Dr. Panos Kanellis, President of the American Farm School and Perrotis College, smiling and cheerful, is sitting opposite me holding his dog, Ginger, offering a hot coffee. His office is an attractive space on the first floor of the imposing Princeton Hall. The whole campus is so carefully maintained that it makes you wonder if you are in Greece or in a major educational institution in Europe. What you find at the American Farm School is unique and there are many who say it is a model educational institution for the western world. The economic crisis has made many people turn their focus back to the earth and its products. However, today there is a significant difference with the past. Now we are talking about knowledge, innovation, entrepreneurship and research, ideas many of us would call alternative, when it is actually pioneering education.
- What makes the American Farm School so special?
Love and passion for what we do. We are a special school. Our youngest student is only 2.5 years old and the oldest ... over 60! Both have chosen us for our long and successful educational history, but above all for the fact that we remain pioneers and innovators in all the educational programs and services we provide. After 114 years, we continue to translate the beliefs and ideals of our founder Dr. Henry House with a more modern and up-to-date approach than many in the field.
- What does the American Farm School not have?
We do not have a middle school yet. And I stress "still" because our middle school will start operating in September 2019. It is the only link that is absent from the school's educational chain. A large chain, which now consists of preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, general high school, vocational high school, Institute of Technological Studies (I.IEK), Perrotis College with undergraduate and postgraduate programs, experiential adult seminars, individual and group counseling services, agricultural applications and much more. All educational programs, regardless of their level and orientation, are based on holistic education and experiential education.
- How did you make the American Farm School a living entity in Thessaloniki?
For more than a century the school and Thessaloniki have been walking hand in hand. But since I took her reins I wanted to make it more outward reaching. To remind Thessaloniki and the rest of Greece what our school currently represents and what its mission is. Every year we welcome thousands of visitors, students, teachers and ordinary citizens in educational, social, charity and scientific events. But these are a small part of the school. As I mentioned, we have expanded the educational structures and developed our tertiary level, Perrotis College. We have invested in infrastructure and scientific staff and we are strengthening scientific research, innovation and entrepreneurship.
- Your turkeys have become a Christmas tradition. Why are they special?
Our turkeys are indeed a must for Christmas. Their taste is unparalleled because they have been raised with special care and proper nutrition. But consumer favorites are our famous milk, eggs, yoghurt and, more recently, semi-hard cheese, all quality products from our farm.
- Is it not a little strange for a school to produce and market products?
No, it's not, because there are two important details. First, income from the sale of products strengthens the American Farm School’s extensive scholarship program and secondly they are educational farm products, which is still the heart of the school and its philosophy, experiential education. The farm is actually our biggest school. We are not only educating farmers but we are using the land in education, which is the greatest teacher.
- Is it about dealing with nature?
The truth is that agri-food entrepreneurship has become fashionable in recent years. The economic crisis has led many to turn their focus back to the earth. However, today there is a significant difference with the past. Now we are talking about knowledge, innovation, entrepreneurship and research. While many would call this alternative, we are just pioneers of education.
- That is to say that the School does not focus only on the needs of farmers?
Of course not. Our graduates prepare for and excel in many disciplines apart from agronomy. Nature can be a guide for many sciences. You would be surprised at how much an engineer, a physician or a lawyer has to learn from nature. So, we are not only educating farmers, but we are using the land to educate, which is the greatest teacher. Elytis said it better than me, "... knowledge is overcome, technique always, nature never".