Come Over Into Macedonia, H. Allen

A People Uplifted


WE HAVE REVIEWED in some detail the gradual evolution of the agricultural program; we noted the sort of vigorous young man who became the leader of solid improvements in farm practice. We saw also the almost incredible hardships which he suffered in the performance of his job. Finally, we understood the factor which, more than anything else, held him steadfast to his task; namely, a justifiable pride in the worthwhile goals he attained.

The Macedonian farmers whom these agricultural leaders attempted to uplift were scarcely different from underprivileged people anywhere else in the world. Their life was largely the same unrelieved round of endless drudgery, much work and scant returns, so that enlightened observers could understand full well that the whole system was a vicious circle. To the extent that the peasantry failed to flourish, it became a drag on the whole economic structure of Greece. And as the Greek economic structure tottered, the plight of the peasantry became increasingly worse.

It is a bit difficult, then, to explain exactly how the amazing results achieved by these intelligent, hard-working agricultural leaders were wrought, for they came from within the same economic structure, and they were working against the downpress of tides which were in those days (and still!) shaking the foundations of the world.

Perhaps it is enough to cling to our firm faith in democracy and the intrinsic value of individual humans, steadfast in the belief that the average person, given an opportunity for self-betterment will, with increasing alacrity, avail himself of it.

For considering the status of the Macedonian peasant and his wife and family, we see clearly that this region was a proving ground for the forces of democratic progress and the gradual improvement of the living conditions of the whole human family, if not for the improvement of the human family itself.

In the beginning as is natural the Macedonian peasant was hard to convince. Centuries of strict supervision, not always of the gentlest kind, had made him a man who bridled his tongue, held his peace, and viewed new methods with a stubborn hard-headedness which sometimes proved his greatest asset.

Improvements in farming not infrequently appealed to him as fads. He was not interested in theory. He was eminently practical, and having cultivated in self-defense a certain powerful skepticism, he was remarkably hard to convince.

And yet it was this same individual who, after his friendship had been gained and the practicality of our goals once clearly established, took hold of the program in its entirety and made it his own.

We had wondered in the bleak days at the beginning of the program how we would ever reach beyond the small circle of farmers with whom we began. But the peasant took care of that. We had worried about integrating our improvements with Greek rural life. The peasant through his own successful use of these improved practices took care of that also. Once the Macedonian was convinced, he was filled with a missionary zeal based on hard-earned practical experience, which made him more effective in the field than a dozen professional workers would ever have been.

It might be well at this time to consider a few of the factors which strongly favored achievement in Macedonia once the farmer was convinced. One of these was no doubt the decades of oppression under brutal foreign overlords. People living under such unfavorable conditions tend to hold themselves in compact, clannish groups, and the efforts of any outsider to invade their privacy in any manner is strenuously resisted.

But this very characteristic may sometimes prove to be an advantage, for when one of the members of such a tight little group can be won over to a new point of view, and then convinced that this is practical and advantageous, his influence is all the more potent in persuading the others.

Another factor favoring achievement in Macedonia was the almost unbelievable poverty. In those years following the Smyrna disaster, when the whole Greek nation committed itself to a hand-to-mouth policy in order to care for the huge refugee immigration, poverty of the most abject sort was common in Macedonia. It was in fact the sort of poverty which, unallayed, can at length lead to desperate measures. For that reason, when an organization like Near East Foundation moved into the area, open-handed and with no special axe to grind, there was a natural tendency for the depressed populace to see in them the seeds of unhoped-for deliverance, and to be eager, after overcoming their normal reticence and caution, to cooperate.

Still another factor was that among these thousands of refugees there were many who were obliged, for the first time in their lives, to make a living from the good earth, and as most of them were quite intelligent men and women, they were grateful for any practical information which would help them help themselves to ease the burdens which had been so abruptly thrust upon them. And even those who were born of the soil suddenly found themselves facing entirely new conditions of soil, climate, and crops. The native farmer of Macedonia was much more conservative, much harder to convince. But even here there was one important factor in our favor. As a result of the sudden increase in population the native farmer had to gain a livelihood from much smaller holdings of land. Realizing his limitations in the face of this new situation he frequently became willing to change some of his out-worn practices.

