Grass Ceiling project webinar focuses on enhancing social media management for rural businesses

The GRASS CEILING project hosted a webinar on improving social media management, bringing together project partners and innovative women from the project’s Living Labs. The webinar, led by CIHEAM Zaragoza, underlined the importance of starting with a solid strategic communication plan.

Throughout the session, three women entrepreneurs from the GRASS CEILING project’s Living Labs, with extensive experience in social media management, shared their experiences in managing their social media presence. These were Lucía Velasco, a rural influencer and a cowgirl from the Principality of Asturias (Spain) – as she likes to define herself, passionate about promoting rural life and traditions; Karen and Natalie Keane, two chocolatier sisters and promoters of the Bean and Goose brand in Ireland, known for their innovative and delicious creations; and Jasminka Gršković, a teacher and entrepreneur, inventor of lavender-scented wool sensory balls for hand muscles.

The importance of a strategic communication plan

“Effective social media management depends on a well-developed communication plan,” explained Laura Gil, a journalist from the CIHEAM Zaragoza Communication Unit and responsible for speaking on Social Media Content Strategy. “This plan should carefully consider the target audience, desired outcomes, communication channels, and messaging strategies. Identifying the right platform to reach your audience is crucial, and it can be a complex task.”

Laura Gil stressed the importance of consistently publishing content with a pre-established calendar because it helps to build audience loyalty and avoid losing momentum. She also spoke about continuously monitoring trends in each sector to stay up to date and adapt your own approach if necessary, aligning it with goals and interests of the target audience. Finally, knowing how to use the right tools is essential, taking advantage of social media management platforms to optimise tasks, scheduling and monitoring processes.

Lucía Velasco: authenticity and empathy for greater impact

Lucía Velasco offered a captivating presentation that served as a powerful reminder of several key principles. She emphasised the importance of authenticity, “being true to what you do and who you are”. Her message defended the value of positive communication, advocating for the use of motivating and inspiring language. Lucía also underlined the importance of empathy, urging the women to connect deeply with the work they do to achieve a more impactful outcome.

In addition, she highlighted the need to establish a clear communication process, “because it ensures that information is disseminated efficiently and accurately” and to always be very well informed “to avoid disinformation and be more credible.” Finally, Lucía emphasised the opportunity to be a spokeswoman for women in rural areas. “Our networks are a platform to amplify our voices and defend our causes.”

Bean and Goose, or the power of pursuing dreams from home

Sisters Karen and Natalie Keane, the creative minds behind Bean and Goose, exemplify the power of pursuing dreams from the heart of the home. Their passion for creating something meaningful and offering delicious chocolate experiences is evident in everything they do.

Driven by a clear vision of building a strong brand, the Keane sisters ingeniously use chocolate as a medium to celebrate Ireland’s rich cultural and natural heritage.

Social media is a vital platform for them. They use it to connect with customers and followers, highlighting the unique value proposition of their products. Their approach goes beyond simply selling chocolate. They strive to provide useful information and cultivate a sense of connection with their audience, ultimately generating trust and loyalty to the Bean and Goose brand.

Jasminka Gršković: constant learning

For Jasminka, the importance of mentors cannot be overstated when it comes to shaping the business model. She pointed out that their guidance can help us navigate challenges and pave the way to success. “Learning how to create a business plan that leverages the power of social media is essential”. Jasminka also highlighted the value of both professional training and observation. “By establishing a strong online presence and becoming a reliable source of information, we can position ourselves as thought leaders for our target audience, including potential customers seeking solutions.”

While she acknowledges that video content may not be her personal preference, Jasminka recognises the importance of exploring different communication channels. This openness to learning and embracing new approaches is a valuable lesson for any entrepreneur.

Jasminka’s perspective highlights the valuable insights we can gain from unexpected sources. Young people, often considered digital natives, can offer valuable guidance and expertise in navigating the ever-evolving landscape of social media. “I, in fact, learn every day from my daughter”.

Ana’s Berry Haven: A story of tradition and entrepreneurship in the Croatian Living Lab of the GRASS CEILING project

Ana’s Orchard, an oasis of berries, herbs and flowers, is located in the rural part of Zagreb County. Ana is a spirited and determined entrepreneur who has turned her grandmother’s recipes into a thriving business that celebrates the rich flavours and healing properties of nature. Ana Kovačić is also an active participant in the Croatian Living Lab of the GRASS CEILING project.

