Organic farming is cool (when not in big scale) / Η βιολογική καλλιέργεια είναι κουλ (όταν δεν είναι μεγάλης κλίμακας)

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By , July 27, 2010

Huge cherry tomatoes on impressively strong plants coming from a relatively poor soil: Effective Microorganisms at work / Οι Ενεργοί Μικροοργανισμοί επί το έργον: τεράστια τοματίνια πάνω σε πολύ δυνατά φυτά, φυτεμένα σε ένα σχετικά φτωχό έδαφος

Last Sunday I visited an organic farm near Athens, Mali Veni. A beautiful space of about 20 acres, run by Christos Karapanos. The subject of the gathering was the use of Effective Microorganisms in agriculture (more on EM in the next post…). EM is a concoction of naturally produced, effective, beneficial and non-pathogenic microorganisms with broad application. Christos has been using them for a few months in irrigation and compost-making and he has seen very impressive results in his production. More robust and healthy plants, fewer pests, produce of bigger size, better quality and taste, longer preservation. One of the pioneers in organic agriculture in Greece, with twenty-year experience, Christos told us that, now that he is using the microorganisms it is more pleasant, more fun to be in the garden.

Organic fig trees and corn thrive amidst the eroded hills around Mali Veni / Βιολογικές συκιές και καλαμπόκια θριαμβεύουν εν μέσω έντονα διαβρωμένων λόφων στο Μαρκόπουλο Αττικής

I confirm! Despite the scorching heat of the summer afternoon, it was very enjoyable to walk around the land and admire a vigorous, chemical-free, happy garden, to taste mouth-watering figs and grapes full of flesh and aroma. As I was watching laid-back and confident Christos walking around his garden and picking cucumbers and tomatoes while giving us a tour, it was obvious to me how agriculture could be a more attractive activity for young people if it moved away from the conventional ways. Especially in hard times like this… when it is still a matter of choice and not of necessity…

Την περασμένη Κυριακή επισκέφθηκα ένα βιολογικό αγρόκτημα στο Μαρκόπουλο Αττικής, το Μάλι Βένι (που στα αρβανίτικα σημαίνει Το Βουνό με τα Κέδρα). Μια πανέμορφη έκταση ογδόντα περίπου στρεμάτων υπό τη διαχείριση του Χρήστου Καραπάνου. Η συγκέντρωση έγινε με σκοπό μία παρουσίαση των Ενεργών Μικροοργανισμών και των χρήσεών τους στη γεωργία (θα αναφερθούμε στους ΕΜ στο επόμενο άρθρο…). Οι Ενεργοί Μικροοργανισμοί είναι ένα φυσικά συντιθέμενο μείγμα ωφέλιμων, μη παθογενών μικροοργανισμών που βρίσκονται ελεύθεροι στη φύση και έχουν ευρεία εφαρμογή σε πολλούς τομείς της ανθρώπινης δραστηριότητας. Ο Χρήστος τους χρησιμοποιεί εδώ και μερικούς μήνες ως εδαφοβελτιωτικό μέσω της άρδευσης και της κομποστοποίησης και έχει δει εντυπωσιακά αποτελέσματα. Πιο εύρωστα και υγιή φυτά, λιγότερα βλαβερά έντομα, προϊόντα μεγαλύτερου μεγέθους, καλύτερης ποιότητας και γεύσης, μεγαλύτερη διατηρησιμότητα. Ένας από τους πρωτοπόρους της βιολογικής καλλιέργειας, με είκοσι χρόνια εμπειρία, ο Χρήστος μοιράστηκε μαζί μας τις παρατηρήσεις του από τη χρήση των ΕΜ και σχολίασε ότι η δουλειά έχει γίνει πιο ευχάριστη στο αγρόκτημα.

Christos is offering us his delicious grapes / Ο Χρήστος μας προσφέρει από τα εξαιρετικά του σταφύλια

Και καταλαβαίνω γιατί! Παρά τον καυτό ήλιο του μεσημεριού, ήταν σκέτη απόλαυση η βόλτα μας στον υγιή και χαρούμενο αυτόν κήπο, απαλλαγμένο από χημικά, γεμάτο με τα πιο εύγευστα, σαρκώδη και μυρωδάτα σύκα και σταφύλια. Όσο παρατηρούσα τον Χρήστο, χαλαρό και καλοδιάθετο να μας ξεναγεί στο αγρόκτημα, μαζεύοντας στο πέρασμά του ατζούρια και ντομάτες, σκεφτόμουν πόσο πιο ελκυστική θα ήταν η γεωργία ως απασχόληση για τους νέους ανθρώπους αν αποδεσμευόταν από τις συμβατικές μεθόδους. Ειδικά στους δύσκολους καιρούς που διανύουμε… όσο ακόμα μπορεί να αποτελέσει επιλογή και όχι αναγκαιότητα…

Food of the Past: Nourishment of the Future

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By , July 17, 2010

A group of bright American students came to Paros and made a video documentary about the challenges of agricultural production on the island and the impact (as well as the potential benefit) of tourism on it.

