Nikolia Apostolou

Odysseas Elytis, the Greek Nobel laureate and poet, once wrote: "If you disintegrate Greece, in the end you'll see that what you have left is an olive tree, a vineyard, and a ship. Which means: with these you can rebuild it." Having endured eight years of a deepening economic crisis, thousands of young Greeks are taking heed of Elytis' words by leaving the cities to work on the land. One of them is 35-year-old Alexandros Kleitsas­, who until four years ago had spent his entire life in Athens, the capital of Greece, working for a private company that certified organic products. After spending two years being unemployed, Alexandros decided he had no other option but to leave everything behind and move to his grandparents' village in Kalabaka, four hours' drive north of Athens. There he started a farm with his brother and three friends. "Someone has to start producing again in this country," Alexandros says. "We can't all be in the service sector and so I left the city. I started from zero, without any land or experience." Alexandros isn't alone in his thinking. For the first time in 20 years, employment in the agricultural sector has been rising, from 11 percent in 2008, a 35-year low, to 12.9 percent in 2015, according to the latest available report by the Greek Statistical Service. Almost half of all new farmers come from the cities. Unemployment is a major factor in the rise in people working on the land. The unemployment rate for people under the age of 25 is 48 percent and sits at 30 for those aged between 25 and 34. With many university-educated Greeks unable to find jobs in the public or private sector, thousands of 20- and 30-somethings like Alexandros are turning to agriculture. According to figures provided by the Association of Young Farmers, there has been a 15 percent increase in farmers between the ages of 18 and 40 since the start of the economic crisis in 2009. Despite the country's mild climate and fertile land, for decades most Greeks opted for better-paying, comfortable, jobs in the city. EU and government agricultural policies that hurt mostly small farm owners, the majority of Greek farmers, resulted in the speeding up of urbanisation with half of the country's population living in the two biggest cities, Athens and Thessaloniki. Today, Alexandros cultivates organic olive oil and St. John's wort, a herb with anti-inflammatory and antidepressant properties. He combines the two to produce a variety of skincare products called Dimitra which are sold throughout Greece and also exported to Germany, Belgium, Florida, and Bahrain.