Thesis research entails sweating in the library, doesn’t it? Not for Marina Boldryeva (29). This Russian student slept in a tent, milked cows and made cheese. ‘I wanted to know what agritourism looks like in the Netherlands.’
text Luuk Zegers photos Marina Boldyreva and camping de Blökke
You wrote your thesis about agritourism in the Netherlands. Unusual for a Russian student.
‘People associate Russia with nothing but snow, bears and vodka. So I want to develop rural tourism in Russia so people can discover the beauty of my country, with its hot summers, beautiful forests and wide open spaces. I am a great believer in the healing power of nature. Physical activity, fresh air and a natural environment help people get rid of stress. Agritourism is a good way of experiencing the peace of the countryside, and it is an additional source of income for farmers. That is already happening in the Netherlands. I think it would be nice to get it going in Russia.’
What did you research, exactly?
‘What agritourism looks like in the Netherlands. Do farmers put on a performance or do they show people what life on a farm is really like? I went to three holiday farms. At the first, a goat farm with a campsite, tourists can learn how to milk goats and make cheese. The second farm I visited is similar, but then with cows. The tourists who go to these farms want to experience farm life. The third farm I went to is different from the first two. Instead of a campsite, there was a Bed & Breakfast. Guests don’t go there to experience farm life so much as to enjoy the rural scenery and the fresh air. It is more of a place for luxury-lovers.’
How did you like your stay on the Dutch farms?
‘My parents live on a farm, so it wasn’t a totally new experience for me. What was special was that I was allowed to help milk the cows and goats. And I had never slept in a tent before. It was very cold but after the milking I slept like a log. One of the highlights for me was the cheesemaking. As a child I always associated the Netherlands with cheese and potatoes. They make the best cheese in the world here. It is great to be allowed to do that yourself. I did think it was a pity that none of the farms I went to offered a traditional farmhouse meal. That is something I would do.’
What lessons will you take back to your home region if you start working on agritourism there?
‘Farm tourists enjoy the chance to eat the produce of the farm. So if cheese is made there, show how you do that and sell the product to your guests directly. Secondly, it is good to have a campsite and to rent out a few tents or caravans to people who don’t have one of their own. And I think the Russian countryside has a few nice extras to offer tourists. Traditional Russian food, for example and, of course, the saunas. But there are challenges as well, such as the language barrier. Not many Russian farmers speak English. That make it less attractive for international tourism.’
Are you going to apply these lessons to your parents’ farm?
‘My parents keep a few animals to have provide their own meat and dairy produce. But they also have day jobs, so I don’t think they will start up tourist activities as well.’
Why did you choose Wageningen?
After getting my degree I worked in Russia as an accountant in the tourism sector, but I had a strong wish to go abroad and get a broader perspective on tourism. I applied for a grant and applied to several tourism Master’s programmes in Europe. I was accepted at Wageningen and got financial support until I graduate. Paulo Coelho once wrote, “If you want something, the universe will work with you to help you achieve it.” That is my motto, and this experience confirms it.’