During the video shooting
It is interesting how obvious the issues of modern agriculture become in the video:

  • the prices of products do not reflect their real value and are determined by anybody else but the procuder;
  • it has become really costly, almost prohibitive to produce meat, which is an activity heavily dependent on oil;
  • bartering used to be a common way of transaction between producers;
  • products like barley have lost their value as a commodity (despite their nutritional value…);
  • super markets have raped the local farming economy, although the quality of the local farmers’ produce is much much better;
  • tourism has changed the face of the islanders, modified their professional choices, changed their ethics, changed the way they interact with the environment;
  • Agriculture will no longer be a sustainable activity if it continues to be done in the conventional way;

Something has to be done and something can be done…

Watch the video about Agriculture in Paros on Vimeo

We are eagerly waiting for the second video produced by this team, where you can see Tao’s Center and hear more about permaculture and how it can help farmers make a more sustainable living.

Crisis, Responsibility and Permaculture

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By , July 12, 2010

An injection of positivism amidst a not-so-sunny summer, and a call for action

Midsummer in the Cyclades. Paros and Naxos are slowly receiving their share of tourists of the high season. The underlying financial crisis in Greece is reflected in the apprehensive faces of the inhabitants. Will tourists and vacationers be enough to support the dependent economy of the islands for yet another year?

Greek or not, tourist, vacationer, employer or employee, we are all spectators, victims and instigators of a deep crisis in the whole planet; an unprecedented social and environmental crisis that we can no longer hide from. This is a fact, we do not need more research, we do not need more evidence, more data and further analysis. Our old ways and institutions have failed to ensure us security, prosperity and happiness. We are plundering our children’s future and we are making this planet a hostile place to live. We can no longer sit back and do nothing, hoping or even believing (!) that we will escape the impact of this plight. We have to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children. We have to change. Before it is too late. The time of action is now and the place is here.

But what kind of action? There are many ways to act (or react, thinking that we are acting…), suggested by media, political parties, gurus and all kinds of “leaders”, even the EU or the IMF have some ideas on the subject… What determines right from wrong action?

Right action makes us feel good without leaving much space to doubt; it gives us a sense of empowerment; we no longer feel isolated and vulnerable victims of an unjust system but active contributors to our future; we feel connected with other people, supportive of and supported by them; we reduce anxiety, stress, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness; right action is also simple action that can start in our own backyard!

I choose Permaculture as my companion to simple, immediate, right action! And I am not alone, there are hundreds of thousands  practicing permaculture in every corner of the world, trying to undo what we have done so far to the planet and to our societies. Because we can still undo the damage we have done.

Permaculture is a design system for living, sustainable living. It encompasses all aspects of our life, habitat, energy, other resources, food production, resilience, human cooperation and symbiosis among all living things on the earth. It is not a utopia or merely a philosophy. It is not a new belief or another “new age” fabrication. It is an interdisciplinary applied design science that combines ancient with modern scientific knowledge and technology in order to manifest its solid ethical basis: care of the earth, care of people, setting limits to consumption and fair share of the surplus.

Permaculture observes and imitates natural ecosystems, like the forest ecosystem, and builds beneficial relationships between people, plants, animals, soil, water and other resources with final aim to provide for all our material and non-material needs, while rehabilitating the land we use and caring for all the natural assemblies and their inhabitants.

The permaculture principles are universal and can be applied in any climate and any kind of human habitat, from the snow-clad Austrian Alps to the desert of the Dead Sea, from the rice fields of tropical Bali to the community gardens of New York; nevertheless, the methods and techniques change in each case respecting the specificities of environment and culture.

And how about our neighbourhood, the Cyclades? Permaculture can help us stop the advance of desertification, restore degraded lands, stabilize and even enrich water reserves, guide us to produce healthy food for our families, use our resources wisely, reduce energy consumption, render agriculture a healthy and attractive activity producing quality food; it can help us build strong resilient communities capable of concretely helping their members, healthy and productive local economies not dependent solely on tourism, while inviting more of the kind of visitors who look for a better quality of life and vacation, who seek more than sea and sun and Greek folklore. So, here is your solution to the economic downturn, in case you were wondering how “crisis” connects to “permaculture”!

It is also essential that permaculture does not entail huge amounts of money invested in green technologies or expensive solutions, although these can be used if they are accessible and they should be considered if they are to benefit entire communities. In an individual basis, it is practiced step by step, according to our financial capabilities and it actually saves us money and resources, and even labour!

It may all sound too theoretical, vague, optimistic, or even naive, but with the next series of articles I plan to give you concrete examples of how permaculture works and what it has achieved throughout the world. I would also like to suggest you ways of how to practice sustainable living in your little piece of arid land in the Aegean, how to mix the stunning blue colour of the Cyclades with hearty doses of green, the green of trees and hope for a brighter future for the backwater of Europe.

You can start right away by collecting all the seeds from the fruits and vegetables you eat, from all the plants in your garden or out your door. We will be happy to receive your collected seeds at Tao’s Center, near Ambelas, where we are running a permaculture project, chat with you about permaculture and explain you what we can do with them. Or check back to the website for news, tips and upcoming events.

This article is inspired by (and shamelessly includes bites from) Bill Mollison’s Manual of Permaculture, Tagari Publications, by my distinguished Permaculture teachers Bill Mollison, Geoff Lawton and Norman vant Hoff and by all the amazing permaculturists I met during my travels in Asia and Australia.

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