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Conserving those quality seeds December 8, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Greece.
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Innovative group in Northern Greece works to keep traditional food varieties alive through exchanges

Peliti, an alternative community, hosts a seed exchange festival every April for producers and the public. Its goal is to collect, distribute and rescue traditional seed varieties. The Peliti volunteer network is based at the village of Mesohori, in the region of Paranesti, Drama, Northern Greece.

Food grown on small farms where crops are rotated according to the seasons tastes good not just because of the TLC they receive and the eco-friendly methods used on them. It might also be because the seeds from which they were grown have come down through the decades from an original crop grown by the farmer’s ancestors.

These traditional seed varieties are the basis of a major effort by a non-governmental organization in Northern Greece whose main objective, since it was founded in 1995, has been to collect, distribute and rescue traditional varieties. It is a loose association of volunteers all involved in some way in conserving the country’s agricultural heritage as a response to an encroaching global economy.

The Peliti alternative community, based in the village of Mesohori in the district of Paranesti, Drama, was founded by Panayiotis Sainatoudis, the current coordinator. Not a farmer himself, Sainatoudis was born in a village but grew up in Thessaloniki.

“I first got involved in seed preservation in 1991 while a student, when I became interested in organic farming. Two years later, I left Thessaloniki to go back to the country, and in 1995 I made this work my top priority,” Sainatoudis said. “I don’t have a farm myself but Peliti’s goal is to start one up soon. So far we have not yet applied for funds from the European Union nor do we have sponsors. We would like to have sponsorship but on our terms,” he said.

At the moment Peliti is run on donations. A non-profit organization, it has five founding members and about 20 volunteers working in shifts. There is also input from about 100 schoolchildren.

Pupils at a high school in Lehaio, Corinthia, who collect and grow traditional seed varieties have an open-house day every Palm Sunday when they give away their seeds. In 1999, Peliti launched what has become an annual festival of seed exchanges held every April at the Monastery of Timios Prodromos at Anatoli, Kissavos, in the prefecture of Larissa.

Peliti (“oak tree” in the Pontic Greek dialect) was named after a tree in the Dasoto district of Kato Nevrokopi, in the prefecture of Drama, where Sainatoudis grew up. The group’s philosophical background is that of personal responsibility, focusing not on what others may or may not do but what each person can do as an individual, with a strong focus on a barter economy.

The seed exchange program has expanded to include all kinds of products that are listed in a catalog according to geographical area. The catalog, published every September, contains information on suppliers of seeds for everything from tomatoes and aubergines from the Evros prefecture, mulberries and pumpkins from Thessaloniki, okra from Ileia, pistachios and garlic from Aegina and a variety of carrot called pastanagla from Hania.

The catalog of plant varieties also includes a register of people who offer an exchange of goods and services on a cash-free basis. About 1,300 copies of the directory are published every year and are usually sold out before the year is up.

It includes names and addresses of producers and organizations, such as the official Greek Gene Bank at the National Institute for Agricultural Research (ETHIAGE), which collects traditional seeds for research purposes, as well as diverse groups who either supply seeds directly to the public or are active in conservation in other ways.

One of the latter is a group set up under the Federation of Environmental Organizations of Cyprus to fight against the introduction of genetically modified seeds in Cyprus.

“Just like our ancient monuments, traditional seed varieties are part of our culture,” the group’s coordinator Spyros Argyridis said. “If we don’t preserve them, we will soon be held hostage to major corporations with monopolies on certain crops.” He also emphasized that these traditional varieties are healthier than commercially available ones, being handed down from generation to generation.

Peliti members, all volunteers, have collected about 1,500 varieties of vegetables, cereals and other foods from around the country and distributed them to approximately 20,000 amateur and professional farmers. Some of the varieties collected in expeditions around the country are given to the Greek Gene Bank.

On an international level, Peliti is collecting signatures for a manifesto issued at the second Terra Madre, the world meeting of food communities, that brought together almost 9,000 people in Turin at the end of October. The manifesto outlines principles on how to “safeguard biodiversity, the freedom of farmers, and respect for life.”

Find out more about these issues at www.peliti.gr, www.terramadre.org and www.slowfood.com.

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