Herbalists are few and far between in Bulgaria. Lyuben Penkov is one of them. Five years ago he and his wife even opened their own herb shop in Silven’s central market.
“My wife’s grandparents come from a long line of herbalists and that’s how, because of family history, we became interested in herbalism, too. They trained us for years”, Lyuben tells us.
The grandparents taught them their skills and knowledge – how to recognize different herbs, how to pick them and when, the patience and extreme attention to detail the process requires. “And it does require patience, to know what time to get up in the morning to get that particular herb, to make sure the weather isn’t too wet or too dry, to know when and how to dry it in order to preserve it”, he adds.
Lyuben goes on: “In 2014 my wife and I decided to apply for a permit from Sliven Municipality for a portable facility on the central market where we could sell our product. We had no idea whether we’d be successful, or if we’d have customers, but we took a risk.”
In 2016, he learned through acquaintances of the opportunities offered by Trust for Social Achievement’s Business Alternatives program. It provides 6-month trainings for young entrepreneurs with viable business ideas or operating businesses. The trainings are designed to provide useful practical skills to help them establish or develop their operations – such as finance and accounting management, market planning and research and other market skills.
Lyuben did the training and says that one of the most useful things he learned from his lectors was to not waste his time, to be more organized and to always do research before taking any action. Lyuben took part in the Business Alternatives program competition and won a spot in the top 3 as well as financing in the amount of BGN 5000. He used his winnings to buy a plot near Sliven where he plans to grow his business in the long term.
For now through Lyuben and his wife don’t dare to move the herb shop. “It’s going so well and we’re constantly growing our customer base”, he tells us. He is even considering setting up a micro workshop in his own home and building a modern herb drying machine.
“Our production volume is constantly growing, it’s getting harder to keep up with just the natural drying process, so I’ll have to take to steps to expand the operation, so I’d be ready for the new season”, Lyuben explains.
Having done his homework, Lyuben has already planned his next moves. So he can keep the ancestral tradition of herbalism in his family alive.