Snails as food, snails as business
By Yiorgos Karahalis
One of my fondest memories is of the snails my mother harvested after the rains. I couldnâ€™t wait for her to get home so that I could grab those tiny animals and play with them for hours, all the while looking forward to the next dayâ€™s lunch! Little did I know then that this childhood pastime was also a big business.
Perhaps it was my memories that led me to be intrigued by the story of Greeceâ€™s Fereikos Helix snail farming company, a successful business started by two sisters, Maria and Panagiota Vlachou.
â€śI was having dinner in Zurich as I was speaking to my sister on the phone. I told her that I ordered snails for near 37 euros. And she joked with me, saying we must start growing and trading snails,â€ť Maria Vlachou said, explaining what motivated them to start their business in 2007.
The two sisters set up their first farm in Korinthos, a coastal town some 80 km (50 miles) west of Athens. They have since managed to expand their business throughout the country.
Today it operates as a family enterprise, aimed at educating young farmers or businessmen who would like to set up their own snail farm. It organizes seminars for future farmers, giving a picture of what life looks like when you own and run a snail farm, from buying the snails from the farmers at a pre-agreed price to exporting most of them to European countries.
â€śPeople believe that running a snail farm is an easy-going and very profitable business,â€ť Panagiota said. â€śItâ€™s not like this. Itâ€™s tough work and demands a lot of time and personal dedication.â€ť
Greece has been covered with a blanket of misery over the last two years being at the center of the euro zone debt crisis, and it is hard for someone to see the way out of this situation. But when I visited Fereikos Helix, I saw that there are pockets of optimism amid the gloom, thanks to innovation and new ideas. It may even awaken in people a desire to go back to their roots and make the most of what they thought they left in the past.