Rubén Serrallé

Juan Olivares is a young olive oil pro­ducer from Castilla La Mancha, an area of Spain per­haps more famous for its cheeses than its olive oil. However, Juan´s fam­ily has been pro­duc­ing olives for at least five gen­er­a­tions. I met Juan a few years ago tak­ing a long series of courses at the University of Jaén to become an expert olive oil taster.

By learn­ing to taste, he hoped to make his fam­i­ly’s award-win­ning olive oil Pago de Peñarrubia even bet­ter.

The del­i­cate Arbequina he pro­duces won a Gold Award at this year’s New York International Olive Oil Competition.

It was obvi­ous from the moment we met that he was a per­son that was going to make a mark. So it came as no sur­prise when we spoke to Juan more recently that he had a very unique project start­ing in his olive groves.

He laughed as he told me that his geese are his babies. “Do you want to see them? I will send you pic­tures.” He spoke as if he were a new proud grand­mother who just had her first grand­child. Of course, we wanted to see them!

Many groves use sheep and horses to keep under­growth down between olive trees, but after read­ing some stud­ies that were being done in the U.S. on the use of geese in agri­cul­ture, Juan decided that it was worth a try.

From ancient Egypt until the 1950s geese were used in agri­cul­tural prac­tice. The Romans, the Chinese, even Charlemagne encour­aged the use of fowl for weed­ing. Before the intro­duc­tion of her­bi­cides in the 1970´s there were geese.

Their light feath­ered bod­ies and webbed feet do not com­pact the soil like other live­stock and they do not munch on lower tree branches or cause tree dam­age. Geese are also rel­a­tively easy to main­tain and can offer other eco­nom­i­cal gains such as feath­ers, meat and eggs.

Juan was con­vinced. It was a cheap exper­i­ment. The most expen­sive ele­ment was build­ing a fence. He had the per­fect set­ting, an area in the older groves that was divided into three ter­races that he now uses as three test plots. In the first ter­race he imple­ments the geese and com­pares the plot with the other two.

Juan et son père dans les bosquets de Pago de Peñarrubia

He chose his geese wisely. It took him time to inves­ti­gate and find the breed he wanted to use. In the end he opted for an endan­gered Spanish goose, Oca Empordanesa, whose use in agri­cul­ture he thought could also pro­mote the bio­di­ver­sity of a native species.

It was not easy to find a breeder. However, once he did, he bought 10 geese when they were still goslings. Now there are 9. One went miss­ing and he believes it is pos­si­ble that a preda­tory bird snatched it up.

They have just now become full-grown and Juan is hop­ing to be able to see some results in his test plots soon. Only time will tell if this young farmer is on to a new trend in olive oil farm­ing.

Juan assures us that the geese are not always at work weed­ing. They also have a lovely pond where they splash about and spend their free time.


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