ASOPIA, Greece – The son and grandson of farmers, Spyros Papathanassiou spends most of the day overseeing his family olive press and winery in the outskirts of Asopia, a village northeast of Athens.

But his future is invested in a fenced-off contraption in the hills outside the village -- a 5,800-square-metre solar farm on which Papathanassiou sank nearly half a million euros (dollars) three years ago.

"Agricultural income has been severely restricted in recent years," says the 58-year-old former village mayor, shouting above the din of the olive press.

"Essentially, this job has never been very profitable."

Last year, this entrepreneur and civil servant completed the 450,000-euro (618,000-dollar) solar farm in a discarded family vineyard, some 90 kilometres (56 miles) from the capital.

Though barely enough to power the local water drill, it is already helping his family supplement their income by selling electricity to the national grid. Papathanassiou hopes to repay his bank loans and break even in 4-5 years.

With agriculture in Greece facing a bleak future from rising costs and falling produce prices, thousands of farmers now want to follow his example.

Some 6,000 applicants have so far rushed to join a government-backed, self-financed programme unveiled this summer to sow solar farms in the Greek countryside.

The programme offers both farmers and the state-owned electricity operator PPC, which controls most of the energy market, a way out of a looming impasse.

Accustomed to depend on European Union subsidies for their crops, Greek farmers have progressively driven themselves into a corner by growing produce that the bloc can get more cheaply elsewhere, such as cotton and tobacco.

The frequent sight of angry growers, dumping unwanted crops at ministries and blocking highways with their tractors is something the authorities would be glad to eliminate, particularly now, when the purse strings have tightened.

Greece is in the midst of a deep recession following the debt crisis that saw the country reach the brink of bankruptcy earlier this year.

Likewise, the PPC has for too long depended on its vast supplies of lignite, a form of brown coal, to fire up its power generators.

Lignite is a major pollutant, and the PPC -- nearly half of whose electricity production comes from coal-fired plants -- is Greece's single largest offender in carbon dioxide emissions.

So the investment in solar cells in Greece, a country that has abundant sunshine throughout the year, holds out promise both to the farmers and the power company.

For the PPC, it is a chance to expunge its dirty past while helping the country meet its renewable energy quota, set at 20 percent of national electricity production by the end of the decade.

The farmers meanwhile have a chance to boost their dwindling income with a steady source of funds that no longer requires back-breaking, round-the-clock labour.