A stay at Free and Real

Last weekend I came back from an amazing three-day visit to Free & Real in Evia, an island north of Athens. I had only found out about the project a few weeks earlier, completely by chance as it happens whilst reading a blog by Mark Boyle, author of The Moneyless Man – A Year of Freeconomic Living (well worth a read by the way) and founder of The Freeconomy Community. Coincidentally, a Greek friend of Vicky’s saw our blog and recommended Free & Real to us at around the same time. I was getting quite intrigued by this point and wanted to find out more. So I got in touch with them, they invited me to stay for a few days, and I decided to take them up on that offer on my next visit to Greece!

The idea behind Free & Real, which stands for Freedom of Resources for Everyone Everywhere & Respect, Equality, Awareness and Learning began to take shape back in winter 2008. The vision is to create a self-sufficient eco-community in Evia, which will serve as a school for sustainability and a model that can be replicated throughout the world.

We were really inspired by what Free & Real are working to achieve – it was great to see that Greek people (as well as non-Greeks living in Greece) are so active in the sustainability movement.

The main site of Free & Real is about 3.5 hours from Athens by bus and a short ride on a ferry

Loutra Edipsou

followed by a quick hop back on the bus and ride up to Agios. There are actually three sites at Free & Real at the moment: the workshop, farm and office; the telaithrion test site; and the actual telaithrion site. I spent most of my first day at the workshop speaking to Alex, Apostolos, Dionisos and Pepi (four out of five of the core members) about their work and vision.

They were all so welcoming and excited to share their knowledge, views and ideas. It was clear to see how much they believe in the project, how focused they are, and how happy they are to be there.

Old light bulb

They practice natural farming, a method and philosophy established by Masanobu Fukuoka,  to produce their organic fruit and vegetables:

The farm

Pears!

Artichoke and beetle

Rosemary

Zucchini

I also hung out with Lucie (from France), Eeva (from Finland) and Apostolis (from Crete) who were visiting Free & Real just like me. Guests aren’t obliged to help out with the daily tasks, although the sense of community that you feel there makes you want to get involved as much as possible.

For example, you can help pick fruit that is then made into preserves:

Picking fruit

You can help prepare dinner (guests and members eat fruit during the day and a large vegetarian/vegan meal in the evening),

IMG_5024 (Large)

Fruit

You can help out on the farm:

farm

Or you can use any other skills you have. I saw that a couple of their bikes needed repairing and so offered to do that.

One of the bikes I fixed On the first evening we made our way to the  second site, where we slept in a large yurt, which, after a lot of research was deemed the most suitable form of accommodation for the telaithrion project.

Yurt

The inside of the yurt was really large (60 sq m) with a small kitchen, stove for the colder winter months and several beds on two levels:

Inside the main yurt

The roof of the main yurt

There was also another smaller yurt at the site which had extra beds for guests,

The yurt

a smaller garden that is used to test different types of crops,

Yurts and garden

(they have some ingenious ways of reusing things that would otherwise be thrown away)

Old crocs now used as plant pots

and a composting toilet, shower and toolshed (for more photos, check out the Free & Real Facebook site). I was really impressed by how well the composting toilet worked – it didn’t smell at all, used zero water and produced quality humanure (ignore the funny name – it’s a pretty cool concept. You can learn more here!) that can be used on the garden. Now this is a strange concept for many people, but if you think about it, it also seems fundamentally wrong to use up perfectly fine drinking water and then send it to an expensive water treatment plant to be pumped full of chemicals. Have you ever tried using a composting toilet? I would be interested to find out how many of you have and, if you haven’t, how many of you would be prepared to use one.

On the second day we went to check out the site of the telaithrion project, which will eventually become the sustainability school. The view from the site is mindblowing. It reminded me a lot of St John with the surrounding forest and view of the coastline:

The incredible view from the dome

The above geodesic dome was only recently constructed (again, more photos on the Free & Real Facebook page) and will form the centre of the future eco-community. The front window and the ceiling can be removed and the round windows can also be taken out to regulate the temperature:

Great view

Inside the dome

I really didn’t want to leave the telaithrion site – it’s hard to describe the feeling you have when you look out at that view. I cannot wait to come back and see the community when it’s finished (although I’m sure Vicky and I will be back very soon).

In the afternoon it was really hot so Apostolos suggested that we take a trip to Edipsos, a nearby village that has a hot spring right on the beach.

The hot spring at Edipsos

It was really strange to be able to stand in the sea and have the hot water from the spring falling down on you – and all this for free!

Waterfall

In the evening, after another amazing meal, Alex and I went on a ride to check out the local coastline.

Biking the coastline

And the next day Lucie and I got up early to head to the beach (that is only 500m from the telaithrion test site) before I had to return to Athens:

Beach

I had only been at Free & Real for 3 days, but the experience of living in a community, the common passion for sustainability and the friendliness of the members and guests is something that I will never forget, simply because I have never experienced anything like that. If you are ever in Greece, I would thoroughly recommend staying in Evia and experiencing it for yourself. They also offer regular workshops on everything from permaculture to growing mushrooms and making preserves. I felt I had so much to learn from them. The concept is simple yet brilliant, the site is stunning, and the company is great – what more do you need?

Tell us what you think!

*