Increasingly it seems that Greeks are rediscovering farming as a way to make a living and perhaps to escape a failed economic and social system. Today, Greek television reported a government program that awards fallow public land to would-be farmers looking for a way out of unemployment. One of these farmers was going to grow snails for export; another was going to grow fruit trees, including pomegranate. The Times also has been covering the story over the last few months; today the newspaper ran a piece about the stifling effects of bureaucracy on Greek entrepreneurs and used the example of someone seeking to sell olive oil online.
Coincidentally, I am reading The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization by Victor Davis Hanson, a historian and Californian farmer, who argues for the centrality of agrarianism in the development of the polis. Hanson, who spent time in Greece, describes agriculture there much as I came to understand it, observing my grandparents working the land.
“In agricultural terms, then, Greece offers opportunity but does not guarantee bounty. In any given year trees, vines, and grains neither uniformly fail nor inevitably flourish. Innovation and experimentation , rather than rote and timidity, overcome climate and terrain, with predictable consequences for national character and group identity. The successful harvest leads not to security, riches, and leisure, but simply the guarantee of yet one more year to come. So Greece is a poor candidate for the hydraulic dynasty, replete with vast herds, cavalry, chariotry, crop surpluses, and a complacent and ordered population. But for an insolent, self-reliant man [or woman] of nerve or muscle, who welcomes the solitary challenge of the mountain terrace, the lone farmstead, the chaos of the olive, grape, grain, fig, goat, and pig, the choice to fight beside his family on ancestral ground, it is an altogether hospitable place.” (p. 26)
In signing the lease to her new farm land, one of these would-be farmers told her television interviewer that the stigma of a life in agriculture no longer applied, at least not to her. And I thought how quickly the recent history of stigmatizing farming became the dominant narrative in Greece. Because, you see, like many Greeks, I am just one generation removed from those insolent self-reliant men and women of the land.