Back home: Two young Romanians leave Italy to be farmers in Romania and grow their own business
Like (too) many other Romanians, Ionut and Iuliana Popa left their home country to make a new and better life abroad. They chose Italy and spent a few years there before deciding to return to Romania and start their own farm in a small commune in Iasi county. Today, they’re successfully running the family business they dreamed of, producing and selling a wide variety of goat dairy products under the brand Pui de Drag, from fresh milk to yoghurt and creamy cheese.
Emigration has been a significant issue in Romania for many years. A 2019 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said that the Romanian diaspora is the fifth largest in the world. Moreover, more recently, state secretary Gheorghe Carciu estimated the number of Romanians living abroad to be over 8 million. Ionut and Iuliana Popa are two of the Romanians who left the country to find better opportunities abroad. But the years spent far from Romania made them want to return home and start their own farming business here.
About ten years ago, in 2012, Ionut Popa was in Italy, trying to earn more money and make a better life for himself and his family. “The financial situation made me decide to go to Italy because, at that time, I realized that the only way to make money in a short time was to leave,” Ionut told Romania-insider.com.
Then, during a short break in Romania, Ionut reconnected with childhood friend Iuliana. They were both born in the commune of Baltati, in Iasi county, but hadn't stayed in touch for years. After that chance encounter, they fell in love, and Iuliana decided to move to Italy to be close to Ionut.
“The following year, she came to Italy on vacation, and we decided to stay together. We got married in 2013 and started the family we wanted. We currently have 2 children, Izabela and Eric, aged 7 and 4, who are our most beautiful achievement,” Ionut Popa said.
Inspired by the traditional family farms in Italy and Ionut’s dream to be a farmer himself, the young couple decided to return to Romania and start their own farm.
“I bet on agriculture because it was what I thought I could do, but most importantly, it was also what I really enjoyed doing. There weren’t many sources of motivation at first, but what kept us going was the dream of building our own business based on our ideas and knowledge.”
They started with a few acres of land and a tractor and had to wait a few years to buy the place they initially targeted for their farm.
“Before, there was a farm with vegetable storage and greenhouses here. After we bought the place, we invested in the transforming of the existing spaces into a grain warehouse, animal shelter, and milk processing space,” Ionut said in the interview with Romania Insider.
Fast forward to 2022, after a total investment of about EUR 400,000 and years of hard work and unexpected changes, the young couple’s Pui de Drag farm in the eastern Romania commune of Baltati is doing great. It now has 80 hectares of land, 140 adult goats and 100 young goats, 3 tractors and the whole range of necessary equipment. Plus, five employees are now in charge of several farm activities, from fieldwork to product delivery.
The goat milk produced at the farm is used to make 14 varieties of fresh dairy products, such as yoghurt or different types of cheese. They are sold through the online store Puidedrag.ro (with home delivery in Iasi) and physical stores in several cities, such as Iasi, Brasov, Bucharest, Ramnicu Valcea, and Constanta. Of course, there is also the option of visiting the farm and buying the products directly from there.
As for future plans, Ionut and Iuliana Popa hope to expand the farm, welcome 100 more goats, and maybe add new products to their offer. And, as everything depends on the farm’s financial situation, the couple targets a 30% increase in sales for this year compared to 2021.
“Our plans for Pui de Drag are to make it more visible to people looking for the benefits that our products offer,” Ionut Popa said.
He also had some advice for those who want to try full-time farming (or even other business of their choice): “I would advise those who are thinking of starting a business in the field of agriculture or any other field to invest first in knowledge (in their education), to think long-term from the beginning (to have a great vision), not to be afraid of failure, and to carry on even when they feel it would be easier to give up.”
Irina Marica, email@example.com
(Photos: courtesy of Ionut Popa)