Alexandra Triadi left behind a career in chemical engineering to work at her family’s property, just south of Thessaloniki on Greece’s east coast. After three generations of conventional farming, she and her sister converted the farm to organic practices, then again to biodynamics. Their carefully crafted grains, legumes and vegetables are the first internationally certified biodynamic foods of their kind in the country.
Photos + interview by Alecia Wood
How did you decide to leave your job as a chemical engineer, and return to your family farm?
In Greece, traditionally farming was passing from father to son. So I spent my summer holidays at the farm as a child, but there was no real practical connection to it. There had been a sentimental connection, with family talks making reference to the efforts and hardships of the previous generations – the land was purchased by my grandparents, nomad shepherds until then, and my father took over as the second generation. For us – myself and my sister, Lina – the duty to continue the family farming tradition was strong. We felt we had a mission to carry our family farm to the new era.
However, the circumstances had to be right. My husband is a civil engineer and was asked to head a local construction company, so our family moved from Athens to Larissa in 2000. I was also working for the construction company as head of laboratory. Two years later, my sister’s family also moved from Athens to Larissa – her husband is a doctor and got a position at the local hospital.
I started working at the farm, while also working at the lab. At the end of 2010, it became clear that I could not do both. There was no hesitation – I quit my chemical engineer job to become a farmer. So now we’re here – forty kilometers from Larissa, in the outskirts of the village Agia Triada, on our land of three generations. Agia Triada means ‘trinity’ – we are The Trinity Farm.
When did you decide you wanted to convert your family’s conventional farm into an organic one?
In 2005, I came across organic farming. It became clear perhaps I could make my own contribution, no matter how small, towards a better future. That summer, we started the conversion of a 17-hectare plot, with the support of a European aid scheme to supplement income for farming organically.
What has that process been like?
The process was very hard, and still is. I had no farming experience at all, there was no access to information here. I could not find professional advice. I had to become acquainted with the terms – the names of the crops, the farming operations, both in Greek and in English. I purchased lots of books, and spent long hours reading and trying to put things into practice.
I made lots of mistakes. I still do, but less, and I’m still learning.
You’re now converting your farm again – this time towards being biodynamic. How does that change the way you run things on the farm?
This approach is so close to my principles and mentality. It meant converting our farm to a living organism, with its own animals that would be fed solely on feed grown in our land. The animals then in turn would provide us with raw materials to feed the soil. In this way, we would produce healthy and tasty food, while at the same time caring for the environment.
We are the first Greek biodynamic farm certified by Demeter International, and currently the only one for annual crops. Few Greek farmers are Demeter certified and they grow perennial crops – olives mainly. The certification for annual crops requires combined agriculture with animal husbandry; no animals, no certification. We are also certified by the Greek certification body, DIO.
Can you talk me through some of your biodynamic practices, and why they’re important?
Biodynamic agriculture is the oldest and most established approach of organic agriculture, with more than 3,000 farms in about 40 countries. The main aspects are producing high quality food, and supporting sustainability, biodiversity, hardy plants, healthy animals and fertile soil, and using a closed carbon cycle.
The use of special preparations helps in the improvement of the soil and the increase of its fertility. Based on the work of Rudolf Steiner, biodynamic agriculture takes into consideration not only the soil, plants, animals and cosmic influences, but constitutes a holistic philosophy where in addition to strict standards, qualities such as honesty, transparency and fair trade are also encouraged.
Genetically modified materials are not allowed at any stage of production or processing, we use organic or biodynamic seeds, animals enjoy good care and a peaceful life, we do not use hormones, and consumers are encouraged to have a direct relationship with the farm.
It’s a little unusual for a chemical engineer to be interested in following biodynamic methods.
I always enjoyed the challenge of handling difficult tasks. My ‘meeting’ with biodynamic agriculture spoke to my principles and mentality. The challenge was keeping up to strict standards, while farming with care for all beings and the environment, with honesty, transparency, fair trade, and developing a direct relationship with customers, while producing the best quality food – full of vitality, whole, tasty, that keeps well!
Isn’t this great?
What foods do you produce?
The selection of crops is firstly directed by the farm’s conditions – soil, location, climate, altitude. Then, a fundamental aspect of organic and biodynamic farming is crop rotation, versus the monocultures used in conventional, large-scale agriculture. So, in one plot where wheat grows, it is followed by barley, which in turn is followed by a legume, such as lentil or beans or field peas, and so on. We produce organic-biodynamic cereals, lentils and chickpeas and vegetables – potatoes, onions, carrots and garlic. From our cereals, we produce wholemeal, stone-milled flours and certain types of pasta, while our vegetables form the basis for condiments, like carrot jam.
Working in agriculture usually means tough work and long hours. What do you enjoy about it?
I always tried to give the best of my abilities to whatever task I was involved in, and always took joy out of it. Today, it gives me great pleasure to see my small seeds developing into healthy crops, my animals enjoying a peaceful life. I love to see the newborn lambs growing strong and happy, the everyday sense of freedom in the open space, sensing air and light, and of course our landscape with the small hills and valleys, ever-changing with the seasons. And, the sense that I am carrying our family farm to the future, in the footsteps of the previous generations.