. They say that it’s best to book stays during the weekend, so that the staff can give full attention to the guests.

Dragana Obradovic

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