Sunday, July 2, 2017

Perfect Saturday in Kosovo

We had a wonderful Saturday for our last full day in Kosovo! The delegation started the day off with exploring the city of Pristina. We ventured down and checked out the soccer stadium that is under renovation for the National Team of Kosovo. After we explored for a bit we loaded the military bus to travel to the municipality of Istog. We had a nice discussion with the Mayor and it was evident, as it was most of the week that, agriculture played a big role in their community. This is the same community that we visited the day before when we toured Agroproduct. The Major of Istog invited a local farmer to join the discussion as well.

After our meeting we returned to Trofta to tour their trout farm. There is a natural spring that fills roughly 600 gallons per second. After the tour we were able to enjoy some of the delicious trout from their menu. Following lunch we had the amazing opportunity to travel to Consul General Xhavit Gashi's home. This is where he was born right at home, to making many memories with his seven siblings, and taught many life lessons from his father. General Gashi's mother and family still live there today.



The Gashi family are a great group of people who were warm and welcoming. It was great to join them in the yard and learn more about their family and the struggles of the past because of the war. As General Gashi told stories from the war our hearts ached as we imagined what life was like in Kosovo 20 years ago. It was hard to hear what had happened to the people of this small country, but the stories helped us better understand the sufferings. At this point in time the people from Iowa and Kosovo became more thean a delegation, we became a family. We were touched dearly by this. Thanks to General Gashi for opening up to us about hard times.

Wrapping up our time in Kosovo we joined the Ministry of Agriculture team to visit cultural sites and enjoy dinner together. We saw many amazing artifacts, learned more about the history of Kosovo, and different areas of the cultures. As we prepared to wrap up the evening we received a call from the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He had just returned to town and wanted to meet us. We joined him for a brief meeting before returning to our hotel to pack our bags and get things in order for our departure Sunday morning.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Kosovo Agriculture on the Rise

Today we traveled to different regions than we have been to previously. We started the day by traveling to the Peja region where we visited Agroproduct and apple orchards. Agroproduct dries various herbs, berries, leaves, flowers, etc. They have a unique drying facility allowing them to produce over 160 different quality products. They export 90% of their products, with Germany being a main buyer. Seventy percent of their products are gathered from the wild, leaving thirty percent cultivated.

Next we traveled to an apple orchard where we met 12 farmers and the head of their association. This group of farmers have 130 hectares of land in apple production. Unfortunately, this year they have lost their entire crop due to a late frost. Most of the apples stay in Kosovo with approximately 65% sold fresh at markets and 35% processed into further products.

We enjoyed lunch at a beautiful restaurant, which specializes in fish. As usual, we did not go hungry. Following lunch we traveled to the municipality of Rahovec. We had a nice visit with the mayor, who is a former Minster of Agriculture for Kosovo. He explained agriculture in the region and the opportunities in front of them. This area is known for it's vineyards and wineries. After a great conversation we visited the Bodrumi i Vjeter Winery. They gave us a short history of their winery and then gave us a tour. They shared that the skin of grapes give wine their color and the seeds provide the flavor. With red wines they leave the seeds in during fermentation, but with white wines the seeds are removed for fermentation.


From the winery we made our way to a beautiful vineyard. We were able to discuss production practices and inspect the soil closer. We concluded the evening with a social at Soma. As some prepare to head home or other directions this gave us a chance to reflect on our time in Kosovo. We have one more day in Kosovo with some site seeing and a farewell event with the Ministry of Agriculture. It was evident today and throughout the week that agriculture in Kosovo is on the rise. There are great things to come and we are excited to be a part of it!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Presidential Praise: Kosovo and Iowa

It was another full day in Kosovo! We started the day off by visiting with the President of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci. There was great discussion around the success of the Iowa-Kosovo partnership and plans for the future. Once our meeting was completed with the president we traveled to an archaeological site. We were able to see roads, churches, tombs, etc. that were built by the Romans. We were also able to get a good look at the soil profile, wheat, and corn in the surrounding area.



We enjoyed another spectacular lunch outdoors at a country themed restaurant visiting with folks from USAID about agriculture projects in the northwest region of Kosovo. Following lunch we traveled to see the projects they were explaining to us. We visited a young farmer producing raspberries. He had grown his operation substantially over the last couple years and plans further expansion. Raspberries are much more profitable than the traditional corn and wheat crops grown in the region. After planting raspberries they will produce for 15 years. It just takes one year to receive your return on investment with raspberries in Kosovo. After our time in the field we traveled to a processing plant that is being built for the raspberries.

Next up was a visit with the University of Pristina College of Agriculture and Vetrenary Medicine. We had a great discussion on agriculture education for their 2,000 students. Public universities in Kosovo are funded 100% by the government.

To wrap up our day of touring and visits we traveled to PESTOVA which processes potatoes into a variety of products. We found their products delicious! They are working to increase production in order to continue increasing their exports.

We rounded out a spectacular day at a backyard BBQ that was fabulous. It included a wide range of food, live music, fireworks, and a birthday celebration for our great friend Consul General Xhavit Gashi!  

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"This Castle is 3,500 Years Old!"

