Introducing organic alternative crops to Cottage industry
by Danae Bersi, Content Creator, New Agriculture New Generation

Cottage industries and organic crops

Elena Karagianni, beneficiary of the Agrifood Accelerator "Agroanelixis-Cottage industry", implemented by “New Agriculture New Generation” organization, is engaged in organic and ecological farming. Together with her husband Christos and her father, they produce, process, and sell quality organic products, outlining in the best possible way the meaning of the term "cottage industry".

Originated from Volos- Thessaly, where she now operates, Elena has been working in the agri-food sector for the past 5 years and considers herself a "child of the crisis". She has studied Telecommunications and Management and was specialized in sales management. Elena worked for years in a bank but due to the economic crisis that hit the country in previous years, she was forced to leave her job and look for employment in the tourism sector. Although she worked and lived on various islands of Greece for some years, the moment came when she felt that she wanted to do something different in her life.

Talking to her husband, she decided that she needed to focus on something more stable, more permanent. "My father was an old farmer. My husband also comes from an island and so, from an early age, he was engaged in agriculture with his own father," she says. "So, my partner and I got up from our couch and decided to start working on the land."

Back to the roots – Working in the agri-food sector

Elena owns a property that belonged to her grandfather and then passed to her father, who, although a farmer, had stopped working for the last 20 years. So, the bet for Elena was to start everything from scratch. As she says "Inside the estate there were only some olives and almond trees from my grandfather as my father was engaged in annual crops and not permanent, such as trees. Of course, my father also has the necessary know-how, something that helped us a lot in our first steps ".

Elena is a person who has grown up in a rural family and thus, knows a lot about the crops and the processes required for their development. At first, they started by planting lettuce or tomatoes which were intended for personal consumption. But then Elena's love for the land and crops made her decide that she should then become a "professional farmer", as she says.

So, Elena's crops have expanded beyond fruit and vegetables to more special varieties, such as that of Goji Berries, the well-known berry which in recent years has emerged as a superfood around the world. Elena had tasted this variety of fruit on a trip to Athens and as she says, "From the first moment I fell in love with their taste. So as soon as I started dealing with the land, it was one of the first plants I wanted to cultivate on the estate ".

Alternative crops in cottage industries

Goji Berries are not only delicious but are also considered as superfoods, which offer multiple benefits to those who include them in their daily diet. This variety of berries contains high levels of vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins, zinc, calcium and phosphorus and is considered to have anxiolytic functions while improving memory and boosting metabolism. "In Europe we consider Goji Berry a superfood. But in America and Asia, it is considered a medicine because of its rich healing properties", says Elena.

Elena's estate is located on a busy street in Volos- Thessaly and so, she has created a point of sale right in front of it, where she owns and sells the items she produces, thus creating her own home-made business since 2008. Items that will not be sold are processed into something else, such as tomatoes in sauce or fresh goji berries in jam or dried form.

Wanting to develop her home-based business and aiming to expand into the agro-tourism sector, she encountered the organization "New Agriculture New Generation". She regularly checked the activities implemented by the organization through social media and website and that is how she discovered the agrifood acceleration program "Agroanelixis-Cottage farming".

The Agrifood Accelerator "Agroanelixis-Cottage industry" as a surplus value for farmers

Since the beginning of March, Elena is one of the 15 beneficiaries of the Agrifood Accelerator "Agroanelixis" implemented by the "New Agriculture New Generation" organization and she is definitely very happy about it. "The lessons are really perfect, they cover all aspects needed for a farmer and they give you really high-level knowledge”, she says characteristically while adding that, "I wish all the farmers would have this unique opportunity. It is very useful for all those who are active in the agri-food industry ".

Elena considers that the knowledge and guidance she has already received from the "Agroanelixis" program, create an added value for her. "I could probably do this job without having all this knowledge and information. But I want to do something more, I am interested in providing the best possible services to the consumer, with the best possible quality. This is exactly what the "Agroanelixis" Accelerator offers me ". She goes on to say, "For example, issues related to the promotion of our products, which were brought to us by our teachers and mentors, are crucial for me so that people can get acquainted with Goji Berries and learn all the beneficial properties that they have, so that they can be included in their daily diet ".

A development plan for promoting cottage industries, implemented by the “New Agriculture New Generation” organization

In addition, in collaboration with the program’s mentors who attend Elena, a development plan has been created with the aim of improving her daily production process. In this context, the team of the organization "New Agriculture New Generation" will fund Elena, with the aim of developing her home-based business. More specifically, the goal is to create a workshop, or let’s say a kitchen, which will be located on the property, where Elena will be able to cook some of the products she will sell, such as jams and sauces, thus saving valuable time and effort. This kitchen will be open and accessible to visitors, who will be able to watch the whole process of making and preparing her products before selling them.

Elena currently has about 400 Goji Berries and her goal is to be able to create a network that covers all plants. At the same time, she intends to create a greenhouse in which she can put part of the production such as cucumbers, tomatoes, or peppers, which are more sensitive and are particularly affected by the special weather conditions brought by the environmental change.

Cottage industry as a form of Agritourism

But Elena, in addition to that, wants to offer a form of alternative tourism, making both the greenhouse and the laboratory where she will prepare her products, open for the public. "I would like children from schools or universities who no longer have direct contact with agriculture to visit me and see up close exactly how plants or vegetables are grown," she says.

The area where the estate is located also has several tourists who are already asking Elena to see Goji Berries up close and so, she guides them to the estate and gives them the opportunity to try fresh vegetables and organic fruits. After all it seems that hospitality runs in her veins. "I always like to welcome friends or family and take care of them. This is what I also want for the visitors of the estate. I want them to feel like they are home, that they can try and taste homemade organic products, enjoying nature and coming in harmony with it ", she says.