What would motivate crisis-struck Greek urbanites gather in a picturesque Northern-Euboean village of olive trees to join a project commanding radical change in every aspect of their life as they knew it? The answer lies in the name of the mountain hosting the village: Telethrion. Telethrion is the first Greek eco-community that aspires to restore hope and re-empower and re-affiliate its members with nature through intervention on multiple levels.
In the winter of 2008, members of a forum—from scientists and musicians to developers and gardeners—resolved to be the change they wanted to see in the world. In January 2009, they named their group “True Freedom.”
“After many discussions, suggestions, voices and smiles,” says Apostolos Sianos, one of the group’s founding members, “Free & Real, a non-profit/NGO, was brought into being.” From Athens, Free & Real members moved to Euboea in 2010. There, they made their first steps towards setting up the first self-sufficiency and sustainability school in Greece, Telethrion.
Five years after, the flame is still burning. Telethrion is expanding day by day.
“We currently own three large properties in the wider area of Agios village,” says Sianos, who gave up a web design career to co-lead the project. “Our workshop and headquarters are located in Agios, where we spend most of our time. There you can find carpentry workshops, vegetable gardens, a greenhouse, a herb dryer, our exhibition premises and many more.”
“Our second property lies in the adjacent village of Agiokampos,” says Sianos. “We maintain our test site, which is essentially a self-sufficiency space with three yurts (large and small), compost toilets, a water management system, several wooden houses, renewable energy sources, an herb garden and other self-sufficiency applications.”
“Finally, at an altitude of 480 meters, on Mount Telethrion, visitors can cast their eyes on our central geodesic dome, thousands of trees we planted with our bare hands and dozens of organic sowings for the creation of our forest garden,” adds Sianos. “We have also dug the reservoir that will later serve as our first artificial lake.”
One of Telethrion’s fundamental beliefs is that the contemporaneous way humans treat Earth is razing her to the ground. For instance, the senseless use of chemical fertilizers wrecks millions of square kilometers of land every year. “This forces farmers to ruin even larger patches of land in their quest to find new farming grounds,” says Sianos.
Sulking over the magnitude of destruction we have inflicted on our Solar System’s most habitable planet is meaningless. For Telethrion, the Earth can still see a glint of hope if we re-embrace natural farming.
“Natural farming is not only about growing the land…it’s a philosophy, a way of life. You allow nature to do what she knows best, you don’t interfere with her pace, simple as that,” says Sianos. “By subscribing to this philosophy and by using mild technologies that keep gaining ground for the sustainability of our species and our planet, we are trying to implement a model whose influence would be much more striking on a larger scale.”
Environmental issues hold a pivotal place in Telethrion’s agenda. The members have opted for clean systems and sources of renewable energy in their community, as well as for organic and inorganic waste, water and energy management systems. Needless to say, Permaculture principles pervade this agenda. Notwithstanding, Telethrion’s objectives transcend environmental only matters.
On a socioeconomic level, they believe that free trade and distribution (open sourcing) of information, skills, practical knowledge, services, sites and material goods among all are the key to joyful, human relations. In the Telethrion society social services, material commodities and means of achieving targets “run free”, exchange of credit is obsolete, while voluntary, uninhibited offer rules. It is their conviction that a voluntary participatory society doling out real incentives will foster creativity, communication, solidarity, and diversity amid members. Telethrion community encourages selfless contribution and impartial collegiality at the expense of authoritarian dogmatism. A primary objective is to insert the scientific method in the community’s decision-making processes to boost decisions based on facts and research, not on random experiences or biased opinions.
Technologically, they opt for new, cleaner technologies to the benefit of all. They believe they can design, manufacture and distribute green products of the highest quality and durability, pollution-free and anticonsumerist.
“We have been experimenting with easily constructible, copiable and repairable technologies [that are] accessible to all,” stresses Sianos.
“With these and many more, not only will we restore the Earth but we will witness people attaining new levels of physical, mental and emotional health,” he goes on.
The new sense of self throngs the reports of those who have immersed themselves in Telethrion. They scurried away from the pestering rumble of one word: “crisis, crisis, crisis”. They are not alone. According to a recent survey conducted for the country’s Ministry of Rural Development in the populous counties of Attica and Thessaloniki, 68 percent of respondents — representing over one million Greeks in a country of just ten million — are considering leaving the city. Two-thirds of them are college degree holders, and a majority of them under the age of forty. Nineteen percent of those surveyed said they have already embarked on their moves.
In Euboea, the former “Free & Real” partakers feel finally free from the tight concrete margins of the city, the endless traffic and city hustle. They breathe fresh air instead of exhaust fumes and consume naturally flavored food, not the plastic, synthetic one on the supermarkets’ shelves.
“Every day is a new day of adventure in Telethrion,” says Sianos. “What to mention first?… The hordes of visitors from all corners of the world? The dozens of self-sufficiency and sustainability workshops? The school and university visits, the seasons we get to feel, the gardens, the programs we participate in and out of Europe, the partnerships with similar groups in Greece and abroad? … How to draw comparisons between what we live now and the past? Here you lose track of the “typical”, you become a perpetual student of life,” he reflects.
Nonetheless, Telethrion is not without its challenges. The greatest ones stem from weather-induced disasters, crop damages and the huge lack of resources in a country currently in its seventh—to eighth—year of recession. However, Telethrion participants disdain getting bogged down in difficulties. For there is always light at the end of the tunnel, a practical solution manifesting itself after team gatherings, where exchange of ideas will spark morale once again.
One proven practical solution of theirs is crowd sourcing. Sianos says crowdsourcing means that the world nods okay and plunges in the endeavor along them.
This is the third time Telethrion has made use of the online campaign platform indiegogo to crowd fund a project. At the moment, contributions to Telethrion campaign will help ameliorate their central geodesic dome, complete their lake and create a new cluster of compost toilets.
Another invaluable medium of help has been donations. Many people make them upon visiting Telethrion premises or after having attended a workshop. The generosity of some donators has blown the community away but help often comes in the form of materials and tools from companies and individuals and small acts of kindness.
“Monetary contributions have been indispensable in our journey,” agrees Sianos, now in his fourth year with Telethrion. “But even the thousands of hands that have laid the tiniest little rock over these four years, and the thousands of smiles and hugs of joy when a project has ended have been enough to keep us going!”