Greek Figs Business
It’s always a joy to drive through the countryside of southern Attica where good soil produces some of the best fruits and vegetables around Athens. Here small business still means small business!
Farmers offer their production from hand-built stalls along the often dusty roads.
Greeks have their preferred farmer and will drive across Attica just to get the real stuff from the trusted source year after year.
Others would just stop at a place because of an attractive display of fresh veggies, inviting colors of fruit or just to have a chat with locals. Some of these small businesses also sell other home made products from the farm, honey, spices such as origan, sweets, jam and more.
Of course the offer depends on the season and the shopping habits are far from those cripling our minds in super markets.
My friend Costa has been a long term customer of farmers from the Loutsa Area, on the other side of Attica, about a 40 minute drive from Vouliagmeni. That’s where you get the best Figs in Attica, he claims.
So, a few days ago, we drove across Attica to get some of those delicious products. While I was expecting to end up at a small family owned farm, I could not hide my surprise when we stopped at that small stall featured on the picture above, off the main road but still on a connection between villages …but still: middle of nowhere.
The stall was as handcrafted as you could imagine and the equipment quite standard: basic. A balance hanging from the roof, the table to display the fresh vegetables and fruits, another table in the back to sort the products as well as a few improvised chairs to have a sip and a chat with friends. Electricity, what’s that?
Interestingly the figs on display are packed and labeled FRESH FIGS is good old English, whilst the farmers often don’t speak a word of that language. Also we are not really on a touristic trail. My silent conclusion is, that imported packaging materials must be cheaper that the local stuff.
Having a closer look at the box, I find the address of an exporter from Athens and in fact, our very modest stall owner, is in fact supplying figs for export by air world-wide! Of course Greek Figs are the best in the world and those from Panagiotis are the best in Greece … what else?
E-Commerce vs. S-Commerce
Out in the Greek countryside, supermarkets, e-commerce and such likes are just distant nightmares. There is only one commerce and that is S-Commerce, standing for Social Commerce. Greeks never needed any social networks, facebook and twitter to be social, it’s just in their nature to socialize as an important part of Greek lifestyle.
The same applies to commerce out in the countryside. Buying and selling are social acts and you would disappoint your Greek farmer, if you just got off your car and quickly bought your veggies without a word, chat or as the case may be, without tasting some of the home made foods.
Of course, Costa immediately gets into a heated discussion with the farmer’s wife about this year’s quality of figs, while tasting the various varieties available to create a good climate for s-commerce, that is, aiming at getting the best price for the best fruits.
This back and fourth takes a while and even a good while, but it’s part of the game, part of the transaction, the s-commerce.
Sure, the discussion is not just about figs and irrigation, rain, sunshine and farming; the discussion hits the weather in general, the crises, the difficulties to farm today, the problems of small scale farming, national politics, global warming and God and the world.
Time passes and you spend a great moment selecting your figs and veggies.
During the whole process you are pushed to taste this and try that and if you have not had lunch yet, there is no point planning for it any longer.
Inevitably there comes the moment of the truth; has it been worth the while to spend all this time to get the price down by may be a few cents per kilo? And if all of this was not about the few cents at all?
Costa finally thought the time was right to conclude the deal as the farmer’s wife was in increasingly good mood and put a nice smile on her face carved by hard country life.
Now the highlight of the technical infrastructure, the balance, becomes the center of attention and that’s just yet another good reason for discussion and while the farmer’s wife talks the quality and price up, Costa uses now the general arguments of crises and the resulting hardship for Greek people to limit the damage.
As an observer you become quickly aware of the importance of the issue: we are talking here about the very best figs in this world which are traded in one of the worst economic contexts.
You need to be at least a university professor to sort out such complex issues or a politician to talk them out of the world.
But our two negotiators are by far beyond the primitive arguments of macro-economics and political short-sight.
The issue is a matter of consensus, not just consensus about kilos and Euros; it’s about a global consensus on matters discussed and the trade is just the materialization of that consensus when reached.
You may not be able to negociate the price down but you will find a satisfactory consensus on some important matters where both parties exit the negociation heads up.
The consensus is important, not the material exchange of Euros against figs. The satisfaction to extract from all discussed matters those, where there is agreement, and the ability to build the widest possible consensus is the purpose of the dealing.
The fig deal is just the trigger for readiness to compromise: Costa wants figs and the farmer wants to sell them; as they both want to reach their respective goals, they are prepared to find that bases of consensus which makes this deal for both parties an enriching experience and therefore a great deal.
Modern terminology like “shopping experience” are part of day to day Greek life and modern marketing experts can invent whatever they want, they will never come even close to a real social shopping experience as described above.
So, How long does it take to buy a few kilos of figs?
Is time a measure for social commerce at all? In my opinion, it’s pretty irrelevant and in fact, I could not answer that question based on the above experience.
All I know is that we left with different varieties of figs, zucchini, eggplant, peppers and all the wheeling and dealing was interlaced, subject to discussion and finally a happy global consensus.
I also remember that it was happy hour when we finally got back to Vouliagmeni …
What is relevant, is to have met the farmers, spent some good time with them and remembering a great social shopping experience, where something has happened, something beyond figs and Euros.