Harnessing the power of CSA farms to bring access to diverse food while invigorating new age farmers, with Andros island as a case
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
The island of Andros is host to many families living far away from their native Aegean home, in Canada, the Unites States of America, Australia and the United Kingdom. A result of the Greek diaspora over the past century has created a unique strength for Greece as a nation. However, the nation itself has not been yet able to harness the benefits of having so many of its people abroad, learning, building and acquiring strong education. For us, we have come to visit and explore the island of Andros over the past 30 years and we have seen it transition from dirt roads, to concrete ones, from beautiful cared gardens to bare ones, from old island homes, to abandoned ones. The Greek economic climate has not fostered courage from the outside Greek communities to collaborate with local regions and help bring resilience to wicked problems. There does seem to still be a few of us, although far away, who have kept Andros close to our hearts, and who dream about an island that can flourish stronger than it did during the Comnenian dynasty rule (11th-12th century). We are a small group, but we have immersed ourselves in our studies, in our internships, in our travels and work to come up with a grand idea to utilize the strength of the island’s natural resources in a way to regenerate the prosperity that island once knew. The work that we have put together for this contest, has been a work in progress for years and we now have what we like to call, A Love Letter to Andros…we hope you enjoy it!
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
A short-video illustrating the natural resources on the island, spring water, agricultural terraces, fauna and flora, and the sun.
When one thinks of an island in Aegean region of Greece, the associations that quickly to come mind are the sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea and white-washed island homes built like a labyrinth across the land. The island of Andros takes those associations and breaks the mould to surprise a traveller with waterfalls and ponds running through terraces of green lush oak, willows, olive, lemon, orange, pistachio, avocado, mulberry, and Cypriot trees (to name a few). From the diversity of trees, the island is also host to a diversity of perennial herbs and flower bushes with the scent of rosemary, thyme and mountain tea perfuming the air. More than 200 bird species have been reported where they nest or fly by during migration season. The climate offers windy summers, breaking the heat found across the country, rain during the fall and winter and soft sun during the spring. This has brought the creation of marked walking paths across the island bringing a new wave of eco-travellers to enjoy the landscapes and lush wildlife. The gastronomic heritage on the island centers on a few selected dishes but has yet to finds its way to utilize the power of its diversity to the plate. Roasted chicken infused with herbs, tomato salads, sausage omelettes and bitter greens best illustrate the food scene with a an under-utilization of the foraging capacity of the land. Andros is known as a shipping island, where young men in early 20th century would bravely sail the seas on ship travelling across the world and bringing knowledge back to the island or jumping ship in North America and trying to find a life without poverty and with the hope of financial prosperity. During the 11th and 12th century, the island prospered through trade of lemons to Constantinople (now Istanbul), the silk industry with a production of luxurious textiles highly- sought after in European markets. The role of agriculture for the island can be seen on the numerous man-made terraces that are characteristics of the current topography. With the Greek diaspora, heavily reducing the population count of islanders during the 20th century, lands, homes and culinary traditions slowly became forgotten, reducing the evolution of the culture on the island and its progression into the 21st century. With the country of Greece entering an economic crash in 2008-2009, a severe ‘brain drain’ of young, smart and energetic Greeks left the country even more unstable and the island of Andros more unattended in ways to preserve its natural heritage of resources. The social dynamics on the island can be understood as challenging with segregated Albanians coming to cheaply work the land and poverty stricken islanders barely keeping their necks above water with the influx of taxes places by the European Union. The current hopes of the people of Andros is to bring back young Greeks from around the world, to help the island back on its feet and create projects that revolve around its resources: agricultural organic production, culinary heritage, water management and eco-tourism in order to safeguard the uniqueness of the island.
