SOCIETY

Helping change the landscape of agriculture

The American Farm School in Thessaloniki has come a long way since its beginnings in 1904 when, after 30 years of missionary service in the Balkans, Dr John Henry House and his wife, Susan Adeline Beers House, founded the school on just over 20 hectares of barren land near Thessaloniki. The first students were boys orphaned in one of the many uprisings signaling the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in Europe.

Over 100 years later, the school, a private, nonprofit educational institution, has grown and evolved and today educates about 240 boys and girls from approximately 150 different villages throughout rural Greece, on a 120-hectare site that offers them an excellent standard of general education and technical training.

?Most of the school?s graduates return to family farming businesses and expand, update or sometimes change the entire direction of the enterprise — often through the Nea Agrotes program,? Randall Warner, AFS communications manager, said.

?A farmer in Galatista began to grow summer and winter vegetables on rented land and has added beehives and livestock — and is now truly engaged in integrated organic farming. Other graduates, brothers in Nea Gonia, took what was a hobby of their mother?s and have fashioned a highly successful farming enterprise focusing on vine leaves and related products and are considering making their farm an agritourism destination by offering accommodation to visitors and participation in the farming activities.?

Graduates returning to areas such as Larissa and Kilkis raise field crops, increasingly under the Ministry of Agricultural Development?s organic farming program. Many other graduates are involved with livestock, dairy or vineyards. Another trend is graduates starting their own nursery and landscaping businesses.

Because so many practical skills are taught at the Farm School in addition to agricultural skills per se, some graduates are involved in selling machinery or construction. Others go into the tourism industry and a small percentage follow academic careers.

Sometimes the number of graduates from a particular area reaches a critical mass that can change an entire community.

Verdikousa, a village between Larissa and Elassona, established itself as a dairy center after the Sthanis family sent all three sons to the Farm School during the 1990s, a period that coincided with Greece?s entry into more large-scale dairy production. They became very successful as producers for Fage, and now Olympos, and have influenced others to enter the dairy arena as well.

?We have students from other dairy families of Verdikousa at the Farm School now, following in the Sthanis family?s footsteps,? said Warner.

Every year since 1970, the school has sent a group of 30 to 40 American and teenagers of other nationalities to live and work in a different village and, together with their hosts, complete a work project such as building a stretch of road, restoring an important village building or constructing a playground.

The American Farm School, 12 M. Antipas, Thessaloniki, tel 2310.492.700, www.afs.edu.gr