This country item is part of the Overview of Community Supported Agriculture in Europe, edited in 2016 by the European CSA Research group.
- Author: Jenny Gkiougki, was a business consultant who returned to Greece at the time of crisis to participate in the process of change in the country. She is an activist on many fronts ranging from social justice to ethical and solidarity economy. She is a social entrepreneurship advisor and mentor on a voluntary basis. Her main focus is on Food Sovereignty and all things related, as she strongly believes this to be the way out of the present situation. In 2011 she co-organised the Greek Conference on Food Sovereignty and in 2014 the Permaculture Caravan. She is part of Neighbourhoods In Action, a group of activists – who focus mainly on ecology and the environment, human and urban rights, social and ethical business. – that fielded candidates in the local government elections for the municipality of Thessaloniki (1 million inhabitants, the second largest city of Greece), and won one seat on the Local Council. In the last two years, she has initiated the creation of two CSA projects.
- Native name for CSA: The direct translation of ‘Community Supported Agriculture’ into Greek is ‘Κοινοτικά Υποστηριζόμενη Γεωργία’ but because the Greek language contextual meaning the first word ‘community’ would be understood as Agriculture Supported by the European Economic Community (EEC) and – although this entity has been replaced by the EU – for people unaware of the idea of CSA, ‘Κοινότητα’ could be seen to refer to the EU. Hence, some use Κοινωνικά Υποστηριζόμενη Γεωργία (Socially Supported Agriculture) instead, which has the same acronym (ΚΥΓ). The acronym, ΚΥΓ, is pronounced kiy with ‘y’ as in ‘yacht’. The initials ΚΥΓ have been used since the 1980s and can be found in literature and research papers to this day. People tend to also use the English acronym CSA, whilst most of the initiatives also put ‘(CSA)’ – in Latin letters –next to their names. In Summer 2015, we introduced the term ΚΥΓεω – just adding an extra syllable to the existing one, as ΚΥΓ does not roll easily off the tongue. The added syllable made ΚΥΓεω (kiyeo – with ‘y’ as in ‘yacht’) is easier to pronounce, and is now used extensively. One initiative uses the term ΚΟΣΑΠ (KOSAP) Κοινωνικά Στηριζόμενη Αγροτική Παραγωγή (Socially Backed Agricultural Production). Another project prefers the name Αλληλέγγυα Αγροτική Οικονομία (Solidarity Agricultural Economy). During the first Hellenic CSA meeting (27–28 October 2015) it became clear that there is no consensus with regards to the name and different projects use different terms.
Although projects vary greatly in structure and form, they seem to share the ideals of:
- The production of quality food
- Produced in an agroecological way
- A direct relationship between producer and consumer
- Volunteer culture.
Greece covers an area of 132,000km2. Its topography is characterised by big mountain ranges and it boasts one of the longest coastlines (15,000km) and more than 2,500 islands. Almost 20% of its land falls under the protection of Natura2000. Population density is 82 people per km2. Of its almost 11 million inhabitants, 5 million are under the age of 30 and 2.5 million are over 60 years old. Geographically speaking, they are dispersed as follows: almost 4 million live in the greater area of Athens and 1 million in Thessaloniki. 70% live in cities and the rest in villages and towns of under 50,000 inhabitants.
The effects of the economic crisis (loss of more than 26% of GDP in 5 years) are harsh as depicted in table GR2 where a comparison is made between the current situation and that of the year just prior to the country’s loss of sovereignty and inclusion in the IMF.
Other important numbers in understanding the socio-economic situation in Greece are:
- The official unemployment rate is 26% and youth unemployment is over 50% (real figures are higher).
- Living below the poverty line (annual salary of €4,000): 36% – if we remove the small benefits some groups get, this number rises to 52%.
- Six out of ten pensioners receive less than €700 a month; 45% of pensions are below the poverty line (changes to the health benefits also means they have to pay much more for medical care and also for medicine).
- The breakdown of the workforce (11 million) is shown in chart GR3.
- 350,000 homes have no member of the family in work
- Average net salary full-time: €815 per month; part-time: €346 per month
- 7 out of 10 jobs have ‘flexible employment’ status
- ‘Capital Controls’ still in effect since end of June 2015
- Suicide rates before the crisis were around 300 per year. For the last five years the collective official number is 5,000 whilst the real numbers could be in excess of 15,000 (many suicides are not recorded as such, for religious and social reasons and also due to the State’s constant endeavour to paint a brighter picture – like the ban on news of suicide in the media).
The intensity of the economic crisis is also illustrated by the following figures: the Gross Domestic Product fell from 242 bn€ in 2008 to 177.6bn€ in 2014. The GDP per capita has dropped from 21.194€ to 16.250€, and the Net Disposable Income from 17.854€ to 13.206€.
