A different kind of oil pipeline links a Greek olive farmer and Minnesota dreamer
In the fifth and final installment of our "Liquid Gold" series, we explore how a friendship between the two became the blueprint for changing the world through food.
MISTRAS, Greece — When winter envelops the American Midwest, as you can see your breath through your scarf and hardly feel your fingers through your too-thin gloves, it would be easy to feel like we have nothing in common with our fellow humans in the warm Mediterranean 5,000 miles away.
After all, as we crunch through the snow, skate on the ice and ask questions like, “Can you stay for supper?” or “How were the roads coming in?,” the sun is still shining in Greece. The gentle breeze over the Aegean Sea doesn’t know what wind chill is and snow boots would never be seen on its sandy shores.
And the questions they ask? Probably more animated and over cigarettes and tsipouro (an after-dinner drink handed down by 14th century monks).
While we might feel like we’re on different planets, the world is much smaller than you might think, according to Peter Schultz, an archaeologist and entrepreneur who has built an oil pipeline of a different kind from the Midwest to the Mediterranean. For 10 years, he has been importing the olive oil produced by his Greek friend Eugene Ladopoulos to the U.S.
Every October, he brings a group of Americans to Greece to see the well-known historical sites of Athens but also visit the quiet countryside — including Ladopoulos' farm in Mistras, Greece, where they learn firsthand where the rich oil is coming from.
“So, we talk a lot about farm-to-table and how important that is, and we see our tables every day. But how often do we see the farm? It's like, let's take some people who care, who love this stuff, and introduce them to the farmer," Schultz said. "The basic idea behind the trip is to create more linkage between our two communities to further cement that bridge between our two towns, and to cultivate the sense of friendship and interconnectedness."
And after all these months of Zoom calls and social distancing, connecting one-on-one in person is powerful.
“When our producer Eugene offers something to us, I think it's really exciting to actually take that gift from him by the hand. We have airplanes, we have the internet, we are more connected as a people, but I think it's nice to supplement that kind of hybrid interconnectivity with the real intimacy of human connection,” Schultz said.
At first glance, this is a story about a bridge being built between two cultures — that pipeline between the Midwest and the Mediterranean, where Schultz’s acquaintances here are helping support and sustain a farmer in Greece. Yet Schultz said this should not be viewed as an isolated case, but rather a movement of using food to bring people together.
But is reaching out to support small farmers in other parts of the world counterintuitive to the "eat local" movement that is gaining steam all over the United States? Farmers markets are bustling places as people choose to buy fresh produce from the farmer 10 miles from their front door instead of supermarkets.
Megan Myrdal is a registered dietitian and co-founder of Food of the North, an organization with the slogan “Think Global, Act Local” and mission to celebrate, connect and empower the local food community in Fargo-Moorhead and beyond.
She’s living that mission by going on Schlultz’s trip to Greece. From the smile on her face and the questions she asks Ladopoulos, it’s very clear she’s soaking up all this experience has to offer and solidifying her belief that the idea of eating local should be reframed a bit.
"One of the things that I think that this project really brings to light is that, yes, we want to enjoy and eat as much local food as we can, but there are things that we cannot grow here. And we are living at this amazing time in human history where we have this global food economy, where we can source things from all over the world that people have never been able to enjoy before,” she said.
She and Schultz said food can literally change the world.
“We have to begin to own the fact that we are part of a shared human family, and that means that my local is someone else's global, and her local is my global. These are interchangeable categories that wind and bind through each other, and the moment we come to that realization is when we can all start healing ourselves and our planet together,” Schultz said.
He said the more food-conscious a community is, the healthier the people are — and that can’t help but benefit the planet as a whole.
“The future of agriculture in America and the world is regenerative,” Schultz said. “In 30 years, we are going to be going to farms that look like the wilderness, and we are going to be empowered and emboldened and energized by their presence. And the people who run them are going to be filthy rich, and they are going to be making incredible food for the planet.”
Clearly Schultz, the entrepreneur, the pied piper of olive oil who cooked up the idea years ago to take a few Americans to the source of their food, is a talker and an idea man energized by what could be. How building relationships like the one he built with Ladopoulos can be replicated many times over by many other people. Connecting small producers worldwide to make local global and global local — in the end, shrinking our world, helping our farmers, saving our planet and maybe even our own lives.
For Ladopoulos, a Greek man with smiling eyes, it’s not that grand of a concept. In fact, it comes down to what each and every one of us can do.
For more information about Forum Communications' series and read all published installments, visit www.inforum.com/liquidgold . Tune into WDAY-TV at noon Saturday, April 9, to watch our full-length documentary, which will also be available on the Liquid Gold page beginning April 11.