Alexandros Tataridas, 24, was born and raised in Athens. His parents, both doctors, came from the villages of Kalambaka and Kamena Vourla. His father’s parents in Kamena Vourla grew wheat and olives for olive oil. His grandfather used to have a flock of 150 sheep and a chicken coop. “I remember visiting the farm during the olive harvest and watching boxes of olives come in from the fields to be sorted by size,” Alexandros said. “My grandfather would take me to the place where he kept his sheep and show me how to care for them.” During weekends and holidays, Alexandros continued to visit his grandparents’ farm, stimulated by their descriptions of the olive trees and by the small vegetable garden they kept. Around age 15, when he began taking biology courses in high school, he also began to study plant biology as a hobby. Later, though his mother wanted him to study medicine abroad, he gained admission to the agronomics department at the Agricultural University of Athens (AUA). “My father was very happy because he dreamed of returning to Kamena Vourla,” Alexandros said.
Alexandros graduated from AUA with a degree in Crop Science. He has continued his studies at AUA, and this year, he will complete a master’s degree in Sustainable Agriculture, Plant Enhancement, and Agrometeorology with a specialization in Sustainable Agriculture and Certification. "I do a lot of experiments with various weeds and sustainable herbicides," he said. While at university, he began working actively on his grandparents’ farm, applying what he learned in school. His grandparents taught him how to grow olives and produce virgin olive oil. “When I complete my studies, I would like to return to my village to help organize and coordinate their agricultural plan,” he told me. “I’m also thinking about doing a PhD, and I would like to take courses outside of Greece or travel to America and work for a company. Then eventually I’d like to start my own family and maybe settle permanently in one of my villages.”
In his free time, Alexandros dabbles as a homebrewer of beers, experimenting with the production of American pale ale and imperial stout. “I’m making lager beer now and some pilsner,” he said. “I’ve also made India pale ale and double IPA.” Alexandros also volunteers as a facilitator for AUA’s “Let’s Do It Greece” team. Each spring, the organization coordinates one day of nationwide environmental action. Last year, 128,000 Greeks volunteered to mend fences, reduce waste, and clean beaches. This year’s action date is Sunday, 7 April 2019.
The Experimental Farm
Alexandros is the project manager of the program’s Experimental Farm in Kopaida. Located 110 kilometers north of Athens, near Lamia, the farm covers 1000 stremma (100 hectares) and consists of a 0.5 stremma greenhouse and a training building which houses two classrooms, an office, and an overnight room that sleeps three people. The farm will begin operation in 2019 with 150 beneficiaires. “Our goal is to educate 300 young people over the next two years in agricultural sectors such as beekeeping, aromatic and medicinal plants, and the sustainable cultivation of spirits,” Alexandros said. “This will be done through intensive visits to the Experimental Farm in Kopaida.”
The farm will offer new farmers an opportunity to establish their own independent farm enterprises with on-site support and access to shared equipment, facilities, and resources that reduce initial barriers to entry. After completing the program, beneficiaries should be able to transition to plots of their own, having acquired the skills, knowledge, and expertise necessary to start farming successfully.
“I’m worried about whether Greece will be able to take the necessary risks to turn its agricultural industry around,” Alexandros said. “But this program gives new farmers the tools, techniques, connections to make the transition easier, and I want to share my skills and train others as well.”