Crisis? What crisis? ...The journey back to my eco-roots

I grew up in Thessaloniki but always had a deep want to travel, see and live in other places. Which I did. My sporadic encounters with my native Greece always brought to mind the lyrics from a famous Greek song which I shall badly try to translate here:

“Oh Hellas I love you,

and I thank you deeply,

for you taught me and I know

how to breathe wherever I find myself,

how to die with every step I take

and how to just not be able to stand you”

These words are the preface for my MBA thesis for which I had to interact with Greek officials -and hence got a first hand experience of the stagnant and chaotic ways of its bureaucracy.

Greece is a place of extreme and diverse beauty, almost 1/3 is under Natura protection. Within such a small geographical place there is a dose of everything (apart maybe from glaciers): snowy mountaintops for skiing, desert-like dunes, volcanic islands, prehistoric forests and countless hot springs! It feeds your soul with joy, light and clarity and you see why the term philosophy was coined up here. On the other hand, interaction with the system and the people can drive you mad in nanoseconds.

In late 2010, I had been on the road for the best part of a year, not keeping track of politics and news and had missed the handing over of the country to the IMF and the banksters. One day I heard someone say: ‘Oh you’re Greek! My condolences: your country has gone bankrupt and is in tatters’…(!)… So, I thought I’d check back a bit and see what goes on.

Especially after the 2004 Olympics every time I was back I felt ‘like a fly in a glass of milk’ as we say in Greek, like I do not fit in. It was as if they’d all undergone mass hypnosis; everything was new, shiny, posh and expensive; credit cards arriving in the mail without having applied for one; people, euphoric and dull-eyed, going on constant shopping sprees. I felt like I was in a twilight zone surrounded by consumerist zombies!

When I went back  a few weeks later, two things happened: a. the country was not in ruins as I was led to believe: people were out shopping and had food on their table, public transport was regular, water and electricity were still there, as were public hospitals (none of which is the same nowadays). But something was brewing, brooding even. Which leads us to b. something was different… I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it, but something was a-changing.

The proof came in May 2011 and the infamous ‘indignation’ or ‘occupy the squares’ movement. I was there from the very first day, and although it was very amateuristic and problematic in various levels (and has been widely exploited for political gain) still, it was a strong, life-changing experience for most of us involved. I had never before (except from history books) seen Greeks come together in such ways and with such plurality and diversity. God-fearing pensioners working alongside young budding anarchists; apolitical housewives and disillusioned political-party members, all stepping out and taking initiative, organising, sharing openly their feelings and their food, showing solidarity, standing hand-in-hand to face the teargas and police brutality… The zombies had a heart!

The next cornerstone came in August 2011 when I was fortunate enough to be part of the Greek delegation for the first Nyeleni Forum on European Food Sovereignty. That was it for me. I decided to stay. And help. With all my strength. Since then, I dedicated myself and all my resources to bringing about change -and what a ride it’s been! I can honestly say that I have never before worked as hard and with such persistence -even when I was working for a paycheck! Of course that meant many sacrifices on my part and a complete change of lifestyle as I immersed myself in the gift economy and found out how it is to have your needs met without money being the first resort.

Since then I got involved with and instigated the creation of various groups, collectives, anti-privatisation initiatives etc. In October 2011 I co-organised the first Greek meeting on Food Sovereignty. In 2014 I organised the Permaculture Caravan -roaming the country for six weeks with Permaculturist Peter Cow spreading the ideas of autonomy and self sustainability and creating a new hype for Permaculture around the country. I joined ‘Neighbourhoods In Action’ -a group of eco-activists that managed to get elected in local government council of Thessaloniki -and played an important role in our municipality signing the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact for the creation of Food Policy Councils. I am currently trying to put our municipality in the European Network for Cities for Agroecology, and I am the focal point for Greece -ie contact person, for the European Food Sovereignty Movement and URGENCI -the Community Supported Agriculture Movement.

I am interested in creating a new agricultural production model, focusing on agroecology and self-sufficiency and I believe we need to pursue the transition to a new way of thinking and living. We live in a time of confluence where the old and the new are still co-existing and that creates a very challenging atmosphere, so people need support, tools and skills to make it through.

We need to get involved with things like Community Supported Agriculture (CSA); sharing risks, responsibilities and rewards between growers and eaters of food, creating a new concept of human relationships, and new kinds of communities. Out of the ten million inhabitants of Greece almost half live in the area around Athens and one in Thessaloniki. There are whole regions -especially in the mountainous parts of the country, filled with ghost towns. The cities are dying due to the continuous austerity packs that suffocate entrepreneurship and chances of finding work. We need to revive rural areas by promoting small-scale agriculture, empowering farmers and inspiring rural lifestyle, by combining traditions and technology, and promote an economy based on social solidarity and alternative currencies.

This is also, in its heart, a political issue: we need to emancipate ourselves as political beings, as citizens and as consumers and we need to create a new way for governing and caring for our societies and be responsible custodians of the abundance of nature for ourselves and all other species and for the generations to come.

*For my take on the crisis as a “virtual crisis” and what it means for our food, please watch my short speech during Solikon Berlin (The Solidarity Economy European Congress 2015) last year.

If you are unaware of what Food Sovereignty is all about you can watch this.