This morning was filled with diplomatic visits. We started the morning off by joining Minster of Agriculture, Memli Krasniqi, to discuss agriculture in more depth (see photo below). He was able to explain where they currently stand and where he would like things to go. From their Memli took us for visits with the Speaker of the Parliament, Kari Veseli, and then Prime Minister Isa Mustafa.



Following our meetings it was time for lunch at the beautiful Soma restaurant. This allowed us time to visit and explore partnerships within agriculture between Kosovo and Iowa. After Lunch we traveled to the town of Prizren and visited ABI. ABI processes fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. We enjoyed learning more about their operation and then touring their facilities. They process 72 different fruit and vegetable products and 32 different dairy products.

We then stayed in Prizren to visit the Albanian museum and explore the Prizren Castle. The Prizren Castle has some original features and is being restored, as well, in some areas that have deteriorated. They have been able to date some of the castle structure back to 1500 B.C.  This was a remarkable structure and gave a great view of the city below.



We traveled back to Pristina for a reception hosted by the American Chamber in Kosovo. This allowed time for networking with Kosovars. Following the reception we made our way to a beautiful restaurant for dinner and conversations. Looking forward to what tomorrow will bring in Kosovo!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Jobs and Justice for Kosovo

Today was our first full day in Kosovo and it certainly did not disappoint. We started the morning off with a briefing from the U.S. Embassy. They shared the current political transition with the recent elections and other interesting facts about Kosovo. They stressed the focus of "jobs and justice for Kosovo." There is a need to provide training for jobs, but then there must be a market for what those jobs produce and/or provide.

Following our briefing we made our way to the Government Building, which is just a short walk from our hotel. We heard briefings from the Minstry of Education, Agriculture, and Trade and Commerce. It was great to see and visit with Minster of Agriculture Memli Krasniqi again. He shared general information on agriculture in Kosovo. He shared that there are 130,000 farms in Kosovo with the average size of a farm being just over two hectares (roughly 10 acres). Kosovo currently has a agriculture trade deficit, but there is great potential to grow exports. There was, also, great discussion on challenges facing agriculture in Kosovo.



We had a little time for networking with the ministers and their chief advisors before returning to the hotel for a feast of a lunch. There is no concern of weight loss on this adventure. Food is always plentiful and delicious! For the afternoon we joined the Minstry of Education and numerous universities and colleges from around Kosovo. This allowed us time to share information about our schools and explore partnership opportunities.

For dinner we traveled to General Rama's family farm outside of Pristina. Before dinner we were able to tour their farm which produces eggs, beef, honey, vegetables, and fruits. We once again enjoyed a delicious dinner outside in the beautiful Kosovo countryside. We cannot wait to explore agriculture more tomorrow with Minister Krasniqi and Secretary Northey!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Kosovo Arrival and Stone Castle

It was a long, but successful day or days of travel. With the time change it became hard to tell how long we had spent on airplanes and in airports. Once we arrived in Kosovo we received a very warm welcome from Consul General Xhavit Gashi who ushered us to a bus to take us to a VIP reception. We were able to enjoy coffee, water, and conversation while our baggage was collected and passports were processed. This allowed us to bypass the hustle and bustle of the airport.



We then were able to see some of the city as we made our way to our hotel for check-in. Right after check-in we enjoyed appetizers in a ped-mall area as we reviewed our schedule for the week. Following this time we headed back to the hotel and prepared to head out for dinner.

For dinner we travelled to Stone Castle Winery and Vineyards, about one hour from Pristina. This allowed us to see much of the countryside. We noted most of the fields were small and the terrain became rougher as we traveled away from Pristina. For crops we saw a lot of corn, small grains, and hay. As far as livestock we came across some cattle, horses, and sheep.

Before dinner we had the opportunity to tour the production facilities of Stone Castle Winery and Vineyards. They have many award winning wines. They have 2,243 hectares at the winery and vineyard with 600 hectares in grape production currently. They must buy 3/4 of the grapes they use creating a great market for grapes in the area for other producers. They have separate facilities for white and red wine production making them unique from others.



Following our tour we enjoyed an enormous meal at Stone Castle. We were not sure if the food would ever stop coming. We shared great company with many honored guests in attendance. As we return to Pristina this evening we are enjoying the wisdom and conversations shared with Secretary Northey. We look forward to our first full day in Kosovo tomorrow!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Kosovo Bound!

And we are off! We are joining a delegation from Iowa traveling to Kosovo organized by Iowa Sister States. We have a diverse group, comprised of individuals from Agriculture, Business, and Education. The delegation will have many events together at the beginning and closing of our time in Kosovo, as well as receptions in the evenings. Other times the different groups will breakup and focus on their specific areas of expertise.

The Global Agriculture Learning Center at Hawkeye Community College is joining the Agriculture team in Kosovo. While in Kosovo we will learn more about their agriculture and meet with their Minster of Agriculture Memli Krasniqi and other political representatives along with visiting agriculture farms, businesses, and schools. The agriculture team is comprised of Bill Northey (Iowa Secretary of Agriculture), Kristi Mensen (Hawkeye Community College student), and Brad Kinsinger (Director of Global Agriculture Learning Center).

Today is a busy day of travel. Our flights will take us from Cedar Rapids to Chicago to Frankfurt, Germany to Prishtina, Kosovo. We encourage you to follow us on social media and on this blog to join our adventures in Kosovo!