Meeting Landscape Woman and Good-Work Man at Michalis Maniadakis’ Little School of the Earth
It was Open Farm Day in Greece. PhotoMan (my husband) and I went to Michalis Maniadakis’ eco farm at Kalessa which is about 20 minutes from Heraklion (the largest city in Crete) to attend his seminar. I thought I would be bored because it was in Greek* but I enjoyed every moment and unexpectedly learnt a lot about farming, nature and romance.
The Good-Work Man
I met Michalis Maniadakis a couple of times previously. I was mighty excited when I learnt that Michalis is a farmer. One of my loves for Crete is that despite being one of the most popular islands for beach holidays, it is self-reliant because of its agriculture. Once you get out of the main cities like Heraklion or Chania, you start seeing farmlands. I’m still in awe whenever I see tractors and other agricultural machinery that I don’t know the name of because the village I’m from (Hong Kong) grows only tall buildings and shops.
My Greek language teacher had just been teaching me basic words related to farming when Michalis came to our home to seek photography help from PhotoMan. I asked Michalis if it was correct to say that he was a παραγωγός, which my teacher said meant ‘farmer-producer’. Michalis said ‘yes’, but it wasn’t a word that he favoured because παραγωγός was a general term for producer, like in ‘film producer’. He preferred καλλιεργητής which means farmer or cultivator, but also literally means ‘good worker’ because he believed that he was doing good work by cultivating the land. Hence the name ‘Good-Work Man’.
The Little School of the Earth
Michalis Maniadakis’ eco farm is more than a place for growing food. It is also a school where different aspects of regenerative farming are taught so that people get to learn through their senses and immerse themselves in a therapeutic environment. The seminars are not only for people who want to gather new knowledge for their own gardens and lands; Michalis also runs seminars for school children and he works with charitable organizations who support people who are recovering from traumas.
I can also tell you first hand that the seminars are good for people like me who don’t plan to engage in farming/gardening activities other than eating the produce. It was lovely spending a couple of hours in such nourishing environment, learning what I have never even considered before, or things that are completely opposite to what I assumed.
There were no tractors or large machinery in sight. The farm didn’t look like what I had in mind – instead of rows and rows of vegetables neatly lined up next to each other, everything seems to be a bit here and there. Even the hens don’t live together but in three separate places.
Michalis explained that nature is not full of straight rows of plants. By designing the landscape in ways that reflect nature, the harmony assists the plants to be at optimum health.
Actually, the design of the farm is what made this seminar excursion so interesting. It seemed a bit chaotic at first but as we walked around the farm together, it felt like there was oasis after oasis. Everything there has a purpose. I’m still at the stage where if I want to buy a plant, I would look for a pretty pot first. At the farm though, it was all about practicality. For example, a disused basin became a home for worms. Old tires were used to set boundaries for trees. Big tree logs were kept under the trees for children to sit and play. Aesthetic came through practicality as well.
Landscape Awards 2021 – Gold!!!
Michalis’ received the Gold title in the Horticulture and Planting Design category for Landscape Awards 2021 in the region of Greece and Cyprus!
It was a weird moment when I realized that the overall-wearing man who is a friend of my husband is a Gold-Award winner. Then again, our everyday heroes and heroines never have plastic looking costumes, super gadgets or theme songs.
I had a further Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon** moment when I went through the handouts. My Greek is elementary level but I looked through them anyway. My eyes fell on the very few English words on the page I was holding.
Harvard? Michalis? I skimmed through the page which seemed to be biographies of Michalis and his wife Maria. The mention of Harvard University was under Maria’s name.
My curiosity propelled me to go straight to Maria. Up to that point, Maria was someone in the background, organizing the venue. Michalis seemed to the one who had all the knowledge for the seminar.
‘Maria, did you go to Harvard?’ I didn’t beat around the brush.
‘Yes, I did my master at Harvard.’
‘Master?! Like, farming?’
‘Landscape architectural design.’
I asked if she’s the one who design the farm. She said yes and Michalis is the one who carried out the actual work. I asked why then it was Michalis’s name on the award. She said because it’s the registered company name. This explained why they were both present at the award photo.
