By Calliope Patera *
Christoforos Diamantis started farming organically in Marathon, northeast of Athens, in 1985, at a time when there were no agencies for certifying agricultural products, but even then he understood that pesticides and other heavy chemicals had no place in the cultivation of superior crops.
Diamantis studied agriculture in Konitsa, northern Greece, in the late 1950s. After that he worked as a builder and a carpenter for 19 years, which allowed him to save some money and pursue what he really loved: farming. “The school was good and practical, and it taught me how to grow different crops without pesticides. I realized then that vegetables not only grow without pesticides, but do so in a better way. I wanted to put that knowledge into practice,” he said.
Since 1989 Diamantis has been among the leaders in the battle for a certification agency that specializes in organic products. Together with a group of other like-minded farmers, Diamantis helped establish the Ecological Farming Association (SOGE), which publishes the Organic Farming magazine, aimed at organic farmers and consumers. In 1993, Biohellas and Dio became the first agencies in Greece for certifying the quality of the products on the market and Diamantis was the first organic farmer to be certified.
Since then, Diamantis has never allowed standards to slip. His farm is located on 24 hectares between lakes Marathon and Yliki. He grows all kind of crops, depending on the season, although there are times when he needs to grow out-of-season produce, such as tomatoes, due to high demand. Apparently consumers feel they cannot survive without tomatoes all year round. Right now, Diamantis is cultivating summer fruits and vegetables. He has also recently introduced livestock to his farm, mainly sheep and goats, to produce yogurt, cheese and ice cream. His products are available at all organic markets in Attica. The entire family works in the business, including a landscape architect, while the farm also employs another 15 people. It is a successful business.
Visiting the farm
Diamantis’s daughter Maria and her husband Spyros Chrysoulakis visited organic farms in different parts of Europe in order to expand the horizons of the family business. As a result, 1.4 hectares of the farm close to the Marathon Tomb, has been opened to visitors, primarily school groups, aimed at acquainting people with the animals, teaching them about the benefits of organic farming and giving them the chance to get their hands dirty.
Although the farm looks like a little piece of paradise, there are problems, the biggest among which are plans to build a landfill in the area that will affect the quality of the ground water.
“Marathon has always provided Athens with its agricultural products but the increased construction activity in the area has reduced the amount of farmland. It is important that the farmland that has survived is not destroyed by polluted water,” Chrysoulakis said.
Chrysoulakis is critical of the state agencies responsible for the country’s agricultural output, and especially those concerned with livestock farming, saying that he has met with irrational demands and delays in his application to open a milking parlor.
“I remember on one visit to the UK I asked an organic farmer what licenses they need to start a business. He didn’t even understand my question. In the UK, licenses are issued in one day,” said Chrysoulakis.
Chrysoulakis explains that annual turnover is quite high, although at the end of the day all that’s left is a “decent wage.”
“The money is divided equally between everyone, including the guys running the open-air market stalls. One of our retired workers, a Bulgarian lady who has been here for years, is responsible for sharing out the money. She has a good head on her shoulders and is honest and I trust her implicitly.”
If you happen to be driving past the Marathon Tomb on a weekend, don’t forget to drop by the farm and purchase your weekly vegetables.
Diamantis Farm products are available at the organic markets of Haidari, Kifissia, Peristeri, Korydallos, Palaio Psychico, Illioupoli, Piraeus, Halandri, Gerakas, Palaio Faliro, Petroupoli, Kesariani, Voula, Ilion and Elefsina. On weekends products are sold at the farm, whose entrance is located at 2 Thiseos & Aghias Paraskevis, Marathon (tel 22940.67866).
* This article first appeared in the June 2014 issue of Gastronomos, Kathimerini’s monthly food magazine.