Modern-day economic conditions form fertile ground for new breed of farmers

Farming is changing. Monocultures that to a large extent survive on subsidies and need little labor have no future, given that new conditions call for farmers who can produce for the market and not for the garbage dump, who can switch crops according to consumer demand and will treat agriculture as a serious endeavor requiring knowledge and dedication. But it seems that the existing rural populace will produce these new farmers with difficulty – in Greece at any rate. Today’s country-dwellers possess neither the know-how nor the inclination to adapt to the new circumstances. To the question, «What will you be when you grow up?» no child would give the answer, «A farmer.» For decades now, the best and brightest have left the villages for the city. However, a reverse trend is slowly and gradually emerging. People tired of contemporary urban life or others – often professionals – seeking a job that allows them to be outdoors and not shut up within the four walls of an office are consciously choosing farming as an occupation. They bring another mentality to the work at hand and manage to overcome adverse circumstances, despite receiving very little assistance, putting into practice what governments are fond of calling «entrepreneurship in farming» – usually an empty pronouncement. Kathimerini spoke with four of this new breed of farmers: Nikos Smyrnis, Giorgos Kallianis, Haralambos Tsokanis and Nikos Vassilopoulos, whose careers are revelatory of this new mentality in farming. Interestingly, all four insist that farmers today must participate in the processing, distribution and sale of products. «It’s not worth becoming involved in this job if you can’t dispose of your products yourself,» said Nikos Smyrnis. They also all agreed that farming was a tough job that if left to others might well result in heavy debts. Giorgos Kallianis, who owns greenhouses in Kyparissia, explained that owing «a whole load of money» meant no farm immigrant labor. It is a fact that the percentage of immigrants working in the Greek agricultural sector is very large while, at the same time, many farmers are facing – and protesting – cuts in subsidies. Haralambos Tsokanis acknowledged that the subsidized production model was a dead end and is trying to implement a new, more business-friendly model in farming. Away from the existing – and highly problematic – cooperatives which have done little for farmers or Greek agriculture, Tsokanis has managed to set up a network of producers and collaborators in order to make the processing unit he established function efficiently. Along with three other inhabitants of Domokos, Nikos Vassilopoulos, in his attempt to create a vineyard, followed a basic principle that nevertheless is often ignored in farming – that the area and climate play a significant role in the choice of the crop. Accordingly, they planted their vines in a place where, as they were told by the the older villagers, grape varieties once thrived and produced excellent wine. But the most important facet shared by these new farmers is that they have abandoned well-trodden paths – not choosing crops of which there was a glut – and striking out on their own.

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