The Potato Revolution

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“A funny thing happened – the local supermarkets started slashing their prices” ~ Potato revolutionary


So, it seems that as Greeks are having their country sold out from underneath them, and as they suffer through massive cuts to social spending, tens of thousands of job losses and huge tax increases all in order to satisfy some of the demands of The Market – a market whose own needs apparently trump those of real people – Greek citizens are finding creative ways of getting by in a new reality. But as the truly exploitative nature of that new reality and of the 'marketplace' it represents becomes increasingly obvious, people are doing something truly novel: they're setting up their own markets to satisfy their own needs.

"Salaries are very low, taxes are very high and the price of products doesn't seem to follow," says Sofia Manidou, one of those waiting in line. "We have to pay a lot of money for basic products like potatoes."

Elias Tsolakidis, member of the Pieria Volunteer Action Team, a group of volunteers who launched the potato project in Katerini explained:

We first got the idea a month ago, when we heard about desperate farmers protesting against how little vendors were willing to pay for their potatoes. Instead of selling them to middlemen at a loss or letting them rot, they decided to just give them away to people on the street for free. So we thought, why not cut out the middleman?


Farmers here used to sell their potatoes for 0,12 cents a kilo, even though it cost them nearly twice that to produce. We set up a website for people to order potatoes and come pick them up in a parking lot, straight out of the farmers’ trucks. The farmers sell them for 0,25 cents a kilo – nearly three times less than they cost in the supermarkets! So both farmers and customers benefit.


So far we’ve had two pick-up days: on the first, two weeks ago, the farmers sold 25 tons of potatoes to more than 500 people. On the second, last Saturday, they sold 75 tons to more than 1,100 people. I never dreamed we would have such success! All sorts of people came to buy the potatoes – some of them were poor or unemployed; some were better-off, but wanted to help support the initiative. I believe the potato sales have gained such popularity because we’re all united now – there are no real social classes any more; everyone is struggling.


A funny thing happened – as soon as people starting buying these cheap potatoes, all the local supermarkets started making potato “offers” where they slashed their prices from 0,70 cents a kilo to just 0,35 cents… But that’s still more expensive than what we’re offering.

Stelios Ioannidis, one of the farmers taking part, off-loading dozens of sacks of potatoes to the eager customers explained, 

The middleman exploits us by buying our products at low prices. We want to help the consumer in these difficult times.This  sends a message that a few people can't profit at the expense of all of us.

The seed of this potentially revolutionary movement, aptly named the Potato Revolution, was planted a few months ago in the northern town of Katerini and has proved so successful that it's spread throughout the country, growing ever more popular as Greeks struggle with the worst financial disaster in modern history.

Thousands of tonnes of potatoes are being sold directly from the farmer to the consumer, cutting out the costly middlemen and so slashing prices by more than half.

Similar schemes are in the pipeline for rice, flour and olive oil. It's a movement that benefits both sides, with farmers earning for what they produce, without paying large intermediary fees to wholesalers.

Imagine that, a market that benefits both sides. How novel.

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  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Thursday, 26 April 2012 17:58 posted by Matthew Lewis

    Care to comment on the apparent love/hate of capitalism you demonstrate here Baxter?

  • Comment Link Andrew Baxter Thursday, 26 April 2012 19:45 posted by Andrew Baxter

    Sure thing...but I'm not entirely sure how I have demonstrated a love of capitalism in this piece.

    I think, and correct me if I'm wrong, that what I'm celebrating is the rejection of exploitative capitalist markets in favour of more cooperative market mechanisms that eliminate the capitalist from the equation!

    Perhaps you would care to comment on your comment, and clarify your comment's comment?

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Friday, 27 April 2012 01:09 posted by Matthew Lewis

    Let me ramble a bit here.

    I guess where I was confused was that what I see being described here is not a revolution but a functioning market where buyers and sellers both benefit. Previously I would have to imagine that the potato farmers participated in the market by selling to wholesalers, but that something had changed that made them unwilling participants and to feel exploited.

    I don't see the same distinction that you make when it comes to an exploitative market versus a cooperative market. I suppose that potato farmers might have felt exploited by the wholesalers/grocery stores in the past, and that the new direct relationship has relieved that feeling. However, this must have always been available for them to do but maybe they lacked the gumption or the creativity to push through in a more direct way to their customer. It's funny how a crisis focuses the attention.

    I fail to see how the market works well one way, and does not work well another way. Essentially, unless they were bound in some way to sell their potatoes at a loss, I see no exploitation. The quote from the story even points out that the original exploiters, the wholesalers/grocery stores, accepted the market price once the new arrangement had sprung up, indicating to me that the exploitative power of this particular market player was vastly overstated or imaginary to begin with.

  • Comment Link Andrew Baxter Friday, 27 April 2012 13:35 posted by Andrew Baxter

    Okay, let me address a couple of issues you've raised Matt.

    First of all, you’re right; clearly the Potato Revolution has little in common with the French storming of the Bastille or a wholesale cutting off of aristocratic heads (although some might argue that this is precisely what Greece actually needs!)

    Secondly, you don't need to imagine that the potato farmers were/are participating in the regular market by selling to wholesalers, they were in point of fact doing this. The ‘something’ that happened, again no need to’s right there in the article...was that wholesalers were only paying about a half of what it cost to raise the bloody potatoes. Not because that’s all they could charge consumers of potatoes (as the article makes clear, potatoes in the supermarket were being sold at roughly $.75 a pound and being bought from the farmers at about $.12 a pound), but because “profits” needed to be maximised. That’s a $.65 difference!

    The new market system eliminates the difference, eliminates the ‘profit’ for the wholesaler, eliminates the dead-wood in the system.

    Now Matt, there is clearly a difference between the two types of market arrangements. Even you must acknowledge this reality. Your point about farmers not being compelled to sell at a loss sounds more like something out of a text book than a real and honest assessment of what is a very real difficulty facing farmers all across the world.

    But in the end, you’re right. This is not a revolution is the truest sense of the word. But in that the setting up of more ‘cooperative’ market systems in which a middleman does not get a cut and so both consumers and producers get a better deal seems to me to be dramatically different than one in which the profits of a middleman are maximised at the expense of both producers and consumers.

    Surely you can see the difference.

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Tuesday, 01 May 2012 00:00 posted by Matthew Lewis

    Let me see if I have this correct. You propose that there are two market systems, one in which a middleman exists to maximize profits at the expense of producers and consumers, and another where the middleman does not participate in the market and everyone is happier? I do not see the difference in these two market systems. What I do see, and I think this is where you are coming from, is that if profit maximization is the only motivation of the middleman, then damage will be done to the relationships between the market participants. In this particular case, I think the damage is clear. By not valuing relationships and trust, the middleman has been shut out of the market. A costly lesson.

    What I see is one market system, working efficiently, with the middleman shut out after upsetting the relationships with customers and producers. Eventually I would expect a middleman to return to this market, as farmers realize they spend too much time delivering and marketing their potatoes. At that point, they will welcome an honest middleman to broker transactions with customers.

    It looks to me that you are assuming that middlemen do not exist in this benevolent fashion and that they are only interested in exploiting other people. But I don't think this is what you believe in general, as I seem to recall a previous article lamenting the loss of the record store. What makes the record store different than a wholesaler/retailer operation? I think only the product being sold.

    If Greek potato middlemen prove to be a permanent casualty of a more closely connected producer and consumer, then I think this is the market sending a clear message this this particular middleman (like the record store) is no longer needed and is a waste of resources. Again, I believe this is one market system, but evolving over time, adapting to new circumstances.

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