SOCIETY

Farming seminars gaining fans

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 mushroom-growing 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 Anastasia 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.?

To learn more about these and other seminars, log on to www.ige.gr or call 210.808.3312.