by Georgia Marketos
On a warm autumn morning in the middle of October I found myself among open fields, olive groves and well-kempt grounds with the joyous sounds of children’s voices; they were taking advantage during recess, as children always do, of a wonderful sunny day. It was my first visit to the American Farm School in Thessaloniki, located near Macedonia Airport, and I was lucky to have Anna, from the office of Alumni Relations and Community Engagement, as my personal guide!
As we walked around the campus, Anna related the history of the School which was founded by Dr. John Henry House in 1902 when he arrived in Thessaloniki with his wife Susan Adeline Beers House. They came from missionary teaching posts they had held since 1870 in Bulgaria. Dr. House then purchased, through donations, 50 acres of barren land, planted 400 mulberry trees, drilled a fifty-five meter well and hired a gardener: the School’s first employee.
In 1904 the school, then called Thessalonica Agricultural & Industrial Institute, was incorporated in the state of New York as a registered charity with the mission to educate the local population in the skills needed to succeed in farming.
Around 1910, Dr. John Henry House wrote his Creed for the school:
I believe in a permanent agriculture, in a soil that grows richer, rather than poorer, from year to year.
I believe in living not for self, but for others, so that future generations may not suffer on account of my farming methods.
I believe that tillers of the soil are stewards of the land and will be held accountable for the faithful performance of their trust.
I am proud to be a farmer and will try to be worthy of the name.
These are the principles which have always guided the American Farm School and continue to do so in the 21st century.
In 1922, construction of Princeton Hall, the “Parthenon” of the American Farm School (AFS) began. It still stands today, stately and imposing, as the administration building.
The AFS’s long history (the Centennial celebration was in 2004) has included many difficult times like the closing of the School in 1941 when the campus was requisitioned by Axis Forces, and in 1942, with the deportation of the Director Charles House and his wife Ann Kellogg House to concentration camps.
The happy moments have been innumerably more. Some of these were in 1935 when pasteurized milk was first introduced in Greece with the opening of a pasteurinzing bottling plant which distributed the milk, produced at the School, to the Greek market; in 1946 with the founding of the Girls’ School whose official name was Quaker Domestic Training School; in 1978 when the AFS adopted the officially recognized Greek state curricula of Technical Vocational High School and Technical Vocational School.
During its long history, the AFS has received many honors. Some of these are: Gold Cross of the Order of the Savior by the Greek government (awarded to Charles Lucius House in 1932 and to Bruce Lansdale in 1962); in 1986 Bruce Lansdale was awarded the Commander of the Order of Honor by the Greek government. In 2001 the Academy of Athens awarded the School for “the education it provides rural youth and for its contribution to the rural development of Greece since 1904.”
In recent years, the school has grown rapidly with the addition of Perrotis College of Agricultural Studies (1996) and its expansion in 2007 with the opening of the Educational Dairy and Milk Processing Training Center, the Department of Lifelong Learning (1998), and the Aliki Perroti Student Residence (2010), the founding of the Primary School for Experiential Learning (2011) where young students “learn by doing.”
In the picture above and the three that follow, one can see that the students have everything they need in order to tend to their gardens.
The Chapel of Saint Ioannis Chrysostomos on the American Farm School campus is used for weddings and baptisms with only candles for light inside the church since there is no electricity. Ceremonies take place in a truly divine atmosphere.
During the last ten years there have been even more additions to the School: in 2012 the Center for Agricultural Innovation and Entrepreneurship was founded and in 2013, the Aliki Perroti Research Laboratories at Perrotis College were created. The Perrotis College Krinos Olive Center opened in 2013 and the following year a one-year certificate program in Greek entitled Contemporary Agricultural Practices was established for high school graduates. Perrotis College currently has a School of Graduate Studies and in 2018 the Institute of Technological Studies was opened. Finally, in 2019 the Haseotes Middle School opened.
The American Farm School in Thessaloniki has a very strong Alumni Association and graduates who really care about the school and its future; their donations help to make an impact on the educational experiences of future generations. The scholarship programs of the American Farm School help many students pursue their dreams in ways they had not imagined. The newest buildings on campus bear the names of their benefactors.
This is the home of the current AFS President, Dr. Jeff Lansdale, the ninth president of the school. In its garden stands a bust in honor of AFS’s longest-serving president, Dr. Bruce Lansdale.
Even though Anna and I walked for over an hour, I still never got to see the cows, the chickens or the turkeys. Milk and yogurt, made from AFS cows, eggs from AFS chickens as well as turkeys raised on the premises, are sold in supermarkets throughout Greece.
As my tour came to an end, I realized that I had visited a very unique educational institution in Greece. The American Farm School works very hard—at all educational levels—to inspire its students to become innovators and stewards of a sustainable planet in the future. All their programs have a vision towards tradition, innovation, experiential learning, discovery and research. Dr. House’s Creed has come full circle.
N.B. More information can be obtained from the American Farm School Archives and Historical Collection which can be found at https://archives.afs.edu.gr/. Here, interested parties can access digital resources (photographs and other media) of historical significance for the American Farm School, the city of Thessaloniki, and the wider region of the Balkans.