This story begins at times of deep crisis. In 2013, Greece was experiencing a financial collapse. Almost half of the country’s population became unemployed. Poverty and homelessness exploded, while social support services together with most public services were breaking down.
“It was like waking up from a life full of dreams, into a hopeless never ending nightmare.” -Michalis
Challenged by poverty and food insecurity, and as a way to fight depression, a small group of people who lost their income from the financial crisis started to grow food in empty plots of public land around their neighbourhood in Thessaloniki. They called themselves Pervolarides (Gardeners). Gardening brought many neighbours closer. They started cooking together, forming supportive relations and a spirit of solidarity for helping those around who were most vulnerable or homeless.
In 2015, another crisis began unfolding in Greece on top of the growing financial crisis. Thousands of refugees fleeing the war in Syria were now among the homeless in the city. The massive emergency needs also generated more solidarity, and Pervolarides were increasingly collecting food that markets couldn’t sell and cooking hot meals for vulnerable families and the homeless. By 2016, several groups of locals and refugees were coming together for cooking, gardening, beekeeping, food waste reclamation and redistribution, as well as production of sauces, marmalades and pickles. Since then, Pervolarides have evolved into a strong community and a local network for support and social cooperation; they maintain a collective multi-space where they cook, collect, process and redistribute 15 tons of food to people in need every year, and regularly organise environmental regeneration activities and ecological trainings for children, young people with special needs and for the wider community.
So how does a small group of people growing food in empty land around the neighbourhood, lead to community regeneration? Filippos, one of the initiators of Pervolarides explains:
“Following the evolution of our relations that form through embracing the food cycle - from seeding, cultivation, collection, processing and cooking, to reclaiming, reprocessing and redistributing food that would be wasted - we collectively grow our community and empower a holistic vision of social and environmental regeneration.
"Through food collaborations, people learn about themselves and how to care for others and for mother nature. Through democratic and open horizontal decision-making processes, individuals and small groups become communities that regenerate their social and natural environment, take responsibility for their decisions and actions, and taste the fruits of their successes.
"For 10 years we are an evolving grassroots voluntary movement for social mobilisation and cooperation, supporting and uniting people under collective solidarity actions. Our vision is not only to regenerate nature and our living environment, but also our relations and our community. We come together in democratic hubs where people of all ages, ethnicities and social status can connect and express freely and equally; empowering everyone to overcome exclusion and discrimination and to heal divisions and inequalities.
"As we seek to become empowered and self-sufficient, we promote equality and fair redistribution of resources and inspire synergies that respond to common needs. We co-create activities and spaces where abilities, ideas and resources unite and shape dynamic social movements and strong supportive communities. Our holistic approach is extremely successful and easy to adapt based on activating small and flexible groups under a common umbrella, collectively forming a greater community. In this way, we foster social and environmental regeneration, and nourish resilient and responsive communities.”
The experience of Pervolarides, highlights the two main factors that enable the regeneration of a community. Solidarity and social cooperation. And the way to achieve these, by expanding our social awareness of our common needs and by following the examples of nature. Nature always teaches us how to cooperate on the basis of sharing needs.
Every crisis, (financial, refugees, health pandemics, war) brings people closer to a greater understanding of our shared nature and common needs. And as we join together on our collective need to regenerate our environment, as we become more aware of the interconnections between ourselves and our planet, we begin to understand the numerus ways nature can inspire our spiritual renewal, our social revival and the regeneration of our communities.
“Our greatest ability as humans is not to change the world; but to change ourselves.” - Mahatma Gandhi