Traveling to the Adriatic Coast – Zadar

A wintery welcome from MARL “snowclass” IX.  The day started in Karlovac with 6”-8” of snow from the previous night with the snow still falling.  The decision to push on was made even though stretches of highway were closed but an alternate route was available.  The goal was to get to the coastal town of Zadar, which was not only challenged by the snowfall on the Eastern side of the mountains, but also by the famous “bura” winds on the West side.

After arriving in Zadar our first stop of the day was a quick walk through the old city center, and swing by the farmers market.

In the afternoon we headed to Stanka Ozanica school featuring programs in ag, nutrition and veterinary sciences.  We were welcomed by principle Ms. Jelena Gulan who talked about the 3 and 4 year curriculums they were teaching at the school.  The school is public with funding through the Croatia ministry of agriculture.  After an engaged question and answer period we moved into a classroom with students who were seniors in the veterinary program.  We were able to have an interactive dialogue with the students. We asked them what they thought of America, to which they replied: “McDonalds and autosteer tractors”.  The class consisted of the majority of students being female.  Student interest weighted heavy to work with small animals.

Principle Gulan moved us from the classroom to show us a couple of their labs.  The first lab we viewed was a bakery, where students got hands on training around mixing and baking equipment. At the other lab we were informed on some of the things that are critical components to having a high quality extra virgin olive oil.  We moved from the lab to our last stop being the greenhouse on the campus.  We were shown some of the projects that were currently underway and explained to us some of the additional things that went on within the program.  Member Steve Hoffman shared encouraging words with the students on the importance of farming and feeding Croatia.

Our next stop of the day was with a tour guide who gave us a tour of the “old town” part of the city.  Our first stop was St. Anastasia’s cathedral.  The bell tower is 184 feet, making it the tallest structure in that part of the city.  It was built two stages with the first in 1452 and the upper floors were completed from 1890-1894.  Our next stop was John Paul II square.  We were able to view ruins from the 1st century BC to the 3rd century ad.  An earthquake in the 6th century destroyed many of the structures.  The rock from the forum was used to construct other buildings in the square.  We made it to the coast to see the sea organ.  We were able to hear organ sounds made by waves moving along the shore.  Another feature in the area was the sun salutation which is made of solar panels collecting sunlight for energy during the day giving a light show during the evening coordinated by the tones of the organ.  The evening concluded with dinner at Restaurant Skoblar.


Osijek, Kopacki Rit at the Danube, Slavonia

The  Osijek Social Supermarket was our first visit after arriving in Osijek, Croatia last evening.  We were welcomed with individual roses, traditional breads and a variety of cheese and meat.  The women, men and teenagers welcoming us were all volunteers at the social supermarket. Stefica Cucak, the founder and President, is often described as the “Mother Teresa of Croatia”.  With a heart of gold and an unbelievalbe passion for helping others this woman, along with her team of volunteers are providing food for 1,450 hungry families.  These families are very poor and often do not have food to eat each day.  Stefica said that the smiles that appear on the children’s faces when they see food is the reason they can keep working so hard.  Our MARL classmates were so moved by this experience that tears welled up in some eyes and donations were freely given to help the social supermarket reach more hungry people in the town of Osijek.

After a short 20 minute drive we arrived at the Kopacki Rit National Forest.  This 68 square mile in-land delta was established in 1976 and is comprised of many backwaters and ponds along the Danube River one one side and the Drava on the other.  This is the most important, largest and most attractive preserved intact weland in Europe.   The appearance is similar to a delta as the water ways and water melting off the Alps moves into the area wetland.

This park is on the Ramsar list, which identifies wetlands of international importance, especially for waterfowl habitat.  This park is also on the list of important bird areas as over 600 bird species inhabit this area.  Additionally, the wetland and forest areas are home to many other species including fish, otters, wild pigs, deer, stagg, and lots of mosquitos, among others.


We were able to watch a short video showing Spring and Summer video of the flooded delta so we could see what the area looks like when it is under water.  We spent some time in the multimedia building that had many different exhibits to learn more about the park and followed that with a train ride.  Even though fresh snow had covered the area, it was interesting to see the landscape, which is neighbors with the largest vertically integrated farm in Croatia.

A short drive from the park brought us to Restoran Kormoran, a restaurant of Belje, which is a vertically integrated farm with the slogan, “From the field to the plate”.  This farm is currently held by the state, as AGRIKOR went bankrupt a few months ago.  This company produces 50% of the food in Croatia, so there is a strong interest in keeping the farms running.

The history of this farm goes back to 1697 and after years of changing hands and wars that desimated the area is known today as Belje. Belje, which is owned by Croatian parent company AGROKOR, farms on 20,000 hectares of arable land where it is growing corn, alfalafa, barley, wheat, and soybean.  They are making feed for pigs, calves, cattle, dairy cows, poultry, rabbits, sheep, lambs, goats. deer, and wild boar.  The agriculture production includes crops, pigs, dairy, young cattle fattening, cow-calf systems, viticulture, cattle and hog breeding. Belje also utilizes conbtract gowers to raise livestock by using Belje’s feed, consultants, veterinary care.

We were able to tour a dairy farm, which is part of the Belje company.  Dubravko provided us with a tour of the parlor, which included a 60-stall carousel parlor.  They are crossbreeding Holstein and Norwegian Reds and currently have a herd of 1800 cows, with 1005 in lactation.  The cows are milked twice per day and 100% of their milk is used to make ABC cheese, a famous cheese in Croatia for many years.  This is award winning cheese on a national scale.