The latest ‘post-referendum’ austerity pack means that farmers are expected to pre-pay 55% of the following year’s tax; to pay tax rates and insurance contributions equal to those of all other professions; and that tax on ‘farming fuel’ will surge from €66 to €330 per ton.
According to the most recent data released by Eurostat, Greece’s utilised agricultural area (2.8% of EU total) has seen a rise of 22.4% in the decade from 2003 to 2013. The average area per holding has risen from 4.8 to 6.8 hectares in this period but the number of holdings has seen a 14% fall and is currently at 709,500 individual holdings with ‘big farmers’ holding roughly 40% of arable land. 4% of agriculture is organic, as opposed to 0.4% in 1998. Of this, almost 60% is olive groves. Agriculture uses up 86% of the country’s water resources.
Historically speaking, the end of the feudal system (‘τσιφλίκια’ – tsiflikia), the population exchange and the influx of refugees in 1922 led to a redistribution of land and the disintegration of traditional, large farmsteads. Today, most farmers do not live on a farm, but rather in the village, and their plots are often – but not always – nearby.
This piece of land has sentimental and social value and is seen as the farm family’s efforts to secure social reproduction and preserve agricultural identity, of which the land is the symbol (Koutsou et al.). So plots pass from generation to generation rather than being sold off. Thus, land does not always belong to the person farming it; old folk in the countryside tend it on behalf of their city-dwelling offspring, and women inherit it from deceased fathers or husbands.
Inclusion in the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) subsidy system means that in some cases, in order to meet the qualification criteria, farmers cede their land to wives, children or daughters-in-law, creating new holdings that exist only on paper, or the owner gets the subsidy and the caretaker gets the land rent-free. So, the real number of farms is 14% to 36% less than the registered official data.
Another characteristic is the ‘present-absent’ farmers (Koutsou et al.) meaning that it is very common to see farmers who have more than one occupation, and where farming is not necessarily the biggest source of income (pluri-activity); many living and working in cities visit their fields sporadically (remote distance farming). Although on paper there seems to be a ‘feminisation’ of agriculture, a very limited number of farms are actually run by women, and a significant proportion of farm heads are pensioners. Age breakdown of Greek farmers: <35 5.2%, 35–44 14.7%, 45–54 23.9%, 55–64 24.9%, >65 31.3%.
History of CSA
There are 7 known CSA initiatives. The first CSA started in 1995, the rest since 2010.
There is no national umbrella organisation for CSA as of now. According to the CSA Census and data collected in other ways, the estimation is around 600 weekly shares. If a share feeds 2–4 individuals then, collectively, we are talking about 1,200–2,400 eaters.
In the mid 1990s, organic production began to take shape, mainly as an answer to the demand for clean quality food, and it was then that bio-farmers started realising the constraints the marketplace was creating for them. There are no farmers’ markets in Greece, only street markets where most vendors are not the producer but rather retailers. The struggle to create organic street markets started together with an investigation into alternative distribution channels, but with limited results for a multitude of reasons – bureaucracy, rigid legal and tax frameworks, the failed example of agricultural coops, to name but a few.
Since 2009 and the advent of the crisis, we have seen a surge of citizens’ groups trying to tackle food in different ways, and since then we have seen box-schemes, collective-buying groups, no-intermediaries markets, social solidarity grocery stores, non-profit supermarkets, and of course CSAs all appear. People are becoming more aware and conscious of issues relating to their food, health and the economy. The continued austerity is creating a fertile ground for such endeavours to continue and flourish, even though, it has to be noted, the legal and tax framework contexts are hostile, and we need to push for big changes and the creation of alternative frameworks.
When talking to people who are unaware of the idea of CSA, it is very difficult to get them to understand the concept and to steer away from concepts like ‘price per kilo’. Even those who participate in such projects realise they still have a long way to go, compared with examples from other European realities. And it seems that every group has their own particular interpretation. But, in today’s Greece, where the social and economic web was dismantled so rapidly and viciously, we cannot expect to see a copy of what we would see anywhere else. The elements that seem to be universal in Greek CSAs are:
- A direct partnership between a network of consumers and one producer or a network of producers
- An informal, non-legally binding agreement between the two parties
- The production of quality food in sustainable, agroecological ways
- The land belongs to the farmer who is the one responsible for agricultural decisions
- Very low levels of consumer participation
- Most participants are not politically motivated
- Most projects count on the work of a very small number of volunteers, without whom the project could not survive.
Though most cases seem to be a box-scheme type of operation (we call them baskets ‘καλάθια’), there is evidence of risk sharing practices – either by accepting to pay a slightly higher price for a period of time to compensate for the producer’s bad harvest, helping out financially in times of crisis, or eating only spinach and greens for weeks, due to bad weather, but very little towards sharing of responsibilities.