Any other horticultural seminar goers would start asking questions on landscape architectural design but not me. I love food but there’s another subject that I love more – romantic relationships.
I asked Maria if they fell in love while talking about landscape and farming. She said Michalis wasn’t doing this at the beginning of their relationship. Maria wasn’t sure if she influenced Michalis but his love for agricultural grew as their relationship bloomed. Now they are a perfect team and the Gold Award totally confirms this. Landscape Woman and Good-Work Man – a match that creates delicious heaven on Earth!
The Little Leader at Little School of the Earth
Like I mentioned at the article on PAction Man and Mountain Man #1, in Greece, it’s common to meet someone and meet their family members too. Michalis and Maria’s young son was there helping. His assigned role for the seminar was to demonstrate how to milk a goat. He was also like a little leader for the children, showing them how to pet and hold a cat without annoying it. He looked only around 10 years old and already exuded great leader quality.
I usually relate seminars to intense learning experience. At the farm, it was pure enjoyment. The earthy nature of the seminar in an idyllic environment did have a therapeutic effect. As the Greek people chatted away over refreshment at the marquee, I relaxed and felt serene.
Let me share with you a bit of what I have learnt during this 2-hour seminar.
I saw some flowers which didn’t look like they would grow into fruits. Waste of space! I’ve heard that some people (e.g. Mountain Man #2) would reserve all the space for growing food so I asked Michalis about it. He said the flowers were for the eyes and the beauty lift people’s spirits up. Also, the flowers attracted bugs and birds which Michalis considered his colleagues. He said it was true that without flowers, there would be more space to grow food but it didn’t mean that more food would be yielded. The flowers enhanced the productivity by completing the ecosystem and therefore an essential part of the farm.
Michalis showed us where he was planning for a pond for fish which would further attract birds. I asked how he was going to keep the water from draining into the soil. He said plastic. I asked then it wouldn’t be natural. He said they could also use clay, which kept 80% of the water but the good point about plastic was that it kept mice away. Another option was to use cement but that was also unnatural.
I had thought that regenerative farming (whatever it means!) would involve using only what is natural. I guess it really depends on the main goal. There are many options available and when one knows all the pros and cons of each option, one can make a conscious choice. Although it is ideal to be all natural, there’s a need to be practical too.
There were two beautiful wooden hen houses that were decorated with climbing plants and flowers. The third place for the hens wasn’t so pretty. It was a dome shaped cage made of metal wires. Every two weeks, the cage together with the hens were moved to the neighbouring spot so that the hens’ droppings became fertilizer for all five circular spots dedicated to this hen-dome-rotating-system (I made this name up).
I felt it was unfair for these hens. Even if they didn’t care for the looks, they surely would prefer a stable home with higher ceiling. I asked Maria whether she noticed any health difference amongst the hen. She said she didn’t notice anything difference amongst the hens. However, she knew the hens in the cage were very happy because they moved to a new spot every two weeks and they found new food. Whereas the hens in wooden houses ate only what they fed them.
And I thought it was nicer to have solid home and high ceiling because these are what I like. I need to remind myself to not project my feelings to animals, or anyone really.
To learn more about Regenerative Farming and what Maria Kapnistou and Michalis Maniadakis are up to, head over to their Facebook page Το μικρό σχολειό της Γης (The little school of the Earth) or their blog page here.
Other than seminars on different aspects of regenerative farming, Maria and Michalis offer landscape design services. They sell their organic produce on demand by phone, with options of delivery or pick-up. They have just received a practitioner certification on Social and Therapeutic Horticulture so keep an eye out on their pages for new seminars/services.
* Maria and Michalis are planning to offer English seminars soon. Can’t wait? Write them a message to hurry them up!
**Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon is a Chinese phrase that means hidden talented people .
***I do not receive any money or material rewards for this or any other articles on my blog. The reward I get is the joy from writing about wonderful people and the wonderful things they are doing.
****All photos (except the photos of seminar handouts) by PhotoMan Konstantinos Anastasakis.
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