Saturday, 10 March 2012

Market revolution


Some days ago Bruno Tersago, a Belgium blogger living in Piraeus, wrote about the Potato Movement (only in Dutch). It was about farmers who could not sell their potatoes because they were said to be polluted. The farmers took their potatoes to Athens and distributed them for free. Farmers from another part of Greece were having the same problem and also took their potatoes to the capital. They sold them for cost. Many people welcomed this opportunity for cheaper produce because normally most brokers triple the prices.

It seems a new revolution: farmers coming to the cities to sell their own products. Which is what usually is done at a markets. However, a market stall will cost you and not everybody has money lying ready in their kitchen drawer.

I remember visiting markets in Chania (Crete) and in Athens and I am sure there must be others in Greece. But on Lesvos, the third biggest island of Greece, there are none. Why? It might be because most of the people here have their own little gardens where they grow their own vegetables, whilst one of their neighbours will have sheep and goats and most families on the island have olive trees for their daily consummation of olive oil.

It is also said that the shopkeepers oppose a farmer’s market: they are afraid of loss of income. Like the shopkeepers of Kalloni are opposing a bypass because they fear than no-one will come into their city for shopping. Meanwhile, most travellers to the north frequently get stuck in traffic jams in Kalloni.

All those shopkeepers should be sent abroad to take a look at foreign markets. In the South of France, the local markets, where you’ll find the most delicious local products, attract lots of people who also go into the local shops because not everything is available on the market stalls.

Here on Lesvos you could say that we have a mobile market. A few vegetable growers sell their products from their pick-ups. There are also some men selling fish from their cars. And there are gypsies and Chinese people travelling around selling chairs, clothes, knifes, tools, poultry and so on. They are like the peddlers of the Middle Ages. When you see those poultry vans, you believe yourself to be in another time. The poultry is kept in tiny cages and should be forbidden, especially in the soaring summer heat, when it’s pure animal cruelty.

Those other driving ‘marketcars’ are okay, but where are they when you need them. Years ago I went hunting for the mobile fish seller, but after chasing him with blazing horn for ages and to no-result, it’s no longer fun.

And then there are the tourists who ask frequently where the island markets are. The Dutch love to visit markets abroad to see all the local products. You can send them to the cooperative shops, but they don’t carry all products, especially no fresh vegetables.

Here in Molyvos they tried to organise a market, without any result. Last week I discussed this phenomenon with friends who work in the tourist industry and they told me that one of the most popular excursions on Las Palmas (Gran Canarian) is the one to a faraway local market.

So that’s it: don’t plan a market too close — but faraway! Lafionas for example is a picturesque village above Petra, where you could organize a market. You could make it into an attractive excursion where tourists, once up in the village, can also take the Alexander walk, an easy walk around a mountaintop with splendid views over the region.

If the sub-municipality of Petra doesn’t approve of a market in Lafionas then you make a market in Vatoussa, one of the most beautiful villages of the island, and which has a large parking lot. Or in Andissa, where they say that they have the most beautiful square. They wouldn’t object to having the most cozy market of the island. Because a market brings lots of life and where there’s life, there’s business.

Yesterday in Skamnioudi I tasted a one-day-old feta, and I nearly ate a kilo, it was that delicious. I get honey in Karini, but I am sure you also can find the same good quality elsewhere on the island. Lisvori makes a very special bread, like the bread from the wood stove in Megalochori which also is famous. The region around Mandamados is famous for its cheese, Agios Dimitrios (close to Agiasos) is known for its in sugar preserved vegetables and fruit (gliko toe koetalio) and the womens’ cooperative of Anamotia makes delicious cakes. It will take you days to buy all your favourite products here on the island.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have all those different cheeses from the island gathered in one market, along with all the different products of the many womens’ cooperatives, or to see all the honeys on a row, or all the olive oils, all the wines, all the horta and so on . . .

During the Ottoman Empire Greeks were known as being smart and good business people. Where did that business spirit go? Huge national and international enterprises have made Greece poor. So change the laws and the bureaucratic systems so that small entrepreneurs can build up Greece again with honest commerce and old-fashioned mercantilism.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2012

1 comment:

  1. I live in a mid-size mainland Greek city, and our market is HUGE and thriving - it's the heart of the city and the 'big event' every week. It's one of the most interesting things to do and it's rare to go and not see at least someone taking photos - and we don't get ANY tourists here. Almost all Greek towns and cities of any size have a market. But when I lived on a small island there wasn't one, because there were no producers. I'm very surprised that Lesvos, which is so large, doesn't have one.

    Our market - and bear in mind this is NOT a big city - sells fruits and vegetables, nuts, eggs, fish, pickles, olives, honey, plants, live ducks/hens/etc, clothing of every variety, shoes, fabric, sewing notions, yarn, kitchen stuff, cleaning products, pots and pans, dishes, costume jewelry, farming equipment, home decor, rugs, custom curtains, tools, toiletries, and more. I honestly don't know how I survived without a market for so long on the island. Everything was so expensive there. Our permanent shops are also thriving, despite the crisis, because they are so good. Our city specializes in spice & tea shops, and sewing shops, two of my favorite places to shop, so I'm happy!