Ditch euro? Many Greeks already are

People in this central Greek city are rejecting the euro before it rejects them.

Apostolos Arabatzis keeps bees on his farm outside Volos, and the honey from his hives helps him make ends meet.

What's remarkable about this picture isn't the farmer's honey — it's the money that he gets for it.

Instead of euros Arabatzis takes TEMs, a Greek abbreviation for Local Alternative Unit.

A small but growing minority in about a dozen Greek towns are using an alternative exchange system to help them survive the crisis. That's been attracting increasing attention amid concern that Greece — stricken by political chaos — will be forced to leave the euro and return to the drachma.

Volos has Greece's first and biggest TEM network, with 600 members and 30 affiliated businesses.

Members take payment for their goods and services in TEMS, and use TEMS to obtain goods and services from other members in the network.

In effect, a barter economy.

There's a central market in Volos where producers gather every Saturday to haggle over items such as eggs, jam and clothes — and pay in TEMS. Members register on the network, offering goods or services. The Volos group includes computer technicians, doctors, house painters and farmers.

Members start off with empty TEM accounts and get things started by offering goods or services. They can also borrow up to 300 TEMs.

Angeliki Ioanniti, a Volos dressmaker, recently used TEMs to pay for a doctor's visit.

"We went to the cardiologist, who is linked with our network, paid 20 euros for the visit and 10 TEMs in addition," Ioanniti says.

The TEMs look like a personal check. Of course, they can only partially replace money. After all, you can't pay your taxes or utilities or most other things with them — but for members like Arabatzis it's a way forward at this time of crisis.

"It gives us a social relationship," Arabatzis says, "and it detaches us from money as much as it's possible to do so."

A key merit of the system is that it connects people who are short of real cash, and allows them to trade using TEMS as a kind of pledge.

The scheme started before Greece's financial meltdown as a fairer, more transparent way to trade. But its administrators say the crisis has spurred membership, with around 300 joining in the past few months.

"Definitely it's bringing more people to the network," says 28-year-old Euripides Siouras, an alternative therapist.

Hairdresser Dimitra Vasilou joined the scheme last September. She says she was struggling to pay for the essentials of life, let alone any comforts. Now through trading with others in the TEMs network, she can sometimes have both. She says she feels liberated.

"Crisis? What crisis?" jokes the ebullient 29-year-old.