Train the Trainers Elatochori Pierias
by Steven Tagle, Content Creator, New Agriculture for a New Generation

Elatochori, Greece - New Agriculture for a New Generation (NANG) welcomed 50 trainers from the American Farm School and the Agricultural University of Athens for its inaugural educational event, “Train the Trainers,” held at the Pierion Musses mountain resort over the 12-14 October weekend. Three days packed with seminars and activities prepared educators and entrepreneurs from the program’s Greek partner schools to share their knowledge and expertise with a new generation of agro-food workers.

The seminars, led by business coach-agronomist Dimitra Zervaki and by psychologist Elisavet Stella Papadopoulou, addressed the multiple roles which trainers from the schools would serve, both as agricultural extension workers who contribute to the transfer of scientific research and knowledge to all levels of the agro-food value chain and as adult educators. “We designed the seminars to complement each other, balancing technical skills with social skills to meet the needs of this target group,” Dimitra said. “Much of our research focused on communication because we had to combine the experiences of people from different sectors,” Elisavet added. “We took an integrated, interdisciplinary approach based on best practices and empirical knowledge.”

Throughout the morning and afternoon, Dimitra and Elisavet engaged the trainers in a variety of group brainstorming and hands-on activities which encouraged them to reflect on their educational styles, personal challenges, and strengths. “We used experiential learning techniques because adults learn better through experience and because in agro-food you need a more cooperative learning approach,” Dimitra said. “This isn’t the usual method of instruction in Greece.” Additionally, the seminars covered innovation in the agro-food sector, strategies for motivating adult learners, and the mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral theory of learning.

Though the schedule was packed and our trainers began their days early, the natural landscape and clean mountain air provided an ideal retreat for personal reflection and teambuilding. Nestled in the Pierian mountains, Pierion Musses offered sweeping views of Mount Olympus, the Thermaikos Gulf, and the coast of Halkidiki. Each morning, we woke to brilliant sunrises: the orange sun reflected off the distant water, and bluish-purple mist shrouded the land below us. Seminars were held in the resort’s main lodge, where a huge, circular fireplace kept us warm, and on the traditional stone terrace overlooking the wooded hills, where the leaves were beginning to change color. The trainers worked in groups, petting a curious brown puppy that nosed its way around their feet.

Alexandros Tataridas, an agricultural scientist from the Agricultural University of Athens and one of the seminar participants, reflected on the important role that Elatochori played in the weekend’s events: “These seminars would have been very different and less interesting if they had been held in a cold room in a building complex in the center of a city. Elatochori gave us the opportunity to work together, to open up and meet new people from very different contexts, and to learn from the village and its inhabitants.”

Elatochori Pierias, a mountain village neighboring Katerini and Mount Olympus, was adopted last year by 40 students from NANG’s Alternative Tourism program at the American Farm School. Students and professors worked with the residents of Elatochori to expand and diversity the village’s tourism business, which in recent years had been overly dependent on its ski center. Students proposed a new, year-round tourism plan that took advantage of the region’s natural and historical wealth and existing hotel infostructure to offer unique gastronomic experiences, hiking excursions, creative workshops, and events.

Following the workshops on Saturday afternoon, Antonia Galani and Katerina Zagkaretou, two graduates from the Alternative Tourism program, led the trainers on a one-kilometer hike on a looping forest trail surrounding Elatochori. The leaf-strewn path crossed a stream and a narrow gorge, then ascended steeply, curving down the hill through pine, hazelnut, and chestnut trees before returning us to our departure point. “We chose this path because it’s convenient and suitable for families and for beginners, but at the same time, it has rich vegetation and high aesthetic value,” said Katerina, a forester who specializes in hiking tourism. “The locals have marked much longer routes that they use for their daily needs: to visit other villages, to hunt, and to collect wood and fruits. They are in constant communion with nature.”

During the hike, Antonia, a biologist who founded the birdwatching company Plegadis in Ioannina, identified sparrows and finches by their calls and handed out binoculars so that we could observe some of the species endemic to the area. “I believe that Elatochori is blessed by nature, but what makes it truly unique is its local people,” she said. “A place can really flourish when the people who live and breathe there have real love, passion, and vision to work and make the best possible use of their region's resources. This love for their home and care for its development is one of the first things one can understand about Elatochori.”

Elatochori’s charm comes from the combination of its stunning mountain landscape and the warm hospitality of its residents, who invited us behind the scenes to partake in their village’s culture and learn some of its daily rhythms. Angela Perlantides and her son Stamatis welcomed us to Pierion Musses with shots of homemade tsipouro. Basilhs Kwstopoulos, a local producer of Greek mountain tea, answered our questions about his production process and expansion efforts, giving us each a beautiful bouquet of tea wrapped in brown twine. And Ioannis Papavramidis, owner of the cozy tavern Tzivaeri, invited us into his kitchen to show us how he made his delicious table bread with Greek mountain tea and different types of flour in a meticulous seven-day cycle.

Our stay in Elatochori also coincided with the village’s mushroom festival. Throughout the weekend, a tent in the central square sold mushroom products, seasonings, soups, and risottos. Two attendants wearing floppy red-and-white toadstool hats prepared mushroom soup in a huge metal cauldron, and on another table, a mushroom forager laid out all the mushrooms he had found that day in the surrounding forests and labeled them with their scientific names and icons indicating those which were gastronomic, psychedelic, or poisonous. On Saturday evening, a mushroom expert gave a presentation at the Atrion Hotel, and the taverns Tzivaeri and Anoi both offered a variety of grilled and sauteed mushroom dishes and mushroom soup paired with succulent meat dishes like the local black boar, giouvetsi, and pancetta.

On Sunday afternoon, Sotiris Koutsomitros, Adviser on Agricultural Policy and Regional Development, closed out the program by briefing the trainers on the European Union’s new Common Agricultural Policy, its philosophy, the direction towards the circular economy, the business groups, and funding possibilities.

“I want the trainers to come away from this weekend embracing a holistic approach and seeking to integrate different fields of knowledge into their work, because the agro-food sector needs agility,” Dimitra said.

“My goal is to help the trainers increase their awareness of themselves and of the sector they’re working in,” Elisavet said. “I want them to realize their responsibility to the sector in providing extension services. And to realize their own agency.”

At the end of the weekend, Giorgos Papanastasiou, a viticulturist from Volos, commented that as a result of the seminars, “I learned how to teach, how to share my knowledge with others—before I was only a student, I absorbed everything. The program also gave me a chance to meet other agricultural workers from all over Greece and share ideas.”