Ana’s Orchard is a symphony of colours and flavours. Rows of chokeberries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries thrive under her careful watch. Fragrant mint, soothing lavender and elderberry bushes prosper amongst the berry bushes.

But Ana’s work does not end in the orchard. In her cosy, sun-drenched kitchen, she uses her grandmother’s recipes to make a variety of traditional products, such as jams, tinctures, liqueurs and syrups, all made by hand using natural preservation methods.

Ana is not only a farmer and entrepreneur, she is also a mentor and advisor. Her passion for her business goes hand in hand with a desire to pass on her knowledge. She has summarised her years of experience in a booklet, “Health through berries” (“Bobicom do zdravlja“), a comprehensive guide on the benefits and uses of berries.

Her vision also extends to the next generation. Ana gives workshops on wild fruits in her orchard. She teaches children about the wonders of nature and the importance of preserving traditional practices.

Ana believes that women are creators, capable of nourishing both the land and the community. Ana is the best example of the incredible potential of women in agriculture.

“Yesterday shock, today sadness, tomorrow action and we move on!” Ines Dundović recounts the fire in her company

One of our friends, a participant in this Project and manager of an entrepreneurial company in Croatia, is going through a difficult time. From this page and on behalf of the entire GRASS CEILING consortium, we want to show our support and solidarity with her.

Just a few days ago we were talking about Ines Dundović, a Croatian producer and processor of plant products, entrepreneur and director of the Veggie Company, with three stores in the Zagreb region.

This week we learned that an unfortunate accident caused a fire in their facilities, resulting in the loss of a significant part of their stock and warehouses.

She herself has recounted the episode on social media with the strength and drive that characterises her: “Yesterday shock, today sadness, tomorrow action and we move on!” As Ines has said before, proclaiming to the four winds and with energy “WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU, MAKES YOU STRONGER!” She went on to thank everyone for the demonstrations of the physical, technical and moral support she has received and the invaluable collaboration of the firefighters in her area.

From this project website we want to highlight that our exceptional entrepreneur, Ines, even though she experienced a fire on her property, which shook her up, she has also demonstrated remarkable strength and resilience, continuing to work with enthusiasm as she prepares the property for renovation. We wish her every success!

And this is the spirit of GRASS CEILING’s entrepreneurial women. Nothing stops them, they are always looking ahead, never back.

So, Ines, we send you our heartfelt encouragement in the recovery of your business. We know that you are going to do very well and from here we will continue to share the news about everything you do to make your work and achievements visible.

A big hug from the entire human team of GRASS CEILING. We are all with you!

Ines Dundović, director of Veggie, a company with three shops in the Zagreb region, participates in the Croatian GRASS CEILING Living Lab

Veggie is a vegetable production and processing company co-founded by Ines Dundović, one of the youngest participants in the Croatian GRASS CEILING Living Lab.

Veggie started out drying tomatoes and today supplies fresh and processed vegetables to restaurants, schools and Gruntek, the largest marketer of organic vegetables with direct sales to the end consumer through weekly vegetable boxes.

Since its inception in 2015, Ines has managed to open three Veggie shops, where she sells her fresh and processed vegetables, to which she has added the products of other local producers. Undoubtedly, Ines is contributing a lot to the development of agriculture in the Zagreb region.

Ines has been working on her parents’ farm all her life and it was after finishing her studies in horticulture at the Faculty of Agriculture in Zagreb that she started Veggie. Recently, the business has expanded to include rural tourism. Ines is a communicative woman who likes to share her knowledge. She is very active in her local community. In fact, she chairs her community’s agricultural committee, which she helped to set up. She has participated in many European projects which have allowed her to acquire new knowledge and to travel abroad a lot to learn about good practices.  

Ines stresses that the greatest benefit of the GRASS CEILING project lies in the creation of networks of women innovators.

Vesna Jakić: A sheep wool ambassador on the Croatian island of Cres

Vesna Jakić is a Croatian entrepreneur who participates in the GRASS CEILING project’s Living Lab in Croatia. She works with local wool as a raw material in her company RUTA Wool & Design. In addition to creating original wool designs, Vesna recovers sheep wool that is often abandoned in the fields of the island of Cres (Croatia), thus providing a solution to a serious environmental problem and allowing her to produce island souvenirs by processing the original wool.

