Surviving rather than living
By Cathal McNaughton
“My wife thinks I don’t do enough but I’m doing everything I can. I work day and night. I’m trying to work my way out of this,” olive farmer Dimitris Stamatakos told me as he took a break from stacking wood at his small-holding in the village of Krokeae in the Peloponnese area of Greece.
During the boom years Dimitris, 36, made a comfortable living from the 1,700 olive trees on his seven acres of land – today, due to rising costs and higher taxes, his olive crop yields just 50 per cent of what it once did and to make ends meet he toils endlessly at odd jobs.
Selling firewood, hiring out his tractor and even hiring himself out as a laborer to his neighbors are just a few of the ways he makes the extra euros he needs to support his wife Voula and their two young boys, three-year-old Christopher and one-year-old Elias.
Dimitris’ work ethic is matched only by his hospitality. He insisted I join him for a glass of Tsipouro – the potent local brandy – which he served up with his home grown olives as he told me how he is trying to keep his head above water.
He was matter-of-fact as he told me of the hard labor and thriftiness that have become part of his everyday life – to survive the recession farmers like Dimitris have been forced to adopt a back-to-basics attitude that allows for no luxuries and leaves no stone unturned in the pursuit of an extra few euros, often working 14 hour days scratching out a living doing whatever he has to do to bring money into his home.
“I’m lucky I have two boys because the younger one can wear the older one’s clothes and then we pass them on. The whole family circle shares the clothes,” he explains. “Strangely this economic situation has brought the whole family circle closer together. “But I row with my wife a lot about money. She thinks I should be doing more. What more can I do? I’m just getting by.”
‘Getting by’ is what I heard again when I visited 56-year-old farmer George Andrianakis in the village of Stafania. “I am surviving rather than living” he tells me.
George lives with his wife Athina and sons Dimitris, 24, and Panagiotis, 21. They all work together on the farm milking the goats and the sheep as well as harvesting the orange and olive trees but their profits are down by more than 50% and production costs have risen by almost 30%.
George explains that he doesn’t feed his animals as much as he used to and he tries not to drive to keep costs down. Having no extra cash means that he never goes out in the evenings and he hasn’t bought new clothes in three years. “I feel like I am being blackmailed by the middle men who force prices up,” he explains.
But while many farmers are scratching out a living, business is going better for Leonidas Polymenokos, 40, at his family’s olive oil factory near the small village of Lagio. He co-owns the factory with his three brothers and they export most of the olive oil to the lucrative U.S. market. But Leonidas explained that even his successful business is being hampered by the lack of lending available from banks.
“Not a single person isn’t affected. We want to expand but we can’t because we can’t get the necessary loans. We are all boiling in the same pot”.