Specialized in the artisanal production of organic, stone milled and cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, the estate was one of the first to convert – in 1994 – its olive groves to organic farming. The family is also active in promoting organic agricultural to other farms in the area as well as to agricultural students and other interested parties. To achieve this, they built the first factory in Greece able to accommodate visitors. Open year-round (unusual, as olive season runs November to December), the family hosts events, tastings and lectures.
These folks represent a new breed of farmers and producers of organic products in Greece.
Helped by Nature
Greece’s mountainous topography, coupled with its lack of large farms, lends itself to organic cultivation. Mountainous terrain in non-conducive to irrigation-based farming – the type of farming most likely historically to rely on chemicals for cultivation. Mountainous terrain also requires intensive human input. Therefore, shifting away from any use of chemicals to fully organic methods is hardly an onerous burden on the typical Greek farmer. Further, many of the old farmers were already growing organically – not for any ideological reason or even for greater profit (5 years ago the most food-conscious Greek wouldn’t have seen the point of buying organic produce, so a farmer would not net any additional profit by labelling his wares that way).
Organic cultivation is the best bet for Greek farmers. Remember, most of the farms in Greece are small: the average farm size is less than 7 hectares. With conventional farming, it is hard to make a living from such a small plot. The young sought better opportunities in the cities with the result that the average age of a Greek farmer reached 57 years. By contrast, according to a 2007 Cornell University study, the average age of a farmer in the US is 31.
“Greece’s mountainous topography, coupled with its lack of large farms, lends itself to organic cultivation”
Back to the Land
Yet, according to the Athens’ newspaper, Kathimerini,young, better educated farmers are returning to the land. Greece in 2007 showed a higher percentage of young farmers than the European Union average (10.5 percent in Greece versus 8.7 percent in the European Union). And data provided by Greek organic inspection and certification organizations indicates that the total number of companies in the Greek organic sector increased from 9,985 in 2004 to 15,556 in 2005, many of them run by young people.
This past April, Mariann Fischer Boel, the EU Commissioner responsible for Agriculture and Rural Development, hosted a conference in Greece entitled Paths to Success for Young Farmers: "Alternative Agriculture". The fact this conference took place highlights the importance the EU is placing on organic agriculture. Without the help of the EU, no small, artisanal farmer would stand a chance in today’s market.