Vesna’s work is making a difference on the island of Cres and her products are certified as Croatian island products.

However, Vesna, a textile designer, never knows what her next wool inspiration will be. Before her current business, she led the Ruta association for 20 years, focusing on improving the quality of life on Cres. Already then, her projects were based on the use of wool as a raw material, she taught felting courses and organised numerous craft and art events.

It can be said that Vesna is an ambassador of sheep wool, a material that is no longer used on the island of Cres.

Her greatest passion is working with young people and children. That is why she teaches felting in schools and students come to her to practise. She has led many local and European projects where children have acquired felting and sewing skills. As part of these projects, children also explore the island of Cres and learn about local plants, nature, and the sea… All with the aim of helping them become more aware of the importance of nature, their local environment and sustainable development.

This innovative woman began drawing clothing models at the age of nine and received her first sewing machine at the age of fourteen. She later graduated in Textile Design and Fashion from the Faculty of Textile Technology in Zagreb. After completing her studies, she returned to the island of Cres, where she now lives and has made, in her words, a dream come true.

For Vesna, GRASS CEILING is “a great opportunity to network with innovative Croatian women” and she assures that the biggest benefit of the GRASS CEILING project is “the exchange of knowledge, especially of solutions to the many obstacles they face on a daily basis.”

GRASS CEILING Croatian Living Lab’s 4th meeting hosted by two of its women innovators

The GRASS CEILING Croatian Living Lab (EWE) held its fourth meeting on the islands of Cres and Krk. These islands are home to two of our Living Lab participants, Vesna Jakić and Jasminka Gršković, who are innovators working with wool, olive oil, and wine production. The main programme took place at Moise Palace. Vesna hosted the Living Lab on Cres, and Jasminka hosted it on Krk.

Following the official meeting, which included an innovation process session and a stakeholder session, Vesna offered a wet felting workshop for the Living Lab participants and project team. She also introduced the team to her handicraft business and the Ruta Cres association.

On the second day, the Croatian Living Lab members visited Krk and Jasminka’s family farm. After a meeting with the city authorities, Jasminka hosted a dry felting workshop for their colleagues in her olive grove, where they learned how to make woollen Easter eggs.

GRASS CEILING Living Lab Croatia third meeting with women rural innovators

In Living lab meeting 3 we dealt with the Reframe phase of the innovation process. The participants did a great job filling out the persona map and the empathy map for their current or prospective customers/users. They were also very articulate when it came to articulating their problems for which they will look for solutions (ideas) in the next step. The innovators seem to be prepared for making a POV statement at the next meeting.  Most of the innovators articulated problems for which they will look for solutions (ideas) in the next step (ideate).

As a part of the LL3 meeting, innovators attended the introductory training on digital marketing. Also, the short demonstration on operational groups (CAP) was presented to the innovators. The innovators expressed an interest for applying for operational groups (the call is expected in April 2024).

We have decided not to invite stakeholders to LL 3 meeting. It was an online meeting, and we had a lot to deliver (innovation process methodology – reframe phase).

LL3 meeting participants were: Jasminka Gršković, Ines Dundović, Birgit Boljun Čujo, Vesna Jakić, Marijana Svetić, Ana Kovačić, Tatjana Klepo.

The fourth Living lab workshop is scheduled for 21st – 22nd March 2024.

EU CAP Network workshop ‘Women-led innovations in agriculture and rural areas’

The EU CAP Network workshop ‘Women-led innovations in agriculture and rural areas’ will take place in Krakow, Poland from Wednesday 17 April to Thursday 18 April 2024.

Women play a vital role in civil society and economic growth in rural areas. They are at the helm of viable farm businesses, and vibrant rural areas and communities. Women are key actors in the rural economy as farmers and other entrepreneurs engaged in off-farm work in multiple sectors. Additionally, women often assume responsibility for the care and welfare of their family members. Yet, despite their crucial contribution, many women suffer from a rather ‘invisible role’, facing numerous challenges such as discrimination and difficulties in accessing the labour market. This situation is exacerbated by the prevalence of rural women participating in informal and vulnerable employment. Often, such employment is inadequately compensated and lacks connections to social protection or pension schemes, which could potentially leave women vulnerable to increased levels of poverty (OECD, 2019).