Actually, however, no matter how much we refer to the peasants as a class, we must realize that the results achieved were really accomplished by individuals. Individual agriculturalists led the programs in the various villages, and individual farmers carried out the instructions and provided the labor that was necessary to achieve those results.

Perhaps we can emphasize these achievements most graphically, then, by describing what happened in the cases of a number of individuals.

John Kalaidjis was a good, hard-working farmer in the village of Arsen. He had a farm of forty-eight stremmas, a good part of which he planted year after year to sesame seed.

In 1936 a great thing occurred in the life of John Kalaidjis. Somehow he got to talking with the regional agriculturist of Near East Foundation, Haralambos Zoulamoglou, and Zoulamoglou talked fast and furious enough to convince Kalaidjis to try out a crop that was new to him.

Zoulamoglou had been pushing the raising of hemp in several of his villages, for he had learned from the government station what a profitable crop it was for that region. It was at that time a specialty crop, readily marketable and high-priced, as compared with largely grown standard crops.

So Kalaidjis grumbled a little, and wondered if he was being a fool, but he planted four of his precious stremmas to hemp. Let's see. The four stremmas in sesame seed would bring 3,000 drachmas for sure. And here he was trying hemp! John Kalaidjis wondered if he was all right in the head.

Worse than that, that slick-talking Zoulamoglou made him promise to take a couple of the few stremmas which had always been planted to rye, and to put one to vetch and the other to field peas.

John Kalaidjis had some moments of serious and sad reflection as those plants speared greenly through his soil and seemed to leer at him. First time he's ever taken any advice from an outsider—and probably the last. Hemp, vetch, field peas! Huh!

But you should have seen him when the harvest was gathered and the money was paid over to him for his crops. The hemp brought in 5,600 drachmas, or 2,600 more than the sesame would have done. The vetch brought in an increase of 950 drachmas. Even the darned peas were worth 614 drachmas. John Kalaidjis sat down with a stub of pencil and added it up. He was just 4,164 drachmas to the good because he's listened to Zoulamoglou.

That was a lot of drachmas to John. He leaned back against the wall of his house and scratched his thick thatch of hair. Fine fellow, that Zoulamoglou ! Yes, siree!

There was another farmer, also named John, in the village of Arsen who listened to the same persuasive Zoulamoglou. John Papageorghiou was farming seventy-five stremmas. He was talked into sowing six of these stremmas to hemp, in place of the corn which he was planning to raise on this field. Zoulamoglou believed in hemp! His usual crop of corn sold at current prices for that year, 1936, would have brought in 4,320 drachmas. But the hemp—well, the hemp crop with its seed and fiber was sold for exactly 8,400 drachmas, or a gain of 4,080 drachmas over the expected yield of the corn.

The thing which broke John Papageorghiou's heart was not the hemp, though. It was the wheat. You see, Zoulamoglou had campaigned for a special variety of wheat recommended for this particular area, and out of the forty-three stremmas he planted to wheat, Papageorghiou weakened enough to plant Zoulamoglou's wheat on three of those stremmas.

But when the harvest came, John Papageorghiou got a shock. That special variety yielded ten okes more per stremma. Those thirty okes at eight drachmas an oke brought in another 240 drachmas. So the grand total from Zoulamoglou's suggestions was a tidy sum of 4,320 drachmas. But what made Papageorghiou sick was to think of the forty acres he could have planted to the special wheat. Next year he would. But this year like a dummy he'd cost himself 3,200 drachmas. "What a dunderhead!" John Papageorghiou said to John Papageorghiou.

Over in Makriyalos, agriculturist Theodorou was working with the Zarkandjas family. There were ten in the family, four of whom were able to work in the fields. The Zarkandjas family was on its toes, wide-awake, not afraid of hard work, nor of taking a flier with Theodorou.

The farm consisted of one hundred and seventeen stremmas. There were fifty hens, three goats, thirty sheep, and four oxen. In 1935, Theodorou induced Zarkandjas to select his wheat seed from the best of the growing heads in the field. As a result in 1936 on the fifty-four stremmas planted to wheat, his yield was increased about ten per cent.

