As incomes fall and retail prices rise, Greeks have found an ingenious way to pay three times less than they usually would for potatoes.
The craze, which some are already starting to call the “Potato Revolution,” began in the northern town of Katerini two weeks ago. A group of local activists set up a website to allow people to order potatoes directly from local farmers, and then pick them up in a parking lot on the weekends. Their project was an instant hit. In the past two weeks, they’ve already sold 100 tons of potatoes, and inspired agricultural students in Thessaloniki to launch a similar program. Dozens more cities across Greece are planning to follow suit.
Since the farmers sell the potatoes for a higher price than they would be able to sell them to distributors – but for less than what supermarkets charge customers – both the farmers and their customers win.
Every little bit helps for crisis-hit Greeks. Austerity measures have led to pensions and salaries being repeatedly slashed, as well as to a steep rise in unemployment – one in five Greeks are now jobless. On top of this, the government has raised taxes in a bid to curb its debt.
“We thought, why not cut out the middleman?”
Elias Tsolakidis is a member of the Pieria Volunteer Action Team, a group of volunteers who launched the potato project in Katerini.
We first got the idea a month ago, when we heard about desperate farmers protesting against how little vendors were willing to pay for their potatoes. Instead of selling them to middlemen at a loss or letting them rot, they decided to just give them away to people on the street for free. So we thought, why not cut out the middleman?
Farmers here used to sell their potatoes for 0,12 cents a kilo, even though it cost them nearly twice that to produce. We set up a website for people to order potatoes and come pick them up in a parking lot, straight out of the farmers’ trucks. The farmers sell them for 0,25 cents a kilo – nearly three times less than they cost in the supermarkets! So both farmers and customers benefit.
“A funny thing happened – the local supermarkets started slashing their prices”
So far we’ve had two pick-up days: on the first, two weeks ago, the farmers sold 25 tons of potatoes to more than 500 people. On the second, last Saturday, they sold 75 tons to more than 1,100 people. I never dreamed we would have such success! All sorts of people came to buy the potatoes – some of them were poor or unemployed; some were better-off, but wanted to help support the initiative. I believe the potato sales have gained such popularity because we’re all united now – there are no real social classes any more; everyone is struggling.
A funny thing happened – as soon as people starting buying these cheap potatoes, all the local supermarkets started making potato “offers” where they slashed their prices from 0,70 cents a kilo to just 0,35 cents… But that’s still more expensive than what we’re offering.
We’ve been getting calls from people in cities all around Greece – even in the capital – who want to set up similar programs. It’s very exciting. The demand is huge. Soon, we’ll be offering more than just potatoes – we’re currently polling local citizens on the products they need the most. We’re considering flour, rice, oil, and more…”