By Heini-Sofia Alavuo
For many people modern life doesn’t bring satisfaction — stress, money worries and being cut off from nature can cause unhappiness.
However, there is a small community on the Greek island of Crete which is trying to live by different values. Apo Kinou (Greek for ‘together’ or ‘from the common people’) is a self-sufficient cooperative community in Heraklion which values an organic lifestyle, freedom and coexistence.
Alexandra-Odette Kypriotaki sits in a coffee shop and her face brightens up immediately when she starts to talk about the cooperative to Greek Reporter. “This is a big part of my life now — my way of life”, she says.
The cooperative was founded in spring 2013 by 10 people from different backgrounds. The group had already been working together, but they started officially after social cooperatives became legal in Greece.
“We sat down and discussed what our values are. Then we wrote all the different ideas down and said: ‘This is our cooperative now’,” according to Alexandra.
Apo Kinou has three interrelated parts: the first is the cultivation of organic, fresh and seasonal products. Secondly, the cooperative focuses on education by implementing alternative teaching techniques. Thirdly, they want to focus on spreading their culture and ideas.
The cooperative started slowly in the beginning. Alexandra says that everything expanded naturally; more people found out about the group and wanted to join and spread the message.
Now the cooperative has approximately 40 diverse members – people from abroad, young and old and from different professional backgrounds.
What makes the cooperative unique is their completely horizontal hierarchy — every member has an equal say in things. “This is very important to us, because we want to change and shift the mentality and the way we have learned to do things in the past,” Alexandra says.
Every voice gets heard.
The cooperative is divided into teams, such as a farmers’ team, a logistics team and a communications team. They get together for smaller committee meetings weekly, and once a month they have a bigger meeting with all of the members. In these meetings they make decisions on cooperative matters – together. Every voice gets heard.
According to Alexandra, another thing that makes Apo Kinou different from other social cooperatives is that they have truly tried to open up: “We didn’t want to get stuck in political views or have labels, such as ‘communists’ or ‘anarchists’.
“We have people with different views and opinions because we want to see what it is like to really work and coexist with diverse people who don’t always agree.”
Apo Kinou has many projects around the Heraklion area. Probably the best known is a city-center falafel restaurant called the The Chickpea. The cooperative has provided catering to festivals and other events for many years, so the idea for their own place started naturally.
The Chickpea offers organic, sugar-free food made from fresh and seasonal ingredients that come daily straight from the cooperative’s farmers. They offer slow fast-food while bringing their ideas to the city center.
One important step for the cooperative was to create jobs; The Chickpea currently employs 15 people.
“Our cooperative has become more known all around the country because we are one of the few social cooperatives in Greece that are financially successful.” Alexandra says.
Handling the finances of such a cooperative with so many people involved can be a challenge, but so far the group has managed to run all their projects without major problems.
Besides the restaurant, Apo Kinou has projects such as Circle, where they deliver freshly picked products and self-made delicacies to people who order them directly from the group.
They have their own bottling and packaging station, where they prepare their products such as mustard, olive oil, raisins and rusk bread. Alexandra also mentions that they export their products to five different European countries, including Germany and France.
For the future, the cooperative has planned to start an educational program for young children. “It’s another dream of ours. Children would come twice a week and get hands-on experience in their own garden. We think it’s important to pass this ideology to children starting from young age,” Alexandra says.
Apo Kinou also hopes to start exporting more products and increase the welfare of the members by giving them more benefits, such as helping with medical bills. Many locals have also been hoping for a new restaurant in the center, with a different style of cuisine.
Alexandra says they will slowly see how things evolve: “Even if we would close everything tomorrow, I know I’m a better person than five years ago. Working together with different people gives so much. Despite some difficulties, it’s important that everyone feels good in our cooperative.”