Terms & ConditionsSeptember 15, 2020
I traveled to Andros in the summer of 2020 to volunteer at Livada Farm with Alex Kostis. It was the first year he was going to market with a new permaculture garden. I found the farm on the WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) website, which connects volunteers to organic, natural farms. I was inspired by his decision to help support his family by working the land, providing the island with healthy, natural produce. He told me it was his goal to nurture community through food.
If Alex is dedicated to the local, his partner, Dimitra, is devoted to a more global vision. He toils the earth; she experiments with a new – or, rather, ancient – way of connecting different producers. Dimitra is member of an organization called SAIL MED, a group founded by Jan Christian Lundberg, which is devoted to fostering clean methods for travel and shipping, primarily by bringing back the sail as an efficient and sustainable means of transport. Their major project is Aegean Cargo Sailing, an initiative that carries travellers on a journey of discovery, while transporting artisanal, natural products from producers to shops throughout the Aegean Islands. If you find a product on a Greek island with their label (“me ta pania kai ton anemo” – “by sail and wind”), it means you are holding something special in your hands, something that connects you to a community, both present and past: this a natural product brought to you, as it were, by nature herself. From farm to table, borne aloft by the wind.
For now, there is one ship making deliveries and shuttling travelers during the summer months. The captain is Loucas Gourtsoyannis. I had the pleasure of concluding my stay at Livada Farm by sailing with Loucas. I met him on Chios. Accompanying him was the first mate and a French journalist, Marine. We spent the afternoon among the Mastiha villages in the south of the island. Marine recorded a song in which a young girl tells her lover to stop working in the fields, where he gathers and cleans the famous “tears” of resin. We sampled mastiha liqueurs in Mesta. In the evening, we sailed southwards, and when we were leeward of the island, dropped anchor and slept the night on soft swells. Early the next morning, we set sail for Ikaria. Which brings me to the most important character in this story, the hero on which the grand enterprise depends: the wind.
When you first arrive in Andros in the summer, there is a good chance the wind is blowing. From May to September, the Aegean is filled with the Etesian winds from the north. Cool air is pulled out of the Balkans and sweeps down toward the Sahara, whirling through the Cyclades on its way. Some summer days are calm. Some days the wind may bluster until the evening, when it begins to die out. Or else they can rage for days, dry and powerful. They set a ringing in your ears; they exasperate smokers lighting up and farmers wearing hats. Down in the valley, as we worked, the wind might cease for a moment, but moments later you heard it roaring over the top of the hill to the northeast. The leaves swooshed as it hurtled down, surging over olive trees and through the poplars beside the river, spinning a silver cascade down the hill, until finally you felt it and it blew once more through the garden. Plants, too, breathe, and maybe this was another reason, besides the fresh spring water, the fertile land, why Alex’s produce was so delicious. Under the command of Loucas, this mighty and sometimes exasperating Etesian wind became a faithful servant. The whole morning the boat was yar. You felt the taught control as the ship propelled sweetly over each wave. The captain was in command of that mighty wind and in a few hours we rolled around the northeast cape of Ikaria.
The genius of Sail Med is to harness our wind to carry us and what we eat. Or, rather, their genius lies in realizing what is, perhaps, the most ancient form of transportation. Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian explorer, wrote: “Man hoisted sail before he saddled a horse. He poled and paddled along rivers and navigated the open seas before he travelled on wheels along a road.” Earth’s atmosphere is alive with living breath. The same wind coursing through Alex’s farm on Andros was also propelling Loucas’ ship through the Aegean, transporting tourists and wine and cheese from island to island. I disembarked in the marina of Aghios Kirikos. A new group of tourists and products boarded the ship in Ikaria and continued on to Samos and then Patmos. It was a full moon that evening, and the seas were calm. By morning a new wind, from its inexhaustible source in the north, had risen, and they departed…