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
In 2020, the island of Andros faces challenges in all six themes. Currently, the agricultural desolation of the island has created: (1) a deprived soil quality, (2) a lack of professional farmers to regenerate the land, (4) an under-utilization of the lush natural resources the island offers; and (3) confusion among policy makers at the regional, national and continental levels as to how to mobilize youth in this complex and tricky world of sustainable food systems. The Dietary Diversity Score a proxy for nutrient adequacy of the diet of islanders fluctuates over the seasons, with a heavy consumption of carbohydrates available year round and with peaks and lows of micro-nutrient dense foods consistently consumed. The involvement of small-scale farmers in the local food economy is at an all-time low, with the average age of farmers hovering at 65 years +, agricultural lands shaped in terraces making it more complex to maintain land and a significant lack of gender equality fighting for a new food systems revolution. The men and women involved in food transformation on the island, mostly being home cooks and restaurant owners reminisce of the foods and tastes found during the mid 20th century and express their concern of a diminishing local population and diminishing financial resources allowing for food sovereignty and the conservation of culinary heritage. Although the country of Greece is host to the widest diversity of plant species on the European continent, there is only one main seed bank in the northern mainland city of Thessaloniki that actively scouts and reserves local seed varieties. The exchange of goods and services for Greeks among Greeks is faced with cheaper produce imported from the Netherlands and Germany forcing Greeks in an economic time of restriction to buy cheaper less sustainable food options. Policies at the regional, national and continental level do not favour enough the importance of small-scale farming into their agendas and rather push for subsidies of large-scale monocultures that rest on shaky investment without proof of financial stability. To resume: with abandoned terraces, decrease population of residents and aging population, a lack of familiarity to cook with the diversity of produce, a challenge to obtain seeds and grow for dietary diversity and a lack of understanding and support from policy makers, the island faces a downward spiral of deterioration, with fellow Aegean islands suffering from similar challenges.
In 2050, the island of Andros faces challenges to ensure collaboration between stakeholders and actors on the island due to a fragmented understanding of how to propel the island into environment, economic and technological cohesion. The lack of research institutions to collaborate together, such as Wageningen University and the Agricultural University of Athens, with the agenda to create and fund research in a Greek environment poses further threats to new knowledge and new ways of monitoring and evaluating progress. The Greek diaspora is still present and there is not enough movement from the youth to propel sustainable action for a healthy and resilience food system.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Aspiring young farmers currently face a myriad of challenge with an economy that undervalues food, real estate pressures forcing land prices upwards and big businesses setting the terms of trade. What if a Market Garden movement with its structure following the Community-Supported Agricultural (CSA) model would allow for some wiggle room and encourage small scale agricultural business start-ups, fair labour practices for new age farmers and back-up from leading institutions, governmental organizations and policy makers?
Addressing the challenges of 2020 going forward into 2050:
1. A Market Garden/ CSA approach is applauded for its capacity to use small pieces of land in an efficient, bio-intensive way. We see in the province of Quebec, Canada, a surge of CSA farms that work on an average of 5 hectares and .5 hectares of land giving new meaning to the profession of a farmer. The ‘New Age Farmer’ as we call it is one that has studied the field of organic agriculture, human nutrition, value-chain development and cookery, that understands why we need to build up soil to help mitigate environmental challenges, that is supported by their community and that also attains financial sustainability. With the community engaging as members of the farm, the ‘New Age Farmer’ engages in a contract between the farm and its members. This allows the farm to become agro-diverse, trusting that the community supports the work and the farm.
2. A Market Garden/ CSA approach thrives on a systematic method to the diversity and health of soil life through a mix of compost recipes, crop rotations, cover crops and fallow lands, enhancing bioavailability of the soil for crop life through trace elements and micro-nutrients management.
3. A Market Garden/ CSA approach connects the ‘New Age Farmers’ to universities, NGOs and policy makers with the aim to invigorate access for the youth to attain land that is deteriorating, to use it following organic, biodynamic and permaculture principles and to diversity the produce of the land to a standard 60 crops with a potential of 160 varieties on 5 hectares or less. Grants that are difficult to come by in a farmer’s world are now a possibility for the ‘New Age Farmer’, allowing for an easier transition into the farming world.