Are there different types of CSA in Greece?
All projects are different from one another. To explain this, we can present a few specific cases.
Just at the outskirts of Thessaloniki, there is a proper farm with a farmhouse, stables and 1.5ha of land that produces wheat, vegetables and some dairy products. Since 1995, the farmers wanted to run it under the CSA principles. Over this period they have managed to create a pool of families that are in touch with the farm and visit it to buy their food but also to take part in other activities like (therapeutic) horseback riding, workshops or a lazy stroll around the place on a Sunday morning. There is no regular assembly, no written contract between parties, nor is it obligatory to order food every week.
There is the possibility of picking/harvesting your own fruit and vegetables from the gardens, helping out with chores and taking part in open days and festivities on the farm. Some of the consumers have developed a closer relationship with the farming couple and help out financially or manually if and when they can. They do not, however, take part in major decision-making, and the running of the place, organisation of crops etc. is the sole responsibility of the farmer.
In 2010, a group of concerned citizens under the name Agronauts (Αγροναύτες) started presentations and open discussions in Athens to inform people about the idea of CSA –calling it Community Backed Agricultural Production – and they were soon able to create a network of consumers in different neighbourhoods who were willing to buy direct from producers. This network now feeds around 300 families a week, supplied by two main producers and a further two on an occasional basis. There are now seven delivery points in Athens, and individual consumers have to pick up their share on a specific day and time. Consumers do not have a say in what they buy, rather they agree to having a basket delivered to them which will contain roughly 8+ kilos of 7–10 different seasonal varieties produced in an agroecological way for the cost of €10. Agronauts acts as a mediator between the two parties and helps by organising a lot of the work and by doing presentations and promotions of this model, strictly on a voluntary basis. People are encouraged to pre-pay on a monthly or yearly basis but it is still possible to pay by the week.
The people who do the delivery do not handle money, and only deliver pre-paid orders. The Agronauts promote the idea of self-organisation of drop-off points and require at least twenty families in an area to come together before starting deliveries, but will include an additional drop-off point with only five families if it’s in the vicinity of an existing one.
This is the only group that has set up a list of rules that can be found on their very informative website, although here too there are no written agreements of any sort. People are also encouraged to visit the farmers and have a look at how their food is being produced, as the network really wants to promote the cultivation of closer relationships between producers and consumers. The farmer with the biggest involvement in the network has a plot of land of around 3ha that produces organic vegetables. He also runs an ecological school to pass on some of his and others’ knowledge and skills to aspiring new farmers. Every year they organise a festival there, and many members attend. Legally speaking there is no signed contract, consumers can ask for a receipt, and most farmers are in the position to issue one; but the standard practice is that money is seen as a donation to the farm and subsequently the farmer gifts some vegetables to the donors. Solidarity and risk sharing have been demonstrated, as consumers will take a smaller basket when produce supplies are low, or accept fewer varieties and a lower volume when the harvest is bad.
Further North, close to Thessaloniki, a young couple of new farmers have a plot of land (0.3ha) that is a CSA. During a few meetings, they were given information and literature to study, and got help with finding the twenty-five families that would take part. The couple created an on-line questionnaire that was distributed to the prospective members and was used as a tool for price setting and choosing the crops. There was no signed agreement between the parties.
The project ran successfully for the 2014 Summer–Autumn season with two weekly deliveries of €5 and €10 baskets (half and full share) with the farmers doing all the delivery work unaided by the consumers. This put a big strain on the producers and led them to rethink their strategy: although there was a waiting list they put the project on hold. It is due to be revived this season (Spring 2016) with thirty member families but different levels of participation, and possibly an increase in prices.
In the area of Korinth, 80km south of Athens, we can find The Garden of Korinth (Περιβόλι Κορίνθου – Perivoli Korinthou) a group of young and old, small-scale, low-impact farmers (fifteen at present) who created an informal association in 2011. It is aimed to help each other out in solidarity with labour and distribution issues. They have fruit trees, orchards, olive groves and vegetables and the size of their fields varies from case to case. Some of the young farmers rent the land they are cultivating. In 2013, they started an e-ordering system, and they also introduced the idea of the basket. They now cater for thirty families in Athens with weekly home deliveries handled by a third party for a small fee which the consumers agree to pay. Apart from their own, they also make produce from other farmers available, but use a colour coding system to denote items that are not seasonal (and hence with a bigger eco-footprint). There is no formal contract and consumers are offered different payment possibilities with 50% discount for collection from the farm and self-harvesting options and 60% if they commit to going three to four times a year to work in the fields to help out. Sometimes the possibility for collective ordering is offered for things that are not produced by them, for example legumes. Their hope is to create a “fully autonomous consumers’ network” that would play a more active role; but at present consumer involvement is very low. They believe there is great need for consumer education and awareness-raising and try to play their part in this. Recently they also started doing a little exporting of organic fruit and veg to Europe.
