In his day job, Dimitris Koutsolioutsos crunches numbers for his uncle's firm, which deals in jewellery and duty-free. In the early mornings and late evenings, he helps people become farmers. Not literally, but it does seem to be catching on.
The idea behind www.gineagrotis.gr (the name means 'Become a farmer') is straightforward: citydwellers rent a patch of land from a farmer, tell him what they would like grown on it, and get their own fresh vegetables delivered to them weekly. And unlike some services elsewhere, it costs them on average 70% less than at the supermarket or greengrocers.
"It's about disrupting the market, creating a direct connection between the consumer and the producer," says Koutsolioutsos. "You have a real farmer, a real man, and a real, physical piece of land that you can – indeed you must, we insist on it – go and visit. It's an alternative way of organising food production and distribution."
The benefits to the farmer are considerable: he knows in advance what he has to plant, how much of it, and when to harvest. The crops can be grown at a discount, because the farmer knows he will sell all he grows, with no waste. And he gets a regular, guaranteed, stable income.
It works like this: customers go online, and state the size of plot they want (generally between 70m2 and 100m2, depending on the size of the household). At least a month in advance, they select the produce they want, choosing from a list of 10 summer and 10 winter vegetables.
The produce is then delivered weekly, on one of two pre-agreed days, and within 24 hours of being picked. If the customers are away or on holiday, they can check a box asking for their delivery to be donated to an Athens soup kitchen (from September, they'll be able to opt to pay 10% more than their regular subscription, on the understanding that the farmer will grow 10% more and it will be donated to an organisation helping the hungry or homeless).
Gineagrotis, manned by Dimitris in his early and late hours ("It's 50% of my time; I'm working 18-hour days," he says) plus an old friend, with help from others who have offered their services – graphics, and website design – at knockdown rates, went live two days ago.
Since then it has had 50,000 visitors in the Athens area alone. More than 5,000 of those have created accounts online and tried to rent a plot of land, rather overwhelming the organisation's resources. More than 900 farmers have said they want to join up, and more than 1,000 emails have come in from people praising the idea and asking when it will be available where they live. This week, deliveries to the first 100 families got underway, from the first four farms to have signed up.
By September, Dimitris will have three times as many farms on stream and at least 500 households on his delivery round. He also plans to be offering olive oil at less than half price, and eggs, even sheep and goats.
"You will be able to rent your animal for an annual fee, choose when you want it slaughtered, and have the meat delivered to your door," he says. "You'll just need a big freezer. Or plenty of friends and family."
Dimitris says he has sunk about 40,000 euros of his own money into the project. He has a funding round coming up over the summer, when he will take delivery of two new vans, and is quite sure – that's his day job, after all – that the financing to ensure Gineagrotis grows will be forthcoming.
"This is going to be clean, honest and transparent," he says. "Nobody will cheat anybody. For farmers, it's all they ever wanted. For consumers, it's quality fresh food, much cheaper. We're fulfilling real social and economic needs. It'll work."
• Jon Henley is in Greece telling real people's stories. Please contact him if you have suggestions for people he could see or places he could visit, or send him your personal story (not too long, please …). He will post as much as he can on the blog. Jon can be contacted on Twitter (@jonhenley) where the hashtag for this series is #EuroDebtTales, or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
[Greek olive grove via Hintau Aliaksei / Shutterstock]