We ended the day in Karlovac, Croatia and will begin another adventure tomorrow.  A combination of the famous bura wind and low temperatures are forecasted by the Croatian meteorologists to be record-breaking since 1949. Follow the blog to find out if Class IX will truly become the “Snowstorm class”….


Submitted by Josh Betcher and Natasha Mortenson

Zagreb, Slovenia Village, Star Kapela, and Osijek

We began our day visiting the American Embassy just outside Zagreb. We were greeted by Andreja Miser, Agricultural Specialist, Foreign Agricultural Service – USDA. We received a surprise visit by the new U.S. Ambassador to Croatia, Robert Kohorst. He was excited to see Americans visiting Croatia and added our group to his schedule at the last minute. He shared the top diplomatic priorities for the U.S. in Croatia. Ms. Miser has worked in her role for fifteen years and is of Croatian descent which allowed her to provide a unique perspective on issues, strengths and challenges facing Croatian agriculture. Since becoming a member of the European Union in 2013, Croatia, like all EU countries do not accept any GMO products in their country. Unlike the U.S., Croatia does not have the ability to compete on a large scale, so they focus on high quality products. (photos of the embassy visit later)

Following the Embassy, we were off to SANO, an animal nutrition company, where we toured the factory, and heard from SANO CEO, Branimir Kampl. Our visit to SANO was made possible by a Minnesota connection through Land O’ Lakes. Much like many start-ups in the U.S., SANO began in a garage and has grown to be a large and successful company which ships product nearly all the way around the world. While successful now, SANO faced many challenges along the way, including government pressures.

Since arriving in Croatia on Sunday we have spent all our time in the city of Zagreb. Today, we experienced our first visit to the countryside and rural Croatia as we traveled to the village of Stara Kapela, which is in the Slavonian Region. Most people who live in this region are farmers, which they refer to as peasants. This is a very poor region of Croatia, but the people carry great pride and provide fantastic hospitality. We were greeted by Dr. Ante Tucic, a local doctor who rebuilt his childhood Slavonian village. The space we ate in was once a stable and now is being marketed to tourists as a bed and breakfast, along with biking paths and the sale of local crafts and liquors.

We ended our day in Osijek, near the Eastern border of Croatia and Hungary. With each day, we deepen our understanding of the Croatian culture, people and of agriculture. We even had the opportunity to taste many of their specialty products for ourselves.

Submitted by Mary Kay Delvo and Patrick O’Connor

Greetings from Zagreb, Croatia day two MARL class IX international seminar.

Today started at 7 A.M with breakfast and a gathering in the lobby at Hotel Jadran in the heart of the city.  Dress for the day was Business Casual and the weather was Minnesota like in February with highs in the 30’s and somewhat dreary.  But spirits were high and all were anxious for our first full day in Croatia while getting adjusted to the time zone change.

Our first big visit was to the University of Zagreb Political Science department to hear from Professor Goran Cular, famous from Croatia tv.  His presentation informed MARL class IX on the history of Croatia, the War of Independence (the Homeland War), and how it has formed the government that Croatia is led by today.  Professor Cular made things very relatable with his knowledge of Croatia’s government with how it compares to the United States.  We also found out that past Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich has a Croatian background as his father immigrated from Croatia to the United States.

The group had a wonderful dinner dining experience atop a high elevation point in the city at Pivnica Medvedgrad Restaurant.  We were served a meal like a Croatia holiday feast which was amazing!

Our last organized group stop for the day was at the Faculty of Agriculture/University of Zagreb.  We heard from three different faculty program leads.  Our first presenter, Ivona Filipović (International agriculture) gave an overview of the university system and production factors of Agriculture in Croatia.  Our next presenter Dr. Nataša Mikulec (Dairy science) covered the importance of the dairy industry to not only Croatia but to the European Union.  Our last presenter, Dr. Edi Maletic, covered the evolution of wine making and vineyards along with varieties of grapes and its importance to the country of Croatia. One of Dr. Maletic’s famous discoveries is the origin of Zinfandel, which is found in Croatia.

Submitted by Brad Neumann and Paul Wright.

Tour guide Ines Hudobec introduced by Joel Talsma


We’ve arrived! Before reaching our entry destination, Zagreb, Croatia, we landed in Amsterdam where we saw colorful clothing, and charged our devices using our European adapted plug-ins.  Our travel was uneventful and offered our class the opportunity to see each other in a sleep deprived mode, without make-up, messed up hair and wrinkled clothing.

We will spend the next couple of days in Zagreb. This evening, we met our tour guide, Ines Hudobec, and our driver, Goran, whom we will refer to as “the king” (That’s the title given to anyone who is in charge of the bus for 10 days). They will be taking us all across Croatia and spent the first evening with us, orienting us to the city, the language, the currency and other local secrets. We dined in Zagreb at Vinodol where we enjoyed veal, locally grown red wine and great company. We are keeping this short as it has been a full couple of travel days and the real excitement is yet to come. The important thing for all of you following along at home, is that everyone is safe, healthy and excited for the journey ahead in the coming days. As they say in Croatia, Lachru Oche (good night)!


Submitted by Lisa Gjersvik