Women make up 51% of the EU population and, in 2021, 67.3% of all working age women (20-64 years) were employed in rural areas, yet the gender pay gap still stands at 12.7% (Eurostat, 2022). What’s more, in almost all Member States, the gender gap in employment rates is higher in rural areas than urban ones.

In particular, farming is viewed as a male-dominated profession, with women making up 31.6% of EU farmers (Eurostat, 2022). Additionally, women in farming face issues around access to land, training and education, and equal treatment from financial and farming organisations. To counteract this, gender mainstreaming has become an important principle in the CAP. The CAP Strategic Plans (2023-2027) promote the increased participation of women in farming and require a gender equality approach in addition to the assessment of the position of women in agriculture, forestry and rural areas, and the challenges they face.

Various projects, supported by different EU programmes show how barriers to the empowerment of women in rural areas can be mitigated or overcome, with socio-economic benefits through social and other types of innovations. Moreover, women represent a significant driving force for prosperity and social inclusion in rural areas, notably through innovative actions and entrepreneurship. This has been recognised by the European Commission in A Union of Equality: Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025, which is committed to empowering women by supporting gender equality and entrepreneurship in Europe, including rural areas.

Taking into account the above, the EU CAP Network support unit for Innovation and Knowledge exchange | EIP-AGRI is organising a workshop on women-led innovations to demonstrate that farming and rural areas can be attractive places for women, especially for developing their business ideas and applying their innovative approaches.


The overall aim of the workshop is to empower women in farming and rural areas by exchanging knowledge, identifying successful initiatives and projects led by female innovators, and networking.

Specific objectives:

  • Explore opportunities offered under different EU programmes to support women in agriculture and rural areas.
  • Showcase innovative initiatives, businesses and start-ups led by women entrepreneurs in rural areas with a particular focus on innovative farming practices and farm diversification strategies.
  • Identify the needs of and barriers to women entrepreneurs to develop their businesses in rural areas.
  • Promote women-friendly entrepreneurship ecosystems within local rural communities.
  • Activate networking among workshop participants in order to support women-driven innovation and entrepreneurship in rural areas.

The main target groups:

This workshop will focus on good practices of women-led initiatives from EU rural areas, at different stages of development. This includes, but is not limited to, farming, forestry, and environmental productions and services. Other participants that we are looking for include advisors, researchers, representatives from farmers associations, chambers of agriculture, industry, managing bodies, local authorities, press, etc. from across Europe.

Second Croatian LL EWE (LLHR) held on October 13 2023

The Living Lab Croatia (LLHR) called Eco-Women Entrepreneurs (EWE) held its second meeting. It was organized by the University of Zagreb Faculty of Agriculture and the Croatian Chamber of Agriculture (HPK) and took place on 13 October 2023 in Zagreb at the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development.

The Living Lab meeting was divided into two parts. The first part was attended by women innovators (LL participants) and the second part by our innovators and stakeholders.

In the first part, after the introduction to the agenda, the previous and future activities of the project were briefly presented. One of the innovators presented her experiences from the Brussels Showcase event (September 2023).

The first part of the Living Lab meeting focused on the introduction to the innovation process with an emphasis on designer thinking and the double diamond methodology. Three main fears were also discussed: the fear that the idea is not innovative, the fear of criticism and the fear of uncertainty. It was agreed that in the time between Living Lab 2 and 3, each innovator should define a goal for the next year so that each woman’s needs and goals for the next year could be identified and explored.

The innovators identified their needs and/or ideas for future activities of the LL: (1) training on promotion in social networks, (2) the annual event where each woman can present herself and her products, (3) the establishment of an association to support women where Living Lab innovators can advise other women, (4) the development of a logo for the Croatian Living Lab. The need for networking was emphasized in the discussion.

The first part of the Living Lab meeting ended with an inventory of the participants’ activities between two Living Labs and the question of what goals and needs the participants currently have. All women have expanded their businesses or experienced changes in different areas of their lives (from brand registration of products to marriage). Their goals for the near future relate to the further expansion of their businesses. Their needs are mainly related to education and training: communication skills, stress management tools, digital marketing, agricultural knowledge, legislation, accounting basics.

In the second part of the Living Lab meeting, institutions that could provide educational content were discussed and identified together with the stakeholders. The innovators and stakeholders were divided into 4 groups. Discussion within the groups focused on identifying opportunities to meet educational needs. The discussion identified problems with information about different provision at a local level. The information about workshops in remote areas of Croatia is insufficient. The timing of workshops and the terminology used need to be adapted to the needs of rural areas (after 6pm, video material). One group expressed the intention and desire to share their knowledge and experience, pointing out problems with administration at the local level, land leasing, wool thrown into the environment and the idea of including felting in the education system.

The second part ended with the conclusion that the educational workshops (smaller groups) should not last longer than one hour, that the standard Croatian language should be used, that various study tours should be organized, that all educational materials/workshops should be recorded and available, and that the speakers should be experienced practitioners.

Supporting rural communities by improving women’s access to financial services

  • The UN theme for this year’s International Day of Rural Women is “Financing for rural women’s empowerment”.
  • 15 October recognises the work of rural women in the food systems of the world, and claims rural areas with equal opportunities for all.

The International Day of Rural Women is an opportunity to celebrate women and girls who play a key role in rural areas, developing innovations in response to socio-ecological challenges and strengthening the resilience of rural areas.

According to the Committee on World Food Security (CFS, 2023), the lack of financial capital and financial inclusion are significant constraints to women’s entrepreneurial activities and engagement all along the food system and value chains, from investment in land to agrifood businesses. Structural constraints to women’s access to financial services such as credit and insurance are often based on restricted access to assets, including land and property, that could be used as collateral for loans; family indebtedness; limited knowledge and training of financial services; restricted availability of appropriate loan products for women led micro, small, medium businesses and smallholders; statutory and customary laws that are discriminatory and/or do not respond adequately to women’s needs and priorities; and negative social norms that prevent women from developing and growing their enterprises and productivity. At the same time, fair and equitable access to financial services is a prerequisite for overall societal economic security and prosperity.

While women often lead on socio-ecological transitions and progressive farming methods, they often face significant discrimination when it comes to land ownership, equal pay, participation in decision-making entities, and access to resources, credit and markets. GRASS CEILING is working with women socio-ecological innovators across nine European countries and facilitating interactions with bank managers, agricultural advisers and entrepreneurial experts, and on the occasion of this International Day the project would like to showcase the women in the Living Labs who are breaking new ground, developing innovations and co-learning through mutual support. They are sowing the seeds for future generations of women to lead rural development and agriculture innovations by sharing their stories on how they have overcome challenges accessing financial services:

Birgit Boljun, owner of Val Madorso olive farm in Istria (Croatia) decided to continue the family tradition of olive oil production and was faced with several challenges when trying to raise the necessary funds. Since the bank could not support her, and she did not have sufficient resources for investment, Birgit looked for other funding opportunities and finally decided to apply for an EU project. Based on her experience, she recommends setting multi-year goals, planning well in advance, making adjustments to be eligible to obtain EU funding, as it usually takes a long time to fulfil the tender conditions, reviewing past year’s tenders to see what is generally needed, continuing the basic work to avoid being left without income until the obstacles are overcome, and not being disappointed when things take longer and don’t go according to plan. According to Birgit, it is important to have a vision and be realistic about physical and financial possibilities and set a series of smaller attainable goals.

Letizia Cuonzo took over the family business Azienda Agricola Cuonzo in Puglia (Italy) and used subsidised finance and bank credit tools to expand and transform the company. The major challenges she faced were related to the lengthy bureaucratic procedures, but she was lucky to count on the support of the bank; in her experience, many institutional entities, even at the regional level, now support women’s entrepreneurship and startups, but nonetheless she recommends trying to secure funds by networking with other businesses and building synergies with competent people and entities who can guide entrepreneurs towards the best solutions. The success criteria for addressing and overcoming the main barriers in accessing financial instruments are, in her opinion: developing financial skills and literacy and being able to engage competent people who can provide advice in fields where their specific skills are needed.