A group of university students in Heraklion, Crete, concerned with producers’ hardships, undistributed food and food waste, created Weeds (Ζιζάνια –Zizania) in 2011. Weeds is based on the Agronaut model. A team of volunteers organises all aspects of ordering and deliveries at the practical level, but there is no commitment on the part of the consumers, and no written contract. Consumers are given the option between a set basket and an open order. Orders are placed online via an application they created, and are willing to share with anyone who is interested. Products come from sixteen farmers and include dairy products and meat; this does not include horticulture. There are three drop-off points and about 20–25 baskets are delivered on a weekly basis. Although on their blog the acronym CSA features next to their name, they do say that they are not a full CSA yet, but rather are on the way to becoming one. This project has an assembly that comes together twice or four times a month to decide on all major issues.
Production, certification and distribution
All projects’ steer clear of the use of chemical inputs and most are certified organic. 99% of them need to use other distribution channels to make ends meet, the main one being (organic) street markets, followed by eco-festivals, no intermediaries markets, catering, organic/ solidarity/social shops and restaurants. Only a few are exporting small amounts.
All CSAs in Greece are currently operating informally without any legal status. During the Greek CSA meeting in October 2015, an accountant and a lawyer participated to address this issue. The conclusion was that there is no legal form at present that could be beneficial to such endeavours. We are waiting for the new bill on agricultural coops (due this summer) to see if it will be helpful. This is a major drawback as it hinders the expansion of existing teams and prohibits the creation of new ones. It also makes it almost impossible to have other types of CSA such as consumer-owned or -rented land CSAs.
Interaction with public bodies
Understandably, and especially due to the above-mentioned legislative gap, there is little interaction between CSAs and public bodies. Neighbourhoods In Action, a group of activists that was elected as a member of the Thessaloniki Local Government Council in 2014, made a formal proposal to the municipality regarding the issues of CSA, food policy councils and farmers’ markets which was received with great interest. Subsequently, Thessaloniki is one of the 116 cities that signed the Milan Urban Food Policy Act on 15 October 2015. This leads us to believe that some greater collaboration and interaction will be possible in the near future.
It goes without saying that all farmers operate using agroecological principles. Most of them do not just do conventional organic farming but go a step further and use alternative agriculture practices like permaculture, biodynamics, homodynamic, no-till and natural farming principles. They use heirloom, traditional varieties of seeds and many try to breed their own. Most are small-scale and non-intensive farmers who share a special bond with nature and it shows in their work.
The existing projects seem to be doing better every year, and most are keen on coming closer to the CSA principles of solidarity and sharing of risk, responsibility and reward.
CSA’s future in Greece looks very promising. Despite the uncertainty around legal forms and related issues, the continued harsh austerity is forcing both consumers and producers to look for solutions. Having said that, it is clear that much effort will need to be placed on educating consumers, i.e. citizens, in more participatory models of sourcing their food. Farmers, on the other hand, will need training and new skills when it comes to being CSA farmers.
The matter of mutual trust and commitment will have to be addressed. Consumers find it hard to trust uncertified bio-farmers. Farmers feel uneasy with the idea of pre-payment, thinking that it will create pressure and unreasonable demands from the consumer. This has been said to me by farmers but is also documented (Partalidou).
Clearly this means that emphasis has to be placed not just on promoting the CSA model, but on clearly stating the benefits for each side and exploring them to create new types of relationships.
Providing aspiring CSAs with a range of tools can prove critical to their success; from CSA management (things like costing, and calculation of number of shares, or achieving transparency) to interpersonal relations, participatory systems, conflict resolution etc.
Experience-sharing and exchange of know-how will be key factors if CSA is to scale up in Greece. We also foresee greater collaboration between existing CSA groups, and with other types of Alternative Food Systems. The way forward is Food Sovereignty.
Unemployment records: http://www.zougla.gr/greece/article/stixia-sok-gia-tin-anergiastin-elada-1256421
General statistics and demographics: http://www.statistics.gr/el/home
Situation in Greek Agriculture: http://www.bankofgreece.gr/BoGDocuments/Η%20
Eurostat#newsrelease 206/2015 – 26 November 2015, Farm Structure Survey 2013
Koutsou, Stavriani, Maria Partalidou and Michael Petrou (2011) ‘Present or Absent Heads? A Contemporary Reading of Family Farming in Greece’ Sociologia Ruralis Vol.51, No.4, October 2011. European Society for Rural Sociology, Blackwell Publishing.
Partalidou, Maria (2015) ‘Food miles and future scenario for local food systems in a
peri-urban area in Greece’ Outlook on Agriculture Vol.44, No.2, 2015, pp. 1-00 dol: