Agro-tourism has become big across the globe but, for some reason, not in Malta. Perhaps it's because Maltese farms are not surrounded by large expanses of land, with massive olive groves and vineyards, and rolling hills with grazing animals. It was therefore a bold step for Victor Galea and the Ager (meaning a field in Latin) Foundation to introduce the concept in Gozo. 'The central tenet of the programmes is to involve the participants in the work itself. And the programmes are personalised for customers' tastes and preferences - I let the participants tell me what they would like to experience' Galea says.
So, depending on their requests, customers can do anything from milking sheep to making cheese pickled in salt, vinegar and pepper, picking and pickling capers, experiencing the wine-making process, fishing in the colourful traditional boats and savouring genuine local food and drink. They can choose to spend a day with a farmer or fisherman and join in the work. If the day is spent with a farmer, a traditional Gozitan lunch with the host farmer's family is on the programme.
The fishing tour provides an all-round experience: helping the fishennan in the preparation of the nets and bait, going out to fish, and then barbecuing the fish on the picturesque seashore of Comino.
The Ager Foundation is a new non- governmental, non profit-making organisation, run by senior long-time activists in the green party. The aim of the Foundation is to aid the development of eco-tourism in Gozo while preserving rural traditions and the rural environment. Profits are ploughed back into environmental action and rural development.
Following a successful year of operations, rewarded by making it to the short list of the prestigious British 'First Choice Responsible Tourism Award' in 2006, the Foundation is now trying to introduce further activities. These include inside-knowledge tours of Gozo's archaeological remains, eco-walks in rich habitats and birdwatching during the spring and autumn bird migrations.