“The land is there,” he said. “All you need is your hands.”
This is how one Greek citizen explained the importance of agriculture in times of crisis. After a year of unemployment, he decided to stop waiting for the government to fix the situation, get his own hands dirty and start following an agronomy course for aspiring farmers. “If this machine needs lubrication, we should do it ourselves.”
He is not alone in his thoughts – one Farm School in Thessaloniki has seen applications triple in the past years, and the students come from an ever larger range of backgrounds – including holders of MBAs and senior positions in large companies. Because of the continuing uncertainty around the future, many people also try to hedge against future job loss by learning what to do with that piece of land they inherited from their grandparents that has lain fallow since their families moved into the cities in the post-WWII economic boom – reversing the great shift from an agricultural to an industry- and service-oriented country somewhat, as people start moving back into the countryside.
However, the head of the school is also worried about those that intend to shift their life completely without start-up capital and only a vague understanding about the 365-days-a-year commitment they are jumping into. “”I’m expecting about 1% of them to make it,” he said.
While some might struggle to make the shift back toward an agrarian lifestyle, others who never left it barely feel the impacts of the crisis, as this beautifully written blog post about an old Greek cheese maker exemplifies. Living a sustainable, simple life crafted around her farm, she has remained remarkably unaffected by the economic turmoil, as the blogger explains:
Thomae is not a “locavore” bucking the trend of corporate, global foodways; she is one of thousands of people in the region who live this way, and always have. Likewise, eating locally isn’t a movement to be embraced here; it’s a way of life that was never left behind. Policy makers, travel writers and others describe the economy of this remote region of Greece as “peasant-based.” I prefer to call it “human-scale,” “rooted” and “durable,” for it is this very way of living—one that is based in tradition, one that is modest in scale, but rich in flavor and experience, one that is handmade, one that is truly local—that has allowed Thomae and our neighbors a certain sense of security and well-being, even as the country is starved by austerity, even as it teeters on the brink of default.
As I am delving into more research about sustainable consumption patterns this morning, I can’t help but wonder – have we underestimated this age-of-yore lifestyle of our grandparents and great-grandparents, who seemed to have less possessions, but potentially also less problems?