The sound of a basketball bouncing off concrete breaks the silence in the village of Trikeri, a charming and once-prosperous shipping hub on the westernmost tip of the Pelion peninsula overlooking the Pagasitic Gulf.
The basketball hoops don’t have a net, but when did that ever stop kids from playing? On the warm day that I visited Trikeri, there was hardly a soul in sight and almost every sign of civilization – from the community center to the post office – was shuttered. After all, Trikeri’s sole postal employee is making plans to leave the village once the post office is completely closed down, along with another 80 small branches around the country.
Against this backdrop of melancholy abandonment, the space that houses the Women’s Agritourism Cooperative – where seven ladies laugh as they tease each other while filling jars of homemade jam – is like an oasis.
Since the cooperative was founded five years ago, the women have met daily at its headquarters.
“We get together and we cook and sew. This has given us new life,” says Anna Malasioti as she pours syrup over a large baking tray of nutty baklava, adding that almost all of the women in the group are now grandmothers.
“We love cooking, we love tradition and we wanted to do something to promote our local products, our own cuisine,” she explains. “If we manage to make some money on the side as well, then all the better.”
The cooperative is housed in the library of the now-defunct elementary school, donated by the Municipality of South Pelion. The library’s shelves are now stacked with jars of jam and preserves known in Greece as spoon sweets as they are traditionally served as a sweet treat eaten by spoon.
“We make sweets using only seasonal fruit, from the local area of course. Right now we have strawberries, apricots, peaches and cherry plums,” Malasioti says. “Later we’ll start making jams and spoon sweets with plums and raisins.”
The workshop also produces delicious and fragrant syrupy baked desserts and bread rings filled with jam.
“We make the same things we make at home – nothing more, nothing less. And we don’t use preservatives,” says Malasioti.
The cooperative women also make dolls in traditional costumes that they craft entirely by hand and are exact replicas of the real thing, one of the most beautiful traditional Greek costumes, heavy in the shoulders, voluminous and colorful.
The products made by the cooperative are sold in the village as well as at a handful of shops in Volos, the nearest big town.
“We would love to expand and send things to Athens and – why not? – abroad,” Malasioti says with almost girlish excitement.
“But it’s just us and it would be very hard,” she concedes.
The cooperative’s expenses are covered entirely by its members. There are no grants or subsidies to rely on. Yet it has showcased its products at fairs in Athens.
“We don’t make a profit and we don’t give any discounts either,” says Malasioti. “We always buy the best ingredients for our products. This is the point: to make something that is exceptional in its own way.”
The women have also paid out of their own pockets for the equipment in the workshop, spending on technology that passes all production and quality standards.
Though tourists who venture to the region express enthusiasm about the cooperative’s wares, the women have seen sales fall around 30 percent since 2010 as their most loyal customers were locals who can no longer afford such luxuries.
Similar financial problems are also being faced by women’s cooperatives in other parts of the Magnesia region, such as in Anilio, Pteleo and Zagora, with increased taxation dealing a painful blow.
There are a total of 141 women’s agritourism cooperatives in Greece that make local products and offer catering services, as well as producing traditional handicrafts and contributing to the local agritourism industry.