Annalisa Pellegrini decided in 2020 to recover an unused family plot and grow lavender to produce essential oils. Her company, Lavanda Ruvo di Puglia, is also based in Puglia (Italy) and focuses on environmental sustainability and circular economy. In her experience, having had access to technical information on production earlier and more easily would have helped her to optimise the timing of the project. As she didn’t meet the age requirements, Annalisa was not able to use most public funds, and thus suggests exploring these options, especially if own initial capital is not available. For her, having a good business plan helps, as well as support from professionals, who know how to navigate public funding programmes. In her opinion, the fundamental criterion for securing economic resources should be the ethicality of the project, its commitment to the environment, respect for biodiversity, and reliability.

Daiva Šinkevičienė has been running the organic blueberry farm Karališka uoga in Lithuania for the past 10 years. She cultivates 14 varieties of royal berries on a four-hectare plot. Over this time span, Daiva has received 15,000 euro support under a single measure of the CAP. Access to the support is still complicated as the farm is small and it is hard to meet the eligibility criteria for the support measures. The major source of the investments and, hence farm growth, is her own investment. Each year, Daiva allocates 40 % of her income for investments. She considers financial planning, budgeting, and saving as the core elements in achieving the goals of the activities. She provides an example of preventing birds from picking at the harvest, where acquiring a drone appeared to be a viable solution.

Sonja van Uden is the founder of the Landdrift Foundation in the Netherlands and has used her experience as an entrepreneur and manager in various industries and countries to develop a concept for multifunctional land use that promotes biodiversity. In her opinion, it is challenging to access any form of financial services when the innovation does not fit the standard model of economic value creation, which is the case for the multifunctional land use concept of Landdrift. She talks of the difficulty in obtaining funds and raising interest among potential investors in Landdrift, especially when it involves explaining that there is no economic return on investment within the Landdrift concept. She shows inspiring examples of combined land use in other parts of the world and how these projects have created much value for the natural environment and the people in these areas. Sonja suggests refraining from allowing dreams or visions for a better future to be diluted by the difficulties faced regarding access to financial services, and keep searching for the needles in the haystack! When encountering a challenge, she always tries to think out of the box to find a solution and adapt to the situation. A success criterion for Sonja is to stay flexible and open throughout the entrepreneurship journey.

Torunn Hernes Bjerkem owns Bjerkem Farm, an organic farm in Norway growing ancient heirloom grains, making healthy food, healthy soils, healthy plants, and healthy environments. The biggest challenge is that the farm is organised as a sole proprietorship. Because of the old Norwegian property law, where the oldest child in the family inherits the farm (called ‘odel’), any investment in a big project is dependent on the individual; the sole proprietor. For that reason she doesn’t have access to the big funds in agriculture and farming. According to the sole proprietorship system, people wishing to expand their business have to put their farm on the line for bigger loans and investments, which makes them very vulnerable, so Torunn opted for organising the farm into a Limited Liability Company. She considers that people who create jobs in rural areas shouldn’t have to take the risk all by themselves: They ought to be supported by a network where they can find solutions together. This is the case of Øyna Kulturlandskapshotell, a sustainable hotel wedged into nature overlooking the ocean, serving local food and beverages, a project in which owners have partnered with other collaborators so that they can take care of the natural resources, create jobs and livelihoods, and build a dream together.

Marta Llorente manages a family-owned intensive pig farm located in Zazuar (Burgos, Spain), in an integrated system with over 60 hectares of crop land and 20 hectares of vineyards. One of the issues she considers most relevant when embarking upon innovative projects within the livestock sector are the high costs that must be assumed. In her case, she did not have problems obtaining a loan from the bank, but points out the need for a prior analysis of profitability. There are public financial tools, such as subsidised interest loans, but on many occasions these require complying with numerous conditions and bureaucratic procedures, making it challenging to benefit from them. Her recommendation to women looking to make an investment to improve their farm is to conduct an analysis of the expenses and income that the improvement will entail in advance, to assess its profitability. Detailed administrative and financial management of the agricultural enterprise, as with any other business, is essential. The advice of consultants in this field is crucial to assist in making economic and financial decisions.

Further reading

CFS (2023). Voluntary Guidelines on Gender Equality and Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment in the Context of Food Security and Nutrition, agreed by the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Gender Equality and Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment.

FAO (2019). Women’s access to rural finance: challenges and opportunities. Rome. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.