A very small organic farm producing speciality vegetables, microgreens, edible flowers and chutneys. We engage with local farmers markets and chefs, educating, supporting and always learning. We organise the biodiversity of the farm to create a self-regulating and renewable ecosystem.
Key words: Organic, chillies, microgreens, edible flowers, farmers market
Name of the initiative? The Chilli Factor Organic Farm
What kind of initiative Farming/production, education/training, processing, environmental, biodiversity, community
We had been running a comic-book store in Thessaloniki city centre for 20 years, when economic crisis hit the USA in 2007 radically affecting our importation of comic books. We already owned a small piece of land, less than an acre, in the village of Nei Epivates near the city, and decided to certify it as organic. In 2009 the crisis arrived in Greece. With no knowledge of farming or agricultural business, we gave up our shop and instead started planting lesser-known vegetables and lost heirloom varieties: yellow, green and orange tomatoes, black, orange and white carrots, orange and bicolored beets, Asian vegetables, mustard greens, purple and orange cauliflowers, baby leaves and petite vegetables, and many more. We did lots of reading: two people from the city transforming to farmers.
“We did lots of reading: two people from the city transforming to farmers.”
We started making sauces from chilli peppers and black tomatoes, pestos with various herbs, pickled vegetables, chutneys under the name of The Chilli Factor Organic Farm and started our weekly participation to a local organic farmer’s market in Thessaloniki.
And then we read about microgreens: the first true leaves of a vegetable or herb are cleaner, stronger and more flavourful than their traditional counterparts and feature 4-40 times the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, with 100% bioavailability and healing benefits. Chefs in Greece were just becoming aware of this superfood when we started growing it. Microgreens are an excellent food dressing. We were able to deliver them within a day of harvest, in a packaging system designed to maximize freshness and nutrient retention. We also started cultivating edible flowers. The magic world of flowers brought to the plate, to a salad, a dessert.
Because our plot is small, we don’t use machinery, but the manual tools are hard to get in Greece. We had to pay a lot of money to import them from France and Japan.
“Everything was new to us. We had to learn quickly. The legal requirements to become farmers was complicated and there wasn’t much help.”
Everything was new to us. We had to learn quickly. The legal requirements to become farmers was complicated and there wasn’t much help. We had to find out for ourselves what paperwork was necessary, even the offices for agriculture found it difficult to help us because their focus is much larger farms. Fortunately, we love reading, but even with this, the books on organic farming were from the UK or the USA so the climate and planting schedule was different from ours. We had to learn from our mistakes.
We joined the cooperative for Greek farmers, Oikogiorti, which follows organic pathways as well as Agroecopolis and the Northern Greece Organic Farmers Association.
We deliver our goods to chefs, restaurants, hotels and sell them at Thessaloniki Organic Farmers’ Markets. We try to educate them about the vegetables, herbs and edible flowers – explaining what an heirloom is, about seasonality, uses and tastes.
“We opened our organic farm so chefs can pay a visit, they can try, taste, be inspired and pick their fresh ingredients.”
We opened our organic farm so chefs can pay a visit, they can try, taste, be inspired and pick their fresh ingredients. Every now and then we welcome groups from cooking and gastronomy schools, so these future chefs have an opportunity to encounter brand new materials and lesser-known vegetables. Those who care for the ingredients they put in their food know they can find what they ask in our farm. They care for seasonality, community and the best there is in the market. The gastronomy trend for clean raw tasty materials seems to be dominating the future.
“Those who care for the ingredients they put in their food know they can find what they ask in our farm. They care for seasonality, community and the best there is in the market.”
We are a small farm, less than an acre, but we manage to keep our family of five living decently. We don’t dig or till and we are not using heavy machinery. Our footprint is low in carbon and high in creating real, clean, amazing food. We are open 365 days, with year-round production and proud of it.
Locally grown food is good for the environment and for sustainability. It’s fresher, healthier and tastes better. More and more people in our community are beginning to know and experience this.
With Oikogiorti we organised festivals for organic farming in different cities leading seminars and workshops and hosting seed exchanges with all the seed banks in Greece and promoting seed saving. At the moment there is no CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programme in Greece so we are trying to start one in Thesaloniki with Agroecopolis.
We became vice presidents of the Northern Greece Organic Farmers Association (this represents more than 100 certified organic farmers) working for the farmers market in Thessaloniki organising seminars and events.
It’s hard to convince people that small-scale farming can be profitable.
“…it seems crazy to export when our local community relies so heavily on importation – there is no point exporting one tonne when we are importing five!”
We want to reduce importation. People have suggested we could export our produce from The Chilli Factor, but to us it seems crazy to export when our local community relies so heavily on importation – there is no point exporting one tonne when we are importing five!
“Be persistent in everything – in the way you plant the seeds, in the way to be acceptable to the public and our needs to be noticed by the state. Be prepared to do what you do again and again.”
What did we learn? Be persistent in everything – in the way you plant the seeds, in the way to be acceptable to the public and our needs to be noticed by the state. Be prepared to do what you do again and again. You never find a peak in any job, you can always go higher. You must be focused, and you must serve your customers well.
We could change a thousand things because we made so many mistakes. We were learning while doing. What took us five years when we started, we can now do in one!
Repository compiled by: Nikos Ioannou & Lilian Kou
E-mail contact: email@example.com