GROW grows its grassroots in Greece

A vibrant crowd of farmers, growers, food communities and rural development agencies gathered in Greece last week, for this year’s European Rural Sustainability Gathering. GROW team members Oliver Moore, Nikos Vrantsis and myself attended this inspiring event which was organised by Forum Synergies. Forum Synergies is an international network bringing together citizens and associations engaged in local sustainable practices throughout Europe. On the ground, support was provided by Greek grassroots initiatives.

Seventy participants from eighteen European countries joined this year’s gathering to discuss issues related to the social economy, farmer cooperatives and bottom up initiatives and networks in Greece’s rural areas.

What was most exciting about this engaging and dynamic event was how civil society at its best was on display, forging solutions in the face of multiple crises.

Even as access to funding and support becomes more and more difficult, we saw how — especially in Greece where the need is great — collective investment, networked ecosystems and commons management are on the rise.

It was also exciting to experience what was a variety of actors spending time with each other, with all the different styles, emphases and approaches these disparate groups can have. Local authorities, researchers, farmers, agencies, activists can all have different perspectives and aims — this gathering in Karditsa gave them an opportunity to listen to and learn from each other.

Differences, of course, emerged on topics such as the depth of social inclusion and trust in social economy approaches, or the lack of joined up thinking in networked approaches.

Faced with its own specific deep-seated, both chronic and acute crises, the Greek society in particular is attempting to socialise ideas and possibilities.

GROW participated in what was called the marketplace of initiatives, where people heard about different projects, organisations, networks and communities. There, I presented the project’s wider aims, and answered practical questions on collaborative sensing.

I also conducted a demonstration on soil sensing, while Nikos Vrantsis interviewed participants such as Sylvia Kay (Transition International, Netherlands), Vanessa Halhead (Scottish Rural Parliament, UK), Eihmin Callahan (Birr Community Growery, Ireland), Titus Banner (Kulturland, Germany), Popi Sourmaidou (Ergani Centre for the support of employment and entrepreneurship of women, Greece) and Maria Partalidou (School of Agriculture at the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki)

With a number of agroecological and regenerative farming and growing initiatives at the event, as well as leading edge civil society organisations more generally, it was a great opportunity for GROW to showcase what can be achieved when citizens come together to help solve common problems.

It’s worth emphasising that in Greece and elsewhere, there is a lack of relevant data in a whole range of areas of environmental monitoring. So the potential of generating our own data using sensors to help solve problems collectively, resonated well with people.

Demonstrating the FlowerPower soil sensor that GROW plans to distribute to citizen scientists in Greece and all over Europe.

Following the gathering, the GROW team was invited by participants to their farms and gardens. So we went on the road, visiting five locations — all different from each other in many ways — over two days. From remote mountains and plains, into cities, over hundreds of kilometres, GROW spoke with people about their concerns, their ideas, their practices.

Our road trip included visits to The Trinity Farm — Greece’s first large biodynamic farm; the aromatic herb garden at Efkarpia Farm; the urban community garden of PerKa, the Aetheleon oregano farm, and an organic hemp field of Kannabio Coop. In each place, much more was going on than mere production.

Stay tuned for more…