A Greek family’s quest for seeds, sustainability and independence
This article was published by Al Jazeera International
DILOFO, Thessaly - On the Greek government’s list of certified organic farmers, Antonis Antonopoulos has the serial number one.
What really makes Antonis and his brother, Yiorgos, a singular phenomenon, though, is not that their model farm pioneered organic methods in Greece; it’s that they were among the first to realise that organically grown, local varieties of wheat and barley other farmers had cast aside could be a commercial hit.
The Antonopouloi have branded and shipped their organic flours made from indigenous grains to specialty shops and bakeries for years. Two years ago, their branded Zea flour, derived from a double-kerneled wheat bred in their town of Dilofo, became the key ingredient in an eponymous sliced bread that is distributed nationwide. Although sales figures are a closely guarded secret, it is clear that Zea’s commercial success has brought an ancient grain back from the brink of extinction.
“Demand is growing,” says Yiorgos Antonopoulos, who won’t divulge his annual turnover or how many hectares he cultivates. “Suffice it to say that I’m better off than anyone else in the area.”
This success is important because Greece is a natural gene bank. Its archipelago, varied terrain and microclimates favoured so many divergent evolutionary paths that today it has the highest plant biodiversity in Europe, with approximately 6,000 wild plant species or subspecies, and thousands of cultivated plants. Should this vast genetic vocabulary be lost, scientists and farmers could lose a vital resource in the fight to keep feeding the planet in a rapidly-changing climate.