Balkan Ecology Project

Why choose Balkan Ecology Project?

Balkan Ecology Project (BALKEP) is a permaculture inspired, grassroots project based in South Eastern Europe, Bulgaria. The project is family run by a couple and their two children. They are supported by friends, family, volunteers, customers and national organisations and professionals.

The project’s mission is to provide tried and tested models of food production for temperate climates that promote biodiversity, yield quality produce while promoting ecosystem health, and that can be replicated easily in terms of the skills required to run them and the financial investment needed to startup. They offer quality education and training to aspiring growers, run a bio nursery growing, selling and promoting the use of plants and plant communities that have high ecological and nutritional value, and carry out exciting and unique research on the subject of growing chemical free food for market and enhancing biodiversity in the Polyculture Market Garden.



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Yes, I recommend this program

Fruitful times with Balkep

I've first spent few weeks with this project in 2015 then returned the next spring to take part from the beginning of the growing season to estabilish knowledge and applicable practices on how to grow crops in cooperation with nature (aka permaculture).
All described in their profile is absolutely accurate, now I am able to recreate such a garden through what I've learned by just working day-to-day in the garden and enriched via weekly theory sessions. For further studying of different fields of sustainable gardening there's an extensive home library available from the team and heaps of other interesting books - which comes handy in the wetter beginning of the season.
Must mention the opportunity of participating in their course was of tremendous value, providing insight on functioning pillars and detailed information of a permaculture garden ecosystem and presented ready for consumption for a whole week.

The Balkep team is such a welcoming, supportive family and that is priceless being far away from home. Cooperation or accommodating whatever is needed is the natural flow of life when at Balkep. Locals are also highly friendly, I mean we've been given freshly roasted peppers for our salad just 'cause we were passing by! and apples :)
Also Shipka is strategically located in the heart of Bulgaria at the crossroads of the mountains and the valley of roses which allowed for weekend trips to further discover the country - like thermal bath towns, the Black sea or cultural heritage cities. At the same time, if I was in the mood for just a walk -well, there's marked trekking routes starting just on the doorstep of the volunteer's house.

Absolutely recommend this project as a balanced mix of learning and adventure experience for those who are interested in horti/agriculture.

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Yes, I recommend this program

Bulgarian polyculture study review

I took part in the 2016 Polyculture Market Garden Study with the Balkan Ecology Project. I started without much knowledge of gardening at all, but the hands-on work at the study sites, alongside the weekly theory lessons, helped me build an understanding of permaculture principles. By putting these into practice, I learnt how to create a productive polyculture market garden, and how to apply sustainable, eco-friendly design to a plot of land.

I also had time to complete an online Introduction to Permaculture course, travel to other Bulgarian towns on weekends, walk in the mountains and work in the home garden. We had the opportunity to get involved in the annual rose harvest, which was a really wonderful morning, and experienced the local rose festival.

Paul, Sophie and the boys are wonderfully warm, supportive and knowledgeable hosts, the study team were fantastic and Shipka is a very special place. I highly recommend getting involved!

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Yes, I recommend this program

The Polyculture Study helped me study nature, myself and those around me

Being a part of The Polyculture Study was a very special period of my life. It changed me a lot, for good. I realized how inspiring it is to be in touch with soil and plants, and creatures inhabiting the garden I worked in, and also to be in good touch with the people I worked with. I felt how fulfilling it is to grow the food you eat and to offer this food to others. I am happy to have had this opportunity to support the Study and the wonderful family behind it, and to be supported by them in return. I am grateful for everything I learned about nature, growing food sustainably, living in a community.
Sometimes it wasn't easy at all, growing food can be a very hard job. And this is even more stimulating - working hard makes you stronger, smarter and happier.
Living with other people can be a very hard job too, but again it makes you stronger, smarter and happier... and kinder.
I realized I am very keen on gardening and studying nature, and I want to do it forever.

What would you improve about this program?
Some of the tools could use some improvements.
Yes, I recommend this program

Wonderful adventure in the world of biodiversity

It's a nice journey that give a chance for depth study (like univercity) in your free time (there is plenty of free time) if you prefer to get everything that this Study offer - Paul, the host, is like encyclopaedia Britannica - he can give you personal task to practice, or help you with your univercity project. If you have your own place you can figure out the pefect design there is plenty of valuable books that is helping you to study on the field, outdoor, indoor, wherever you like. The tempetare climate in Bulgaria is offer the bigest biodiversity in Europe for sure (mountain, sea side, the border with the subtropics, species that you can not find in Europe).

If you want to get only basic (but still verry professional) theorethical and practical experience, or if you need to work online for 2-3 hours daytime, or you prefer just to do your job conscientiously and use your free time for travelling - you have the mountain for neighbor, you need 4 hours by car to go and back to the Black sea and many other options for fun. The beer is verry good and cheap :) For my 5 months of staying, i succeed to take a peace of everything that i write about above...

The hosts are lovely verry old friends for me now after 5 months. Enjoy and don't hesitate much! Just do it! :)

What would you improve about this program?
The housing was a little bit disturbing. The house and the standart was really good but the landlord was verry annoying person (probably because he was old and lonely, he miss the love), but they told me that they found a better place with good lanlord, so everything should be perfect now. I trust BALKEP for sure!


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Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Sophie Roberts

Job Title
Volunteer Coordinator

What is your favorite travel memory?

It has to be traveling around Morocco in an old converted ambulance! So many great memories from that trip - the feeling of freedom, wilderness, of being in another world....

There is a beautiful village there called Chefchaouen in the Rif mountains. A lot of the buildings are shaded in blue and quite stunning. I hadn't seen anything like it before.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

There have been so many stories it's hard to pick one. Many visitors have started their own gardens or permaculture projects.

I like the idea of the ripple effect - that there are pieces of land all over the world being thoughtfully and ecologically designed and restored as a result of what people have experienced here.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

I would definitely pick the Polyculture Market Garden Study. The aim is to provide healthy and nutritious food while promoting increased biological diversity in the growing environment.

Taking part in it is a great opportunity to see a lovely part of Bulgaria, experience living in another culture while at the same time being involved and contributing to some really worthwhile and valuable research.

There are a lot of skills and knowledge to be picked up along the way, and the opportunity to grow and develop in a supported but also independent living environment.

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

The timeless vibes of rural Bulgaria are unique and appeal to people. You can see donkeys and carts in the street, people still using scythes to make hay, home made antique tractors driving around - it's as though time has stood still in some moments!

The amount of biodiversity in the local region is quite remarkable with many species of plants and animals here that are unique to the Balkan area. For naturalists it's inspirational.

Our ongoing research program makes me especially proud, as it aims to provide healthier models of agriculture and real solutions to the environmental damage caused by industrial agriculture.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

I believe that cooperation is vital to the success of any organization. Being able to work together both internally, and externally with other companies, increases trust and support, and ultimately success.

Clear communication is another big one. Being direct and open about your needs and expectations reduces the chance of crossed wires and minimizes potential conflicts.