As Greeks struggle to adapt to a protracted period of harsh austerity, new initiatives have emerged that break with existing economic and social practices and offer new models of organizing the way we provide for and take care of our selves. One of the most interesting of these initiatives comes from the tradition of community-shared agriculture (CSA), in which individuals pre-book a share of the weekly harvest of small farmers. Although CSA’s have existed in Japan, North America and Western Europe for decades, Gine Agrotis (Become a Farmer!), which began operating in Greece in March 2012, is something new for Greece.
The idea behind Gine Agrotis is relatively simple. Register with the platform and book a field on one of the certified organic farms that belong to the service’s network. You decide how much land to reserve; there are two-, three- and four-person packages available, at a cost ranging from €14.20 to €20.90 per week. In contrast to many other CSAs, you also decide what vegetables you want “your” farmer to plant for you, selecting from a list of vegetables that can be seasonally grown. You prepay for a year’s worth of the harvest from your plot. About 30 to 90 days after the agreement has been made, your first weekly shipments of the vegetables from your plot start being delivered to your home or office.
The initiative is based on an innovative and disruptive business model that leverages the potential of a social networking platform to connect local farmers, in large part young farmers, directly with consumers. Cutting out the middlemen means better prices for both consumer and farmer. Farmers are freed from distribution concerns and associated costs (they also benefit from lower fees for inspection that Gine Agrotis has secured for them in the context of the QWays ISO Certification system for organic farming, to which all the network’s farmers are committed to applying.) Subscribers are guaranteed organically grown food that is fresher than what they would probably find anywhere in the city and at lower cost.
As Gine Agrotis suggests, food is political. What and how we eat reflects positions we have taken on a range of social, health and environmental issues. In this light “becoming a farmer” can usher in other changes in the way its subscribers live. One involves trading in winter strawberries and fall asparagus for local seasonal produce with a decidedly smaller carbon footprint. The platform also ties its urban consumers more directly to the process by which their food is grown. Subscribers can visit their fields and receive regular posts with photos showing the progress of the crops in their field (apparently there’s also an idea of providing live video streaming from the field).
Gine Agrotis was founded by Dimitris Koutsolioutsos, a 26-year-old graduate of the Athens University of Economics and Business and son of the businessman who started the enormously successful Greek-based international luxury goods manufacturer, Folie-Folie. Koutsolioutsos rightly sees this initiative as an attempt to “break the market”, and a way to offer “a better quality of life to the city’s residents.”
Healthful eating is naturally part of this better quality of living. I am fairly certain that most subscribers wind up eating a greater quantity of fresh vegetables as part of their diet. And at times, such as those occasioned by a bumper crop of zucchini, in ever more creative ways.