Crete's Culinary Sanctuaries (CCS) was founded in 1997 by Nikki Rose, a Greek American professional chef (Culinary Institute of America graduate), writer and food-nature conservation activist. An award-winning program for best practices in Responsible Travel, CCS has featured in the UN Convention on Biological Diversity Success Stories, National Geographic publications and Center for Sustainable Destinations, Lonely Planet, NPR, New York Times, O Globo (Brazil), TV New Zealand, and many sustainable tourism and nutrition manuals.
Niki Rose explains what exactly Crete's Culinary Sanctuaries are. "CCS is a grassroots eco-agrotourism network. We are a group of teachers and professionals from various fields. We organize seminars to celebrate and help protect our cultural and natural heritage. Our Seminars are conducted on-site, for example historic sites, organic farms, rural communities, kitchens, and natural parks.
CCS organizes seminars for the general public and also private accredited study tours for academic institutions and researchers of agriculture, ecology, cuisine-nutrition, Mediterranean Diet concepts, and sustainable community-based tourism. Seminar attendees have a rare opportunity to discover sustainable living practices that can enrich their lives, while supporting community-run conservation projects."
What do your programs include?
Each tailored seminar is designed in collaboration with resident-specialists from different fields. Our network is comprised of over 40 small businesses, historians, ecologists-scientists, organic farmers, professional chefs, excellent home cooks-gardeners, fishers, artisan food producers, musicians and writers, to name a few. We implement projects that help provide tangible benefits and support green careers to communities facing challenges from unsustainable tourism and development.
Our one-week seminars might include presentations by 20 to 30 residents of Crete. Everyone in the CCS network is paid for their participation in seminars. To spell it out for those that still don't get it, we don’t work for free for anyone but ourselves. We are happy to explain the importance of sustainable travel and conservation practices to people that think these initiatives should be free to them. We temporarily share this planet with many other species. If we continue to exploit it for our own selfish entertainment, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. Some people are working harder than others to protect Earth from continued damage caused by humans- our selfish forms of entertainment. Those that are mere observers expecting a free glimpse at what is being accomplished by others should think about their false sense of entitlement.
CCS is not a travel agency. We are a group of teachers-professionals working on heritage preservation projects and we organize-participate in seminars when we have time. We are not involved in tourism, aside from our alliances with family-run lodges, transportation providers and Responsible Travel outreach initiatives. CCS is not affiliated with the public sector.
What difficulties did you face at the beginning?
Finding the best teachers to share their knowledge and finding the best match in visitors that appreciate Crete's amazing and precious cultural, natural and culinary heritage. To develop mutually-beneficial educational programs in a region of the world that has been known for mass tourism for nearly half a century requires a shift in priorities and mindset. Many tourism enterprises do not support local communities or protect their environment for the long term, if at all. What many residents and visitors cherish the most can be lost due to unsustainable tourism and development. That is very apparent in some regions of Crete.
But before residents and tourism decision makers race to pave over another pristine region for the sake of short-term revenues that do not provide meaningful lifelong careers for residents, they should think very carefully about the consequences. Collaboration on cultural preservation projects is something that must be nurtured and developed just like a new organic garden. That is a challenge in Crete and most places in the world. Protect and celebrate what you have, and visitors will follow your lead. Once a region is destroyed, it may never recover.
How do foreigners react to traditional way of life in Crete?
Our on-site visits with professional sustainable organic farmers are detailed and informative presentations. Each farmer-producer discusses the process of their work, including the challenges and benefits. Seminar attendees gain an overview of production methods, history of generations of family production, environmental protection and interrelated issues such as nutrition, health, traditional practices and modern perspectives. Of course, we also sample their wonderful products. Note that visitors cannot learn how to be a vintner in 2 hours but they can gain beneficial knowledge about the process of quality winemaking. And enjoy the results.
It is a very rare and wonderful privilege to meet with the farmer-producer of fantastic organic olive oil, cheese or wine for a private class. It's not something they can do every day or even every month. The small-scale organic farms we visit are not amusement parks that are open to any visitor all day every day. We are very grateful to be working with such wonderful and knowledgeable farmer-producers when they are available for our seminars. We acknowledge that their time is precious and they may not have time to teach. Consider that a Napa Valley wine tour is rarely presented by the farmers-vintners.
From your experience, what are the most interesting programs for foreigners?
People that are interested in learning about Crete's culture, nature and cuisine. Also, sustainable/ responsible travel. It varies, depending on the seminar.
Our programs are packed with informative activities. They are designed to be fun (learning should be fun), but there’s not a lot of down time for things you can do without our help (like shopping or hanging out at the beach). We do schedule time in villages for attendees to participate in rural life and get to know their hosts. We sometimes schedule breaks on the coast if it fits into something else we plan like a seafood demo or botanical hike. In sum, CCS does not organize beach holidays. People can do that without our help. A lot of seminar attendees stay in Crete a few days or weeks after our program, which is a great idea. By then, they are more comfortable with their surroundings.
All attendees learn about our sustainable tourism and conservation projects and the challenges and benefits, which is important for us and for visitors. Once we meet people working on great projects that benefit the local and global community, it's easier to understand how crucial it is to actively protect what we cherish, including beautiful wild nature and organic food.
Learning about sustainable living practices and sustainable tourism in other regions in the world is important to find ways to implement programs at home. Many CCS seminar attendees (regardless of their age) report that they are enjoying healthier cuisine upon their return home. It was easier than they thought. It just required a little knowledge and shift in priorities. And they are getting involved with their regional organic farmers' initiatives and CSA's or growing their own produce. So our work in Crete does not end with our seminars. We hope to organize more credited courses with universities and professional researchers in the future.
How do you combine archaeology with culinary seminars?
Archaeological discoveries are an important part of our work. The evolution of food production helps us understand the bigger picture today. Not only for food studies, what our ancestors ate, but how they cultivated or collected food in harmony with nature or not. We are working with Professor Donald Haggis of the University of North Carolina and his team. Dr. Haggis has conducted excavations in Crete for over 25 years. Our CCS summer study tours for academic institutions and our public seminars include guided tours with Dr. Haggis. Exploring ancient sites with the excavation team is a great privilege. We are excited to have this opportunity.