Artel 13: Encouraging local agricultural produce and local services consumption through revitalizing old houses in a depopulated rural mountain area

Demographic challenges, Poverty and social exclusion, Education

This initiative consists in bringing back social life in a small isolated village in the Rhodope Mountains, close to the border with Greece, where local residents are only 14 and suffer basic social services like medical care at the spot, no local shops for daily needs, and most important – total social isolation. The closest settlement providing such services is located 17 km away and is accessible by dirty road with total length of 13 km. No mobile telephone operators provide coverage in the village, respectively no internet access. Communication there is possible only via fixed phone services. Artel 13 Association was set up to work for the revitalization of Kiselchovo village, where the youngest local resident is 62 years old.
All started with the renovation of an old traditional style Rhodope house from ruins to full restoration. The restoration and renovation were completed with the contribution of 69 volunteers from all over Bulgaria, who besides working have visited natural and cultural sightseeing in the Upper Arda River Valley region when the renovation was completed setting the premises for the activities of Artel 13 Association. The association started organizing different workshops (2 in 2014, 6 in 2015, more than 14 between April- October 2017) in a variety of fields – from creative writing and fairy tales illustration to introducing local culture, production traditions and traditional knowledge to participants in thematic workshops dedicated to Rhodope cuisine, traditional medicine based on herbs application, making felt from wool, etc.
In 2017 the association organized the first edition of Bardovo Burdo Festq bringing in that isolated area 16 poets with guitars who performed in a specially organized festival campus, based on environmental friendly concept: only walking access from the village to the festival campus, tent camp with, open-air stage, compost-based lavatories, and offering only food prepared from products produced in the area and invited local food suppliers like dairies, bee farmers, sheep and kettle breeders to be present with selling stands.
The association has developed also some community benefit projects like: “Improving the village center” by creating bedflowers placing guiding signs and cleaning the streets and the road leading to the village from litter and illegally dumped waste; and “From roots to springs” – involving young volunteers from high schools in Smolyan to make a concept, collect texts and audio visional material and to prepare an interactive presentation on all touristic sites, cultural traditions and events of interest in the Upper Arda River Valley area, part of which is Kiselchovo village.

Networking, Training / Teaching, Services delivery, Social media, Public participation, Action-research, Cultural activities
Rhodopa Milk Dairy, a small company strongly committed to community development in Upper Arda River Valley area
External funding for specific initiatives, part of the process, were supported by Smolyan Municipality Youth Fund, Time Heroes Foundation and private sponsors

There are several aspects of the change incurred by the social innovation being implemented by Artel 13 Association:
– Delivery of direct examples to local communities in the area that volunteering is a resource for the development of innovation. The presence of the volunteers in the course of almost 6 months brought back the belief of local residents of Kiselchovo that the village is not dead and that there are opportunities that can bring new settlers in.
– Three families from other regions of Bulgaria and two from EU bought houses in villages and already started renovation works on them. Independently whether they will settle down here in future or will rent them out as vacation houses in both cases it will result in new people visiting this small isolated mountain settlement, and respectively will buy local produce and services delivered locally.
– Promotion of the village and the location in a broader context contributing to establishing a “short chain producer-consumer”. Participants often by directly from local residents biologically produced agricultural products, production of local handcrafts – textiles, furniture and domestic supplies made by local wood carvers cheese from local dairy facilities that process milk from locally bred sheep and cows.
– Transfer of knowledge on traditional techniques – like making brunza cheese, maturing in a sheep skin, or making non-woven textiles – felt; or else – application of herbs based on traditional medicine, applied by local people. The better popularity of Upper Arda River Valey – in terms of culture, tourism and traditional knowledge preserved.
– The two editions of Bardovo Burdo Fest in 2016 and 2017 have brought in Kiseclchovo and the area an audience of about 1000, which is 70 times the number of Kiselchovo’s residents. Furthermore, the event has brought them and other residents in the area the opportunity to experience the contemporary musical culture.
– The lack of digital communication in Kiselchovo from disadvantage has been transformed into advantage – more than 200 people have benefited from the workshops in “Analogue style communication” part of Bardovo Burdo Fest, where families and people of different generations learn how to overcome the generation gap and re-discover their skills to communicate without the media of digital devices and digital social applications and networks.

* Information at the level of NUTS 3 or local regions.