«Today you will help in the garden, by the side of a great man. You have many things to learn from Nicos – just start by observing how he works with the earth and you will understand.»

These were the words I remember Aris Pavlos sharing with me in April 2014 at the 14th Panhellenic Festival of Peliti, in Paranesti, Drama.

He was talking about Nicolaos Dompazis – little I knew that a year and a half later I would be in his and his wife garden in Komotini, picking peppers and baking bread…

For some people, the moment you meet them, you recognize how important they are – how important they are for the many things they run and for all the people who surround them.

Two important people to me are Nicos and Dina Dompazi – the coordinators or better, the soul and initiation of the local Peliti team in Komotini.

For years now they lived in cosmopolitan Komotini, where they raised there their two daughters, Eva and Aggelika. During the mornings, Nicos woks as a teacher at the 9th Elementary School of Komotini while Dina looks after people, working as a nurse at the local hospital. Beyond their life in the city, a little bit off the center, the two of them created a small paradise – not that small though since we strolled around the garden for over an hour every morning, picking apples and figs for our breakfast.

In this paradise, I had the opportunity to sleep and wake up for five days this past summer.

The concept of «self-sufficiency» is something that has been wondering around my mind quite intensely this past year, and this desired concept has acquired flesh and bones in the garden on Nicos and Dina, making me realize that it is not so impossible to achieve after all.

In only four days, Nicos had multiple workshops scheduled for me – intensive experiential workshops that would train me for my goal: learn how to become more self-sufficient through utilizing every bit of resource that comes out of the garden and the vicinity, producing food, health products and handcrafts for the winter months to come.

In those few days, we managed to make tomato and pepper sauces from freshly picked produce from the garden, always grown from heirloom seeds. We baked bread with freshly ground wheat and corn flour, made homemade cheese, created medicinal ointments and handcrafted baskets with poplar branches form nearby mountains and reeds from the garden, and prepared fig paste and sun-dried tomatoes – only a small segment of all the knowledge Nicos has gathered by working with the earth these past twenty years.

How great is it anyway to prepare your meals every day with whatever grows in the garden? Freshly cut beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon, homemade bread, tomato and pepper sauces. Fruit and veggies that were produced by applying generous amounts of love and caring and without the use of any chemicals and hormones.

The magic though of this garden is the fact that it can regrow anew every year – without any exhausting maintenance costs. And this is due to one simple fact: The beginning of all growing life in the garden, are heirloom seeds. Seeds that are patiently harvested, cleaned and saved every year in Nicos and Dinas’ seed bank.

A bank that through the numerous Peliti activities the couple has been engaged in throughout the years, has offered the opportunity to people from all over Greece and Cyprus to saw and grow heirloom plants in their gardens and balconies.

It is great to observe how with patience, experience and knowledge gained throughout years of work, someone is able to assure the production of the majority of the food they consume, create a home with natural and local materials and create products they will require throughout the year.

You look out for your self-reliance without exhausting maintenance costs and without depending on imported resources and big-multinationals. The most important outcome though is that: «By growing our own food, we grow one kind: our Health,» as Nicos likes to say.

This self-sufficiency though, is a commodity that requires a lot of dedication, labor and self-discipline. Many nights Dina and Nicos would stay up till late, harvesting dry beans for next year’s sowing or weaving baskets for storing and transporting their harvested crops. With how much patience, I observed, how they always looked out to recycle every possible organic waste from their kitchen and garden, in order to recycle their nutrients and return them later on to their land in the form of sweet-smelling compost.

All this, requires a different way of thinking from the one we have adopted these last few decades in our urban lives – the consumerism behavior of the “one-time-use” where everything is expendable and nothing is important enough to be reused or recycled.

Self-reliance is an activity that requires hours – many-many hours from us. But how can you compare the end of such fulfilling day spend in the garden alongside your plants and the fruit of your patient labor over the course of a few months, with a day enclosed in a “cement cage” in front of a computer?

It’s a lot of work to achieve self-sufficiency, but through the calmness and love Nicos and Dina radiate, it is easy to realize that it is worth every single minute of investment. It is beautiful to be able to know how to grow your own food or build a safe and resilient shelter over your head. It is important for us, as living creatures on this planet, to regain our independency and self-reliance and aim towards an undoubtedly high-quality life.

Thank you Nicos and Dina for sharing with me, that such a lifestyle is just a step away but principally for showing me with your living example that the path towards achieving self-reliance might even have in store more gifts for us than the end result itself…

 

Sofia Matsi

September 2015