CULTURE

Organic food gaining ground

More farmers and consumers in Greece are switching to organic products as the land cultivated with organic methods has climbed to 2.9 percent of the total, up from just 1 percent in 2003. Last week, the first organic supermarket opened in Halandri in northern Athens, selling everything from meat, fruit and vegetables to packaged goods. It brings the total amount of organic retail outlets in Greece to just over 200, not counting the organic food sections in many supermarkets. Although consumers are showing increasing interest, much still needs to be done at the level of production, distribution and marketing, as demand far outstrips supply. In 2005, a total of 103,561 hectares was cultivated organically, most of it olive groves (38.2 percent), followed by pulses such as lentils, peas, beans (29 percent) and grains (13.5 percent). Alfalfa, the animal fodder crop, is grown on over 5,000 hectares (5.6 percent of the total). There are 3,954 hectares of organic vineyards and 1,986 hectares of citrus orchards (1.9 percent of the total). Over 300,000 livestock animals are reared according to organic principles, 36 percent of them goats, 27 percent sheep, 18 percent poultry and 15 percent pigs. The target of increasing the total of organic land cultivated to 3 percent looks as if it will likely be reached, mainly due to generous subsidies granted to farmers. But because demand is still larger than supply, a good portion of organic food, chiefly fresh fruits and vegetables, is imported. «We are trying to work with Greek producers but we don’t always find the quantities we need,» said Evthymios Tsibidis, managing director of Mediterranean Farm, a firm that sells and packages organic products and has several retail outlets. «Also, Greek organic products are more expensive and often of poorer quality than the imports. Foreign producers are more organized and the quality of their produce is better,» he added. Stamos Manginas, head of the organic product distribution firm Greenpost, said demand is definitely rising. Many consumers prefer to buy organic food at supermarkets along with their other shopping. However in supermarkets, organic produce must be sold in packaged form, usually in plastic, which goes against the grain of ecological practice.