Farm­ing sem­i­nars gain­ing fans

Kathimerini English - - Life - BY IOANNA FOTIADI

Snail farm­ing, bee­keep­ing, and mush­room and herb cul­ti­va­tion are but some of the prac­tices that are taught at the In­sti­tute of Agri­cul­tural Sci­ences on the Syn­grou Es­tate in Maroussi, north of Athens.

The sem­i­nars are prov­ing to be a re­sound­ing suc­cess and are at­tended by all kinds of peo­ple, in­clud­ing stu­dents, farm­ers, pen­sion­ers and the unem­ployed. This year alone 850 stu­dents have en­rolled in the cour­ses, while the in­sti­tute has re­ceived an­other 1,200 ap­pli­ca­tions.

The in­struc­tors put the suc­cess of the pro­gram down to the eco­nomic cri­sis and peo­ple’s de­sire to ei­ther diver­sify their pro­fes­sional skills or find ways to grow their own food. Fur­ther­more, most of the stu­dents have stated their de­sire to leave Athens for a life in farm­ing or live­stock breed­ing.

“For some of my stu­dents who are out of work, the sem­i­nars are a great way to keep busy,” said Dimitra Sotiropoulou, who runs the class on herbs and medic­i­nal plants along with Vas­silis Ko­toulas. “Greece has a great va­ri­ety of aro­matic and medic­i­nal plants, which are also widely used in our cui­sine,” she added.

Herbs are also an ideal crop for land that has been over­cul­ti­vated. “We ex­plore Mediter­ranean herbs and medic­i­nal plants that do not need much wa­ter, and oth­ers, like aloe, which have in­cred­i­ble medic­i­nal prop­er­ties,” ex­plained Sotiropoulou.

The newly in­tro­duced mush­room­grow­ing seminar has also proved very pop­u­lar, es­pe­cially among would-be farm­ers.

“The pro­gram cov­ers wild mush­rooms [both edible and poi­sonous], as well as cul­ti­vated va­ri­eties,” ex­plained An­to­nis Filip­pousis, a re­searcher at the Na­tional Agri­cul­tural Re­search Foun­da­tion. The classes fo­cus on meth­ods of farm­ing com­mon mush­rooms used in food, but also those that are rich in nu­tri­tional or medic­i­nal prop­er­ties. “We teach the en­tire farm­ing process, from pre­par­ing the bed, to plant­ing the spores, har­vest­ing, stor­ing, pack­ag­ing and sell­ing,” Filip­pousis added.

An­other very promis­ing field of cul­ti­va­tion is snails, ac­cord­ing to Anasta- sia Sar­chosoglou, who cur­rently runs two classes of 70 stu­dents each. “Peo­ple know that this is a very cost-efficient busi­ness, which can also be sub­si­dized,” she said, adding, “It is easy to con­struct a snail pen, but it is not at all easy to keep the snails alive in them, as they can­not sur­vive in tem­per­a­tures above 35 de­grees Cel­sius.” Nev­er­the­less, she adds, Greece is a good coun­try for snail farm­ing be­cause it has a lot of suit­able mi­cro­cli­mates.

From the stu­dents’ point of view, G. Iliadis, aged 45, has man­aged to squeeze al­most ev­ery­thing he needs to sur­vive onto his 80 sq.m. bal­cony. He grows or­ganic tomatos, egg­plants, pep­pers, cu­cum­bers, mel­ons, beets, wa­ter­mel­ons, oregano and basil plants, among other herbs and veg­eta­bles. “By learn­ing or­ganic farm­ing meth­ods in the first seminar I at­tended, I also dis­cov­ered some sur­pris­ing things about con­ven­tional farm­ing,” said the Athe­nian. “I dis­cov­ered how im­por­tant it is to eat food that you have grown your­self as much as pos­si­ble.”

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