Interview: Evanna Venardou | Photo: Nikos Zappas
Ι want to live as I was raised
He’s young, restless, with an alternative, ecological approach to living, which is readily evident in “The Green Project,” his café bar in Drios. Here visitors can unwind over a coffee or drink and an eclectic selection of dishes by a natural cistern. An entire wall is covered with jars of his own jam, and guests are invited to sample never-tasted-before jam cocktails!
Yannis Ragoussis, born to a rural family, makes a good example of how young people could benefit from making the most of what their home place has to offer. Yannis uses local ingredients produced by his family and other producers of Paros to create special treats for his shop.
Your jams are becoming fast-sellers. What flavours do you offer and where can one find them?
We have a wide range. The line includes prickly pear, tangerine and mastic, cherry plum, apricot, spoon sweets, plus an orange and chocolate jam with a distinct flavour which I’m especially fond of. I work long hours for all this –it’s a drudgery [laughing]. A local lady used to make them. One day I asked her to show me how she crafted them and used her tips as a springboard for creating my own variations. Today our jams feature on the breakfast buffets of four hotels on the island and are sold in a number of shops in Paros and in three outlets in Athens: “Tinto” (Nea Smirni), “Sessoula tis Geitonias” (Nea Philadelphia) and “e-utopia” (Nea Erythrea).
I can see your commitment to local products…
Indeed. For example, I use cheeses from Drios and nearby villages. And, in general, I prefer Greek products –Kayak ice cream, Green Cola, Epsa soft drinks. This year, we’re only serving Greek microbrewery-crafted beers. My goal was to create a space in which I could offer what I produce: olive oil, olives, semi-sweet wine from Mandilaria, souma (grape-based spirit), and jams, of course, made with fruit grown in my orchard or the island’s bountiful fields. My family has been growing potatoes using a special method: we irrigate them with brackish water. As a result, their taste is superior to that of their store-bought counterparts.”
What was it that prompted you to start “The Green Project” amidst the economic crisis?
The people lead the way. We had our own hens and eggs, and the season’s yield of our own produce. I wanted to share this abundance with the community. I just set out to do what I’ve learnt from my family. In this I was supported by my friend, Peter Kaparos, who invested money and thought in the whole venture. It’s already been four years and counting. We’re open all-year-round. In winter, a blazing fireplace keeps the place snug!
Paros is betting heavily on tourism. Doesn’t this mean that primary production comes off second best?
They say that very few young people take any interest in agriculture, but this is not true. Most of them just don’t have the know-how or the means to get it going. Paros is self-sufficient. What we’re lacking in is method. Do you know how many products are discarded because no one has put much thought into ways of distributing them? Wholesalers on the island who want cheaper products will opt for placing an order at the vegetable market of Athens. I know of someone who decided to grow potatoes only to discard them. Paros is one of the few islands with so much cultivable land due to its morphology (flatland, lots of water). But there’s a deficit in cooperation skills.
Are you thinking of expanding?
I’m not after anything grandiose or earth-shattering. I want to live as I was raised. I’ve simply made a business out of the way I grew up.