In addition, on twelve and a half stremmas, Zarkandjas was persuaded to try a practice advocated in the Makriyalos section, growing cultivated wheat. This increased the yield on these twelve and a half stremmas by twenty-five okes per stremma. In place of rye, vetch was grown. Theodorou suggested that Zarkandjas build a cheap, neat poultry house instead of letting the hens roost in the trees. That suggestion raised the production of eggs about twenty per cent.

Zarkandjas was a methodical man, a good farmer, and a good record keeper. At the end of the year, he calculated that he had increased his income by exactly 22,559 drachmas-—and that on a property which ordinarily produced a gross income of 90,000 drachmas!

Then there was Farmer Kalevas in the village of Kataha. There were eleven in his family, five of whom could work in the fields. He had ten hens, a cow, two oxen, and cultivated ninety-three stremmas of land. The total gross value of his farm production for 1936 was 119,500 drachmas. A very substantial part of this resulted from adopting three practices recommended by Theodorou:

1. The use of wheat seed which had been carefully selected the year before from standing heads.
2. The substitution of vetch for rye.
3. Growing cotton instead of corn on fourteen stremmas of land.

As closely as he could figure, Farmer Kalevas reckoned that these three practices had increased his income 19,000 drachmas.

Then there was a certain man in the Porroia area who was induced by agriculturist Economou to try to grow rice. Economou had discovered that years before the Turks grew rice very successfully in that area and that all the necessary factors for success were still present.

During the Greco-Turkish War and the subsequent exchange of populations, this enterprise had been entirely abandoned. In 1932 two farmers in one village were persuaded to devote small plots of land to this crop. Success crowned their efforts and the news spread.

Among the several who were eager to attempt this crop in 1933 was S. Kozaris of the village of Aghia Paraskevi. Kozaris devoted seven stremmas to this purpose, and followed Economou's instructions most carefully. He had a good crop, an average yield of 250 okes per stremma, or a total of 1,750 okes of rice.

He sold the crop at an average of ten drachmas per oke, resulting in a cash income of 17,500 drachmas, not to mention the large quantity of valuable straw which he had on hand for farm use. The usual crop of corn or wheat would have brought in not more than 500 drachmas per stremma, or a total of 3,500 drachmas. It is interesting to note, however, that in this case the land which was used was not suitable for any other crop and had not been under cultivation for some time. Therefore, the income from the rice was pure gain.

In the village of Stavrohori, Stephan Harlamides worked closely with Farmer Fahourides. Fahourides bred his native cow to the purebred bull which Harlamides had introduced. As a result he had, in the summer of 1936, a young male which he sold for 2,800 drachmas, instead of the 800 which he would have gotten for ordinary native stock. Another 2,000 drachmas was realized from vetch on land ordinarily left fallow. The increase from selected disinfected wheat amounted to 646 drachmas. All told, Fahourides increased his income in 1936 by 4,646 drachmas.

We cannot leave Stephan with a mere passing mention of Farmer Fahourides' bull calf, for upgrading livestock by better breeding was one of Harlamides' major projects, and the economic effect of his activities is measurable and remarkable.

When he went into the Kilkis area, Harlamides found that three of his villages had no bulls at all for breeding purposes. After a lot of work he got the farmers to club together, raise the necessary money in various ways, and to purchase purebred bulls.

One of these villages, the Stavrohori that was mentioned above had had no bull from 1927 until 1933 and, as a result, there was not only a serious shortage of young animals, but an alarming and quite unnecessary shortage of milk.

In 1932, of one hundred and eighty producing cows only thirty-seven calved.
In 1933, of one hundred and seventy-two cows, only fifty-nine calved.
In 1934, the purebred bull was introduced. Of one hundred and seventy cows, one hundred and six had calves.
In 1935, one hundred and sixty-seven cows had one hundred and eleven calves.

Without going into all the detailed calculations necessary to arrive at the financial effects of this venture, it can be stated that the total financial improvement during 1934 and 1935 as a result of the introduction of this purebred bull amounted to 381,580 drachmas over the income from this same source in 1932 and 1933. As there were one hundred and forty families in this village, the average financial benefit per family was 2,725.50 drachmas.

Improving the local animals was one of the important features of several of our long-time programs. In connection with this aspect of the work, purebred bulls were frequently introduced, as we have mentioned above, either by inducing the community or the local cooperative to secure such an animal; or, in a few cases, by assisting an individual in the purchase of a good bull as a business venture.

