Traditional farming and hospitality on Crete

Grecotel's Agreco organic farm on Crete uses environmental-friendly methods for cultivation and stock breeding, and attracts thousands of visitors each year

Situated five kilometres outside Rethymno on the island of Crete, the 40-hectare Agreco estate produces organic products to EU standards. Delving deep into Cretan tradition, Nikos Daskalantonakis, founder of Grecotel (Greece's largest hotel chain) created the farm and has revived centuries-old organic farming practices in a unique expression of 'philoxenia' or hospitality. Agreco also serves as an educational institution through which farmers around Crete are introduced to modern methods of applying environmentally sound practices alongside traditional agriculture.

Between 2004 and 2005, Agreco welcomed roughly 18,000 visitors who witnessed traditional methods of making cheese, yogurt olive oil wine, raki, raisins, honey, jam, and glazed fruits. A growing number of Grecotel guests now visit the farm, sampling local cuisine made with its organic produce and joining the celebration of various seasonal and religious festivals as part of their stay. Visitors can also purchase products to take home with them from the farm's pantry-style store.

The farm is a miniature version of a typical Cretan village. Built around a square, its buildings include the diminutive Church of St Nicholas of Kourtaliotl a traditional taverna, a coffee shop and a general store. Depending on the time of year, visitors can see wheat being ground or bread being prepared and baked in two old-fashioned wood-burning ovens. There are vineyards, a wine press and a boiler for making raki -a clear spirit distilled from grape skins and other parts of the grape left over from wine-making. There is also a donkey-driven olive press and organic vegetable patch. Various animals are reared on the farm, including chickens, rabbits, sheep, and goats. Visitors can help to milk and shear the sheep, gather and tread grapes during the vine harvest or pick olives and help produce olive oil.

There are also two workshops where the farm produce is made into products such as marmalades, glazed fruits, pickled vegetables, tomato paste, and dried herbs. Between 2004 and 2005 the farm produced approximately 600 kg of organic vegetables, as well as ten tonnes of wine, two tonnes of thyme honey, around 500 kg of raki two tonnes of olive oil and 500 jars of marmalade and glazed fruits. The Agreco farm store promotes the sale of 25 different types of organic and local traditional products from all over Greece and during that same period it sold 50,000 Euros-worth of goods from small independent producers.

The farm creates full-time employment throughout the year for seven permanent employees. It also hires four more for the eight-month tourist season and nine more part-time on a seasonal basis. All of them are locals.

Maria Valerga, Grecotel's Environmental Manager, says: "What you won't find on the Agreco farm is any waste, This is because everything produced here is consumed, and whatever is left over either serves as natural feed for the livestock or as fertiliser for the crops, Nor is there any noise as there is only a vast expanse of olive groves here -and, of course, we don't allow vehicles to park in the grounds, Finally, we don't use any chemicals; even our waste water treatment uses natural systems such as reservoirs and filtration by reeds, rocks and natural sand,"

The Agreco Residence is used by the Daskalantonakis family, while visitors are accommodated at Grecotel resorts in the vicinity, The farm is open Tuesday to Saturday, with guided tours in the evenings followed by a meal at the farm taverna featuring Agreco's seasonal organic produce.

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