The early morning peace is shattered by the sound of Pan’s saw biting through wooden planks as he constructs a new table. “There are no rules,” he says, “but we all have jobs. We’re not here to screw around.”
On the beautiful Greek island of Evia in the foothills of Mount Telaithrion, former programmer Pan, 29, and seven friends who connected through Internet forums have established the country’s “first eco-community.”
It is an effort to live sustainably and outside mainstream Greek society, which is struggling through the worst economic crisis in memory. While poverty and violence sweep through Athens, the members of the Free and Real team wake up to sunshine each day, ready to work on their own terms.
Economist Yannis Ioannides of Tufts University, Massachusetts, believes a retreat to rural life provides a “safety net” for young people. “At least they can protect themselves against the market by dropping out of it,” he told Metro.
“It’s not a solution to the crisis — it’s a solution for us,” says Dionysis, 30, a chemist who gave up his life in Athens and closed his bank account, vowing to never return.
On Evia, the essentials of life are self-produced, from the organic farm food to the compost toilet, the furniture to the Mongolian-style yurts.
The cross-section of skills makes it possible to live almost completely cash-free, with a professional-standard carpenter, chemist and IT technician among the group and new skills imported through the steady supply of volunteers who pitch up.
“The long-term goal is an eco-network of alternative living projects. We want what we do to be copied and evolved — we don’t own this,” says Pan. He believes the crisis has sparked interest in such projects — “new ones are appearing all the time” — and travels to eco-festivals to share and develop techniques.
Despite the traditional farming, the group uses cutting edge technology, creating 3D models of construction projects before building them, ahead of switching to a new site on the mountain complete with geodesic domes and an advanced permaculture farm.
There is little political ideology behind it; no one believes in climate change and the philosophy is “do what works for you.”
“I don’t want to convince anyone,” says Dionysis. “Sustainability is different for everyone — it could be a plasma screen TV.”
A ferry ride north to the mainland town of Volos reveals a different sustainability model, where residents have established a barter economy using alternative currency “TEMs” instead of Euros.
At the local market, people exchange everything from lemonade to massages.
So far at least three more Greek towns have adopted the model.