Farmland Adventures in Greece
Giorgos Nalpanitis, stepped out his silver car, smile stretched across his face and arms open in a welcoming gesture. “Yassas!” he yelled from the street. Without hesitation he excitedly shook our hands. We exchanged names and formalities. He gestured for us to get in and “let’s go.”
Immediate charisma. I knew hanging out with this guy along with the company of the two wonderful women I was with was going to make for a unforgettable day!
Riding down a long stretch of highway, leaving behind the happening city of Thessaloniki, I started to ponder how I had ended up in such a situation. I was in the car of a stranger with two other people I had just recently met, unsure quite where we were going or what the day would hold. It dawned on me what a strange and fortuitous chance I had come across. I greatly appreciate opportunities in adventure like this one, lending to the chance of seeing into the soul of a place and its people.
It all started when I met a lovely woman who shares an interest in quality, fine foods, beverage and sustainable farming practices. We immediately connected over our love for good meals and experience. We shared knowledge and many stories of where we were when we ate some amazing thing and all the feelings that came with it. She was in northern Greece for business and exploration of small, local farming happening there. She was kind enough to invite me along with her and her colleague on a meeting she had with a local farmer. Before I knew it, we were being escorted on a private tour of farmlands in the heart of the Macedonia region of Greece. She graciously played the role of translator and included me from the first moment on. The day quickly escalated to what would become one of my favorite experiences in Greece.
The journey began and I watched in the rearview mirror as the concrete and stone that made up the city eventually deflated into flatlands with the occasional factory and not much else. Eventually, we turned off of a neatly paved, wide highway down thinner, rockier roads, wound our way through the tiniest village and emerged on the other side to open country roads lined with tall fields of sunflowers, surrounded by pretty green rolling hills and rows of healthily growing foods. Mountains heavy with history painted the far distance. It was like we had pulled back a thick curtain and exposed a perfect parallel universe of wealth and utopia in the form of abundant, ripe agriculture.
Giorgos has high hopes and dreams for the future of small, sustainable, organic farming in Greece and his passion for it radiates. He brought us to farms of friends and neighbors growing beautiful goji berries and the best peaches I’ve ever had. He shared with us his adventures in snail farming. He pointed out every tree, plant and field with an enthusiastic explanation of the land. Walnuts, chestnuts grow near cherry and fig trees and fields of wheat and wild herbs.
He not only wants to improve his lot, but bring attention and help to those around him in order to build a true community of like-minded practices. His excitement is infectious and his dedication, undeniable. Giorgos is the type of person who does with his whole heart. He has the passion, skills and desire to make major movements in the farming industry. A character of genuine authenticity.
We met with a producer who kindly shared with us jars of his homemade honey. It was some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Showing characteristics reflecting that which grows on the land, notes of cherry and wildflower blended into the smooth texture of perfect viscosity. He carefully spoke about the importance of sustainable, organic farming and preserving the practices of traditional production. The mindset of quality over quantity can be easily overshadowed with economic issues at play. For many farmers it would simply be easier to set aside integrity and produce to gain monetarily. These guys are dedicated to making these ideas happen concurrently.
The wines produced in this region are also quite impressive, perhaps unexpected. While many people do not think of Greece when they think of fine wine, the truth is there is some amazing stuff being made here. Indigenous varietals and generations of knowledge coupled with careful production make for interesting and beautiful expressions. In the sleepy afternoon we stopped by and met a couple of wine makers from Tatis Winery and Aidarini Winery. The owners were beyond generous, giving us undivided attention and tours with detail happily answering any questions. Their hospitality comes from a genuine place of pride for what they do.
The day ended with a spectacular lunch highlighting all the delectable local foods, in wonderful company and a spectacular view to boot. I couldn’t have asked for a more authentic experience of Greece. I now hold a closer connection to the food I eat with a deeper understanding. Each bite taken with a dash of gratitude. I am very grateful to those who were kind enough to bring me along and share with me this beautiful, true side of Greece. These are the memorable days of travel that deepen my love for people, culture, and the world.