So if all of this sounds interesting, if you feel the urge to get involved, or if you have information and contacts that can help, please contact me to join forces :slight_smile:

To see what I am currently involved in and all the exciting things we are creating at present in Greece and around Europe, please follow this link

The production of this article was supported by Op3n Fellowships - an ongoing program for community contributors during May - November 2016.

Where to start?

Hello, @Jenny_Gkiougki , welcome to Edgeryders!

Food sovereignty sounds like a great concept. Many people in Edgeryders are sympathetic to anything that breaks dependencies. A few are deeply involved – @Darren , for example, has been a permaculturist for a long time, and @Matthias is spearheading a (small, for now) effort to bring back online coffee production in a village in Nepal through a “fair direct” trade scheme.

In your speech, you say that food sovereignty is about growing food rather than writing manifestos. But how does one really go about it? Growing basil plants on your balcony, fair enough. But what would be the second step? Some of the other activities you mention (Urban Food Policy Pact, European Network for Cities for Agroecology) are, after all, (local) government  activities.

In Edgeryders, we are considering getting our own space, and we would like to grow part of our own food. But that does not seem easy at all. Any tips?

Hi there @Alberto! Thanks for reading -and watching :slight_smile:

I’m glad the idea (and the movement) of Food Sovereignty is spreading! And I will grant you that becoming self sustainable and autonomous is no easy feet. On the other hand, everything is as simple or as hard as we make it out to be. In nature everything is connected and everything functions through viable, long-term, symbiotic relationships. In this new model of a new society based on solidarity, collaboration, and fairness we are trying to create and advocate, I really do not think that anything can be achieved without partnerships. Nothing in nature works alone, why should we? Hence concepts like CSA are strong representatives of this new type of communities we need to evolve into. It also stands to reason that no-one can know everything and have experience (let alone expertise) in every field; by combining forces with someone that knows how to farm we stand to gain lots more than if go at it on our own. So I would say find local farmers to source your food from and co-produce together.

Food Sovereignty and Agroecology are political matters at heart -hence the (obvious) connection with governments and policy makers -as you correctly pointed out. What ‘we the people’ fail to recognize is that ‘that’ (governors and policy-makers) should be us! We need to play a more active role where our livelihoods and our present and future are concerned! So we need to find ways (and where there isn’t one, create it) to push for changes in policy, in the way our affairs are run (and whom by). This is why pushing for the creation of Food Policy Councils is an idea I stand by, and this is why one of the main pillars of the FoodSov movement is related to this specific sector -ie political lobbying and advocacy. After all, the word ‘eco’ in greek means house, the place where one lives, and we can’t be proper (agro)ecologists without giving enough attention into how this house is run!

But FoodSov and Agroecology are also about being practical and hands-on, hence the phrase about growing food and not writing manifestos. 70% of the world’s food is produced -contrary to mass belief, by small farmers around the world. We are an active movement, we put food on our table every day, and that’s no small thing. We just need to realise the importance and value of that, and unite with our natural allies -e.g. the producers and bringers of our food and health (for as a wise farmer once said ‘we are not in the business of producing mere food! I like to say that what I do for a living is cultivate people’s health’).

A down-to-earth result that’s encouraging?

You being at this level of international networking, interfacing and broad level education, @Jenny_Gkiougki, is there something that you see very concrete happening from your work that is echoed in this bigger picture? For example, what makes you think this Food Policy Councils idea (great one by the way) can work practically and not just get lost in the political talk about agroecology?

I think perhaps there are other people more qualified by me to answer this: those involved in places where they have already set up such mechanisms like the people in the city of Corke and many others outside the EU borders. But if I were to give my personal opinion, as I said in the article I believe htat every action has a political meaning -picking up my fork, paying for whatever I decide to buy is done to fill my stomach, but without realising it much it is also a highly political action. Because with every bite and every buy I choose and I shape the world I want to live in.

The point is that ‘we the people’ finally decide to take action, to become involved and to gain for the first time ever our own sovereignty -at least when it comes to what food we consume.

Nothing is set. The future is what we make it. So it is up to us ‘the people’ to decide whether we want to continue living a life of subordinates, never resuimng our own responsibilities (which is actually much easier as there is always someone else to blame for our problems) or to finally ascend and take (our) matters into our own hands. Food policy councils are only as good, representative and successful as the people that comprise them…

News about the Nepalese coffee trade

@Jenny_Gkiougki, happy new year! I think you’ll love this example of an edgeryders supported small business just starting. The political meaning was clear for me when I read @Matthias being explicit on “globalization done right”. Have a look?

Political coffee …

Thank you for making the connection @Noemi ! I so far framed this project in economic terms (“economic empowerment” etc.) but now that you say it, and after reading about @Jenny_Gkiougki 's attitude above: yes it’s obviously also political. Coffee is actually a quite extreme product: depending on what coffee you buy, you might vote for extreme labour exploitation (as in: 0.81% of sales prices going to the farm workers, as I calculate in this post on our project blog). Or you might vote for viable small businesses and giving them an opportunity to invest and expand (while also sending their kids to school etc.).

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Food safety and Security

Dear Jenny Gkiougki, Appreciating your kind efforts which reflects the defination of food security too i.e. The final report of the 1996 World Food Summit states thatfood security “exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and foodpreferences for an active and healthy life”.