When all roads lead you home
by Danae Bersi, Content Creator, New Agriculture New Generation

Having a talk with Anna-Maria, beneficiary of the "Regeneration Academy for Food Innovation" program 

Anna-Maria Rebholz, food technologist, participated in the Regeneration Academy for Food Innovation, an innovative program implemented by the “New Agriculture New Generation” organization in collaboration with Regeneration Greece. I had the opportunity to get to know her a little better while she shared with me the experiences she gained from her participation in the competition.

For Anna-Maria, it seems that the stars have aligned for her so that she can do exactly what she wanted, exactly where she wanted it. She managed to find a job at Mani, the region where she currently lives, in the company Mani Blauel, which produces and exports olive oil and olives mainly in foreign countries. Anna-Maria has completed the food technology department of the Perrotis college of the American School of Agriculture and is currently on a scholarship in the 2nd year of her master's degree in New Food Product and Business, at the same university.
Her father is from Germany while her mother is from Greece. Her two parents met when her mother did her PhD in England and have been inseparable ever since.

Anna-Maria is the eldest of 6 brothers and says she is very lucky to belong to such a large family! Now, she lives with her family in western Mani, where her mother comes from, in a mountain village called Exochori. But they did not always live there. In fact, her family has traveled and stayed in many parts of the world. First, they lived in Germany, while before coming permanently to Greece 8 years ago, they had lived in Cyprus for another 8 years. "I was born in England, then we moved to Germany where I lived for some years and then I did elementary and high school in Cyprus. After that, we came here, to Greece ", says Anna-Maria while adding that" My father always liked Mani. It was his dream at some point to come and live here permanently." Mechanical engineer by profession, her father is a professor at the University of Cyprus. So, he travels from Cyprus to Mani and back regularly.

After finishing school, Anna-Maria left Mani for a short time and went to Thessaloniki to study. About a year ago she returned to Mani. "My mother and I have been in the village most of the time. Three of my brothers are currently in Athens for studies while my two younger sisters are still living here with us in the village as they are still going to school," she tells me.

I asked Anna-Maria how it feels, after having lived in Germany and Cyprus for so long to live in a village in Mani. "In Cyprus, the truth is that I didn’t quite feel likeI was part of the team, I was always the Greek girl", she tells me laughing. "However, it was a big change to live in a village, after being used to life in the city, doing more activities, etc. But I feel good, I love this place ".

So, shortly after her return to Mani, “Mani Blauel” company contacted her and invited her for an interview. "The day after the interview, I went to work!" she tells me looking very happy.

Her participation in the Regeneration Academy for Food Innovation program

Shortly before starting to work for the company Mani Blauel, Anna-Maria participated in the Regeneration Academy for Food Innovation program implemented by the organization New Agriculture New Generation in collaboration with Regeneration Greece.

"Our university teacher, Dr. "Kiki Zenoviadou proposed this program as a great opportunity and so, many of us decided to apply to participate," she says. She also thinks that the process of evaluating the participants seemed very special to her as they were asked to go through various stages of evaluation. "I could immediately see the consistency and the careful handling of the whole program," she says, adding that "Seeing the program description, and the terms “innovation” and “new product design”, I knew this program was for me. After all, this is exactly what interests me professionally ".

Anna-Maria saw her participation as a challenge. Her main goal was to gain knowledge and experience. Unfortunately due to the covid-19 pandemic they couldn’t meet in person for more than 2 weeks while the rest of the lessons were implemented online. But she was very happy with the whole outcome. "Fortunately, we had the opportunity to meet with each other before going all virtual, so we knew who we were addressing, that was nice," she tells me.

"There were several lessons which, although online, were quite interactive and gave us the opportunity to talk to each other," says Anna-Maria, adding that the environment was very friendly. I was very impressed that all the beneficiaries had a strong curriculum and so, I was glad to be among those who were selected, next to so many young people with excellent ideas and knowledge on the subject".

Anna-Maria believes the greatest benefit from her participation in the Regeneration Academy for Food Innovation program is meeting and networking with people in her circle. As she says, "I listened to their experiences, I learned how the agri-food industry works from within, both from my colleagues and from the trainers. When you are a student, you have no idea of the working reality, so for me this was a good preparation to enter the real world having acquired some additional knowledge that I found quite useful".

Her work at Mani Blauel and her future plans

Anna-Maria works in the quality control department and in the chemist section of Mani Blauel. Mani Blauel is a company with a history of 40 years in Greece. It was founded by the Austrian Friedrich Blauel who after visiting Greece was enchanted by the olives and the olive oil and realized the enormous value that they have. Olives and olive oil are currently exported to foreign countries, such as Germany or Austria and England with most products being organic and traded through fair trade.

When talking about her work at Mani Blauel, Anna-Maria sounds happy and excited. "In the company we don’t believe that we just sell a product to the consumer, we consider that we produce it with the goal of sharing it with him", she tells me. "There is so much attention and love in all the products we make that I would never have imagined."

Of course, her knowledge of the German language was a great asset as she uses them daily in her work in the company. So, it seems once again that for Anna-Maria it is as if everything has fallen into place so that at some point in her life, she can find employment in an object she loves, in a place she loves and in a company she respects.

Her immediate goal is to complete her master's degree, with the support of the Mani Blauel company. As Anna-Maria tells me, "What I like and appreciate very much in the company is that they push us in order to evolve and grow, both as people and professionally ". Now that she is better acquainted with the olive oil sector, it seems that it was love at first sight. As a next step, she considers on training on organoleptic control.

Before we say goodbye, Anna-Maria quotes "I love both olives and olive oil very much! I believe that it is something that our generation has not realized how valuable it is, how great a treasure it is and how we can use it and highlight it. I hope I can contribute to the promotion of this Greek treasure! "