Raches is a village on a hill just above the town of Kyparissia in Messinia, in the southwest Peloponnese. It faces the Ionian Sea and has its back to the village of Trifylia. Economist Sotiris Lymberopoulos spent his childhood summers in Raches, playing in the yard of his grandparent’s home, splashing around in the sea and running through the fields. He loved the place so much that continued to return as an adult, even when he was studying in England and later as a professional in Athens.
“At one point I began looking at my life,” Lymberopoulos told Kathimerini. “I wondered how I much longer I could keep staring at econometric models and meeting sad people.”
That was when he reached his life’s biggest and boldest decision: to make a complete turnaround by returning to his roots.
The expression cannot be more apt than it was for Lymberopoulos, who spent time touring Greece before finally settling in Raches, where he recalled all of his childhood memories but also the knowledge that he had gained over the years about all the good things that come from the land, knowledge that had remained dormant for years. He noticed his natural surrounding, the trees full of fruit and the fertile earth.
“That was when I thought: ‘This is what I want. I want to collect wild greens and cultivate the land,’” Lymberopoulos said.
His biggest coup came from a crazy idea that he decided to follow up on. “I did a bit of research and called some of the greatest chefs in Athens and asked them whether they would be interested in me supplying them with wild truffles from Messinia -- ancient varieties that cannot be found in the shops. Funnily enough, a few took me up on the idea and that’s where it all began,” Lymberopoulos explained.
He has now been collecting wild truffles for over two years and sells them to some of the best restaurants in the Greek capital. Nearly every day he takes to the hills around Raches and collects rare varieties of wild greens, roots, truffles and fruit for his clients. He also grows a number of vegetables for sale as well as for personal consumption.
Lymberopoulos has also rallied some of his farmer neighbors to join him his endeavor.
“In my field, for example, I grow beautiful tomatoes that like being beside the sea. In contrast, the location is not good for growing carrots. So, I found a farmer who will grow carrots for us, using his own cultivation philosophy.”
Lymberopoulos explained that the restaurants couldn’t care less whether the vegetable they use in their kitchens are attractive -- a standard that is very important for greengrocers and supermarkets, where produce needs to look a certain way.
“The issue for the chefs is that a product is tasty. This takes away a lot of anxiety for the farmer, who doesn’t have to worry about producing homogenous, perfect-looking vegetables.”
Lymberopoulos experiments with what he grows and doesn’t mind taking the time to get his fruits and vegetables just right, even if it means sacrificing an entire crop. The chefs he works with, meanwhile, are delighted because they have access to produce that was previously out of reach.
As the project progressed, Lymberopoulos also formed a collective called Radiki (or radish, www.radiki.com), whose aim is to promote the preservation of local food varieties. So far, his activities are limited to pulses, meat, eggs and cheeses, though he has plans to expand.
In order to help bankroll the expansion, Lymberopoulos has signed Radiki up on the electronic crowdfunding platform Groopio.com, whose aim is to help young entrepreneurs get projects off the ground. Through www.groopio.com, members of the public can donate anything from 1 to 100 euros, in return for which they will get fresh produce or olive oil in return.
“The only real way to preserve a variety is to make it commercial,” Lymberopoulos admitted to Kathimerini.