4. A Market Garden/ CSA approach actively engages the community to ‘get cooking’, finding traditional and new ways to eat through a diversity of produce. The field of cookery is engaged again and not only at the Chef level, but also at the domestic level through carefully crafted recipes that focus on TASTE, sensorial pleasures, quality ingredients and family interaction.
5. A Market Garden/ CSA approach welcomes actors in the field to join forces, discuss and share knowledge on how to make a vision and create action through socio-democratic discussion processes and to find common ground.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
The island of Andros is now home to CSA start-up farms and farm based cooperatives that invigorate the tastes and the dietary diversity of the land producing and sourcing: 200 varieties of vegetables, 100 varieties of fruits, local meats, local poultry, seafood off the coast, foraged herbs and spices, locally brewed beer and wine. It is now widely understood by the local population that the membership system of a CSA farm, allows the farmer to obtain financially security and grow a diverse selection of nutrient-dense crops.
EU agricultural policies and Greek national agricultural policies value the financial, environmental and social impact of CSA farming on the island and in the region of the Cyclades. By studying the methods of the Quebec provincial government, grants are given to bachelor and master students having completed their degrees in organic agriculture or a related field, to obtain 20K and 30K respectively as start-up funding for the CSA farms.
The island of Andros is now a hub for knowledge exchange in the European Union related to the creation of CSA farms in a Mediterranean climate. Wageningen University, the University of Gastronomic Science, the Agricultural University of Athens, Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, the Guild of Food Writers, the Quebec CSA network (CAPÉ) and the International Network of CSA (Urgenci) are using the island of Andros as a case study.
The seed bank in mainland Thessaloniki is now working on multiplying its seeds for sale to the Greek market.
Harnessing the power of agro-diversity as a resilient pathway for the future of farms and of farmers as a profession has brought a younger generation back to the island.
The island is a gastronomic gateway forging the tastes of mainland to the tastes traditionally found through the islands sailing heritage. Collaborating with the Slow Food Organization in Bra, Italy, the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland and UNESCO, the island has built a strong regional food economy.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Livada farm, located on the island of Andros, Greece, with 3.5 hectares of land for bio-intensive organic agriculture following the CSA model.
What if a CSA farm could utilize the natural resources of the island; trees, water, birds, sun, and create a strong regional food system enhancing access to the local population of nutrient dense food and diversity?
What would it mean for the island of Andros, already home to agricultural terraces, to have an influx of young, educated and driven new age farmers to regenerate the land using organic methods while harnessing traditional seeds and methods of harvest that are forgotten?
Given the widespread availability of agricultural land on the island, we begin with a tour of the first professional CSA farm in the area known by the locals as Livada.
LIVADA – MID-EAST side of the island
Livada farm is set up as a CSA farm on 3.5 hectares of land. Organic agricultural practices are at the forefront of the management strategy. With the help of the EU policies and national policies prioritizing small-scale organic farming, three new age farmers who have an ambitious dream to start-up and create a small-scale farm, finally can.
For the annual crop production exploiting 3 hectares, the farm uses simple technology for small scale farming which include specialized tools (BCS hand-held tractor, stirrup hoes) and equipment that are relatively small and affordable (2000 euros and less) and used to: 1. lift top layers of soil, minimizing disturbances; 2. create permanent beds; and 3. maintain crops through weed management. One hundred meter caterpillar tunnels are used as a nursery for seedlings and for sensitive crops such as heirloom tomatoes. The farm has created a detailed crop rotation system, based on bio-intensive methods, that permits 60 different annual crops to be harvest with a total of 160 varieties. The farm sources its seeds from the Thessaloniki seed bank, which have adjusted their business orientation to help start-up CSA farms get access to high-quality, organic seeds.
The membership-based model of the farm is a success, with 200 families/members subscribed and room for more. The members understand the importance of payment at the beginning of the season, to allow the farmer to obtain enough cash flow to buy seeds and create an agro-diverse agricultural system on the farm. At this time, there is no need for farmers to acquire expensive ‘organic’ certification at the start of a CSA farm set-up as their entire process, from seed acquisition to harvest, is transparent and clearly communicated to their members.
