Melanie Epp on how the Croatian Agricultural Journalists Association (CAJA) knocked it out of the park on their first try.
The perfect mix of business and pleasure, ENAJ low budget press trips are a great way to really dig deep into agricultural stories from all corners of the continent.
What makes a press trip truly successful, though, is when the business part runs so smoothly that it’s almost no work at all. This was the case on the most recent low budget press trip where the Croatian guild left a group of 16 journalists with a pile of stories and memories to last a lifetime. Here’s what made this particular press trip so exceptional.
✓ The program
Without a doubt, the key to a successful press trip is in the program itself. Arrange an interesting, engaging and diverse program, and you’ll have journalists begging to join. The Croatian guild organized a program so packed and so diverse that it rivaled an IFAJ congress in its complexity. We visited vineyards and cheese makers in Zadar County, a beef farming family in Slavonia, and a fish farm on the Adriatic. We toured an apple orchard, visited a greenhouse and met with a potato farmer. We even learned about the continental Croatia’s forestry and hunting sectors.
But it wasn’t just diversity in the types of agriculture that made the program so interesting. It was the fact that the scale of the farms varied too, leaving us with a real feel for production in the country. From shockingly large farms (Osatina group has 12,000 dairy cows (5,500 milking, the rest dry cows, heifers, bulls and calves), 40,000 fattening pigs, three biogas plants and 30ha of greenhouses!) to small-scale producers (Romina Zadravec and her family run a 26-cow dairy operation (15 milking) in a village of just 48 people), and everything in between… We saw it all. We learned about some of the country’s challenges (like building a vineyard on land that’s dangerously dotted with landmines and adapting to climate change and CAP rules) and its opportunities (like building a niche through the production and marketing of eco-food). Most importantly, though, we got to meet real farmers, arguably both the heart and soul of a country.
Writing stories about agricultural production in countries you’ve never visited can be challenging. To build a strong story you need context, background and a lot of details. Upon arrival, participants received a 36-page glossy program filled with information about the farms we’d visit over the coming days. The program offered a snapshot of Croatian agriculture with facts on production, politics and policy, and included profiles of the individual farms. Having this background information reduced the number of preparatory questions we had to ask during our visit and allowed us to get right to the heart of the matter. As a bonus, the program came in handy as a makeshift flyswatter on the bus!
Getting the timing right on a press trip can be tough. It’s been said that hosting a group of journalists is as difficult as herding feral cats. We have endless questions and will keep snapping photos until we’re physically pushed back on the bus. Martin Vuković, our fearless – and sometimes feared – leader took this task seriously. As a result, the program stayed on schedule and even left time for the important things, like beer and bathroom breaks. In terms of organization, the little details – like providing bottled water and snacks on the bus, and checking the group into the hotel before our arrival – did not go unnoticed.
✓ Food, drink, culture
Is there anything better than a press program punctuated with stops at vineyards and cheese makers? It’s one thing to learn about how food is produced; it’s quite another to taste the fruits of farmers’ labour along the way. There’s nothing quite like witnessing their passion firsthand. Seeing the sparkle in the eye of the winemaker as he pours off a glass of his favourite wine and waits in anticipation as you raise the glass to your lips. Or the smile on the face of your host as he explains that the sea bream you’re about to eat was caught fresh just this morning. Or looking out across the land and seeing the wild herbs – rosemary and wild Dalmatian sage dusted in sea salt – that sheep freely graze on to make that protected cheese (Paški Sir) you’re about to taste for the first time. When we talk of Croatia, these moments will be the highlight of our stories.
✓ The people
Arguably, though, what really makes a press trip special is the people met along the way. On the island of Pag, we met the Gligora family, headed by the daring Ivan Gligora. After the war, it was his goal to make the best cheese in the world. “Everybody told him he was crazy,” laughed his daughter-in-law Ružica Gligora. Today, his most famous cheese is protected by a geographical indication and has won World Cheese Awards several times over.
We met the wild and passionate Rade Bobanović who produces olives, figs and wine – the three Dalmatian graces, he calls them – on once battle scarred soil. The very best wines, he said, are made from grapes that have had to fight to survive.
We met modest but entrepreneurial wine producer Tomislav Škaulj, and the resourceful and pioneering Mario Puškarić who grows 350 hectares of potatoes and garlic while carefully managing local resources. And we met the enterprising and ambitious Mirko Ervačić, owner of Osatina group. It takes a unique individual to be able to manage a farm business of such scale. And finally, we met the passionate Marijana Petir, Croatian Member of European Parliament, who puts the interests of the country’s small family farms at the forefront of everything she does.
But the people who will stand out most in our memories are our hosts: Goran Beinrauch with his quick smile and easy laugh, Vedran Stapić, whose quiet dedication and hard work did not go unnoticed, and Martin Vuković, our Commander in Chief, who kept us all on track and made us laugh along the way. You should be very proud. You did an incredible job. Hvala lijepo!