This activity, carried on most successfully by several of our men, resulted in a tremendous improvement in the local cow, and in consequence of this, as we have shown in the case of Stavrohori, in greatly increased income.

These calf exhibits which always showed the native mother with her improved offspring created great interest and were sufficient evidence in themselves of the improvement which was taking place.

Of even greater interest to an observer was the changed attitude of the peasants toward their farm animals, particularly the cow. Previously, village peasants, at least those under our observation, gave little heed to the feeding of their animals and cared not at all for their appearance. But after conducting these exhibits for several years, the attention and even the affection which was given to farm animals was quite obvious.

One impressive way of indicating the extent to which these simple folk were materially uplifted is to trace briefly the evolution of an individual through several years of association with one of our agricultural workers.

For this purpose let us take the case of Farmer Iosif Altsides, who came to be one of Harlamides' good men.

In 1932, Mr. Altsides, who was a refugee farmer of the village of Stavrohori, owned forty-five stremmas of land. He had no fruit trees, no vines, no vegetable garden, and he kept no poultry. Farmer Altsides had three animals—two small oxen and a scrubby cow that was practically dry, as she had not freshened in many months. Altsides had three colonies of bees which he kept in native Turkish hives, a sort of inverted basket made of mud and straw.

His fields were all planted to cereals, chiefly oats and wheat of a nondescript variety. Disinfecting the grain seed was a practice he never considered.

The Altsides family of five lived in one room. The foundations of a three-room house had been laid some years before but the structure was never completed. Farmer Altsides had no agricultural books or bulletins and had never thought of interesting himself in such academic ideas. He owed a small debt of 1,800 drachmas.

In 1933, Iosif had his same forty-five stremmas of land, but his contact with Stephan Harlamides from the year before was already beginning to have its effect. He had secured sixty-three fruit trees of various kinds and planted them about his place. He had put in a few grape vines. He had learned to graft under the direction of Stephan and had grafted a few wild trees that had sprung up along the edge of his property. He had replaced his local wheat with an improved variety known as "Lemnos." His oats had also been replaced by an improved variety advocated for that region by the government experiment station. It had the reputation of yielding thirty-five per cent more than the local oat and the variety lived up to its reputation in the case of Altsides. None of these practices had as yet resulted in a very sizeable increase in income, but Altsides was wise enough to see that such an increase was on the way.

By 1938 the situation with regard to the farm and home life of Iosif Altsides was somewhat as follows: Of his forty-five stremmas, eleven were devoted to vetch; at least six stremmas every year were planted to a green manure crop of some kind. He had a small garden; and, for purposes of irrigation, as well as for ensuring a supply of good drinking water, he had opened a well. He had increased his animals from the original scrubby three to ten good grades. These included two fine heifers and two calves. This development had been made possible by the purebred bull which Harlamides had introduced into the village.

The year before, Altsides had won a prize of a spike-tooth harrow with his female calf of nine months. Therefore, he was no longer forced to use an improvised harrow of branches tied together. Furthermore, he had been offered 2,500 drachmas for this prize-winning calf, but he refused to sell her. Normally, such a calf at nine months would be worth about 600 to 800 drachmas. Altsides had expanded his apiary to sixty colonies of bees, forty of which were now housed in the most modern hives.

Altsides, under the supervision of Harlamides, had become an expert in grafting trees and vines. He had grafted all the wild trees of his neighborhood. Then the government, discovering his skill and desiring to promote a campaign of grafting wild trees, engaged Altsides for the sum of 1,800 drachmas to do a job for a near by community.

Altsides now used as seed individually selected wheat heads from his own fields. He also disinfected all his seed. He kept a complete set of farm accounts; he was a member of the village agricultural committee; and he helped to draw up a long-time program of improvement. Also, by 1938, he had completed his house and now he and his family lived in a comfortable home. He had built a barn, an outside oven, and had fenced his orchard and garden. He had also constructed a sanitary latrine under the supervision of the sanitation supervisor, he had screened his home. On top of all this, he had paid off his debt of 1,800 drachmas. Iosif became an ardent patron of the circulating library and by 1938 he himself, owned fifty books and pamphlets, mostly on agriculture.

[Previous] [Next]
[Back to Index]