Women in agriculture are present. Replicating strong CSA networks in Quebec, Canada, England, and France, women take a strong presence on the farm, engaging in crop rotation management, compost management, the propagation process and harvests. The women involved have created the first official farmer’s market on the island, located in the island’s capital, Chora.
Compost management is a thriving activity on the farm and has also engaged the municipality to inform and teach residents how to manage domestic compost. Irrigation, an important topic for farms in the Mediterranean climate, has been created using the natural spring source on the land with a manmade pond to collect rainwater.
For the agro-forestry and permaculture production, specified pruning techniques of the olive, prune, lemon, orange and pistachio trees are done to enhance fruit yield and health of the tree. Livada farm has created a pollinator habitat using honey production as a strategy to increase the biodiversity on the land.
The farm is engaging in foraging activities to source the demand for quality herbs and spices that are found along walking paths and near river streams which include sage, rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, mountain tea, roses and figs, to name a few.
Livada farm observes the important of hosting internships for students in the field. Collaborations are created between the farm and the Agricultural University of Athens, Wageningen University, the University of Gastronomic Sciences, Concordia and McGill University, to have students create their internship reports on CSA farming. The exchange of scientific knowledge with practical know-how is at the core of fostering such relationships.
The farm is host to the first seed exchange event on the island, inviting CSA farms from across the EU to discuss seeds, from open-pollinated, to heirloom and peasant seeds. The event is created in collaboration with the municipality of Andros and is open to residents and travellers. Seed exchange is knowledge exchange and the Market Garden movement is at the forefront of it.
The farm is helping residents, seasonal residents and travellers get excited about a field to fork approach by giving cooking lessons using on-site facilities of a food processing station. Livada farm has headed a chef’s alliance, similar to what has been created at the Farm of Ideas in Denmark, to engage chefs understanding and promote quality ingredients for their businesses and their customers.
The farm is collaborating with the public school system to train teachers on lessons regarding Market Gardening, cookery and foraging. Such knowledge exchange geared towards elementary and high-school students has the potential to create from a young age, an environmentally and socially conscious student who will carry the lessons given with them throughout their educational path.
AROUND THE ISLAND
New age farmers are observing the successes of Livada farms and engaging their careers in the science and art of small-scale agriculture. New people, brings new ideas: the foraging of seaweed along the island’s coast is a new business venture. Eager farmers, collaborate with the Slow Fish department of the Slow Food organization, the Ballymaloe Cookery School and the Food Science department at Wageningen University, and come to an understanding of the nutrient-dense benefits of seaweed. Due to its micronutrient components and its versatility in the kitchen, seaweed is used as a vegan-thickening agent in milk-based porridge and puddings serving as nutrient-dense food for babies and toddlers.
Collaborations between long-time residents and seasonal residents and new age farmers are in full-force. A new NGO has been created to connect property owners with new age farmers with the purpose to exchange land for work. New age farmers propelling the Market Garden movement, now have many options to include food forests and permaculture gardens as part of the CSA model. Food forests are being created on the numerous abandoned terraces by the influx of new age farmers. The regeneration of soil is made possible through collaboration, knowledge exchange and trust.
The Chef’s Alliance of Andros has spread throughout the island, engaging not only new age farmers but new age chefs who hold a respect for local, quality, organic produce, and who care about the health impacts of their methods of cooking. Their business activities now promote recycling of waste, energy and materials used in the restaurants. The Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) engages chefs worldwide to reach 14 sustainability criteria in their operations and the Chef’s Alliance of Andros is actively engaging their efforts in their work to obtain a high rating.
Trade of organic produce off the island has begun. New business ventures see the economic benefit of trading quality produce to the neighbouring Cycladic islands, especially to islands such as Mykonos that attract large numbers of tourists from across the world. Working alongside logistical business partners such as Natoora, based in England, allows for organic and quality produce such as lemons and oranges to be trade on the market with a company that believes in a food systems’ revolution as well.