Chance of a lifetime
By Jonathan Allin
During September of last year I had the opportunity to follow up an offer of a lifetime. The Tom Arnold Bursary funded my trip to Greece to study the feasibility of starting a nursery on the Island of Evia. The Island is situated north east of Mainland Greece. It is connected via a small road bridge at Evia’s capital, Halkida.
The chance to start the nursery arose from working for the Noel-Baker family at their home, Achmetaga Estate, in previous summer vacations. It was upon my last visit that the Noel-Bakers suggested starting my own business, to supply nursery stock to the surrounding villages and possibly market goods in Halkida and Athens.
It all sounds rather idyllic to be true. . . The purpose of my visit was to substantiate the possibilities of such a venture. I should keep in mind that this type of lifestyle might not be all that it is cracked up to be-the Ouzo sometimes confuses the brain! The visit has now formed the basis for my third year management project.
There were many factors to be considered. What will grow? Where will it be grown? And most importantly, who shall the produce be sold to? The list goes on and I must admit seems very daunting.
The Estate is undergoing a period of change. The ownership of the forest is disputed by the Greek authorities, the local population advocates strongly the expropriation of the estate. The land is now unused and not managed. However, the Commission of the European Community have just completed a final report on the establishment of a Nature Park and a Botanic Garden to be included in this area. This will coincide with the start of my nursery.
Two areas for the proposed nursery were assessed. The first area. the Leondari, situated opposite the main entrance to the estate, once the site of a tree nursery, approximately two acres. The second a larger site, the Bottom Paddock, which backs onto the main Procopi to Mandoudi Road. Those of you who have seen the film “Jean de Florette” will understand the practicalities of having a good supply of water! The Leondari has an adequate supply although the Bottom Paddock requires a bore hole for constant and reliable water source. Both sites have definite advantages and disadvantages. After much debate it was decided to utilise the Leondari, as less capital expenditure would be required, and should make the basis for testing the market potential.
Trying to establish the market potential of the business is not as easy as it might be in England. Even after a great deal of investment on market research in the end there is still the inevitable risk factor. Trying to eliminate cost on market research and the undoubted conclusion often encountered with Greek bureaucracy, I visited the American Farm School in Thesalonika. Demetri Litsas, a grower and secretary for the local cut flower market, was extremely helpful. On his advice I visited garden centres and market stalls in Procopi, Halkida, Mandoudi and Athens. Talking to the locals confirmed my opinion that the demand for good quality plant material is high. . . something different perhaps!
Finally whilst in Athens I took the chance to call in at the British Consulate to ask about starting my business.. . “No problem. I’ll see you again when you come to register your nursery.” If all goes well the plans for the nursery will proceed and I shall take up residence in September 1992. Finance is the main hurdle to overcome, as well as the inevitable language classes.