When in Greece, Do as the Grecians Do: Alyssa Sheppard, Agribusiness Management

Posted: November 12, 2014

Immersing myself in the Greek food system as a consumer helped me gain a better understanding of the culture and agriculture production of Greece.

The clack of luggage wheels on the tile floors, loudspeakers announcing departing flights, and chatter of excited travelers are all noises that I have come to closely associate with the eagerly anticipated beginning of a trip or the culmination as I make my way home. This time, I took in all of these sounds in a very new corner of the world –Athens, Greece – as I made my way to Thessaloniki. Even though I have several different international trips stamped into my passport, I never fail to get a butterfly-filled stomach as I duck to enter the small cabin-door of the plane. While not knowing exactly what language barriers, culture shocks, and eye-opening experiences were waiting for me in Greece, I couldn’t wait to discover the memories, friendships, and knowledge I was bound to gain over the next two weeks.

The first few days of our experience were spent adjusting to the seven hour time difference, Greek cuisine, and our temporary home while we also began to learn as much about Greek agriculture and food as possible. Everyone at American Farm College (our host for the duration of our stay) welcomed us with open arms and Mt. Olympus greeted us from our dorm rooms every morning. The tour of Thessaloniki helped to orient us to the area that we were staying in and provided great details on the history of the city.

While most of the history we learned throughout our stay could be gleamed from textbooks, walking through the modern hustle of the city that was built to surround the remains built thousands of years ago brought the facts to life. This mixture of old and new is something that can be seen throughout the country, and helps give a greater understanding to many aspects of Greek culture. We were fortunate enough to explore the ancient history of Greece at Mt. Athos and Athens later in our trip, and learned new facts every day from our tour guides and professors.

Of course, the main focus of our trip was the food system of Greece. We were able to learn about food production through lectures, producer visits, and perhaps most importantly, taking part in the food system as consumers. All of the visits we went on were awesome experiences, and typically taught me about a sector of the agriculture industry that I knew nothing or very little about.

Alyssa GreeceBy far, my favorite of these experiences was the stop we made at Mariana’s, a producer of grape leaves and other grape products. The main goal of the operation was to produce the very best grape leaves which are used in a delicious Greek dish called dolmades. As the company has grown, so has their product line, resulting in the impressively diverse portfolio of various delicious grape products and other popular food items. The creativity of their product development not only provided a great array of items to taste test, but demonstrated the possibility of different food items that could be produced if you push yourself to think outside the box. Mariana’s was only one of the many visits we made during our trip, each one of them bringing up new points of discussion from the challenges of starting the first Greek beer, to sourcing Greek mountain tea, each producer challenged us to think about food production in a different way.    

Immersing myself in the Greek food system as a consumer helped me gain a better understanding of the culture and agriculture production of Greece. Typical Grecian meals are served “family style”, with the whole table sharing a meal of several different dishes passed around the table. There are seldom serving utensils used and working as a team to finish off plates of Greek salad, Kolokythokeftedes, Souvlaki, Moussaka, cheese pie, and never-ending bread and tzatziki sauce is a must. This was part of the trip that everyone in our group embraced whole-heartedly and what I believe was a huge contributor of the amazing experience we all had over the two weeks. As we learned how to push ourselves to new eating limits our willingness to try new dishes endeared us to the locals we met along the way.

At the end of our time in this incredible country, I realized what an important role sharing meals in the typical Grecian style had played. Our last evening in Greece was bitter-sweet – knowing it was my last night enjoying the tastes of authentic Greek cooking flooded by the sounds of laughter and conversations, all underneath the majestically lit up Parthenon, but realizing I would be returning home with a deep appreciation for Greek agriculture, culture, history and with more incredible memories than I could have hoped for.