`Cooperative Run by Volunteers Preserves a Provençal Tradition - Olive Oil Times

Cooperative Run by Volunteers Preserves a Provençal Tradition

Feb. 13, 2012
Alice Alech

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Ollioules, a medieval town with a munic­i­pal­ity of about 13,000 inhab­i­tants is sit­u­ated in the heart of the beau­ti­ful Haute Provence Cote d’Azur region of France. The name Ollioules comes from the Roman word Oliolis which means olives. Like many other groves in the South of France, the ancient olive trees in Ollioules suf­fered badly dur­ing the glacial frosts of 1956. The own­ers responded by cut­ting away the dam­aged wood. It worked.

The stumps grew again and many trees were saved. Before this trau­matic win­ter, there were 12 olive mills in this his­toric town.

Today, in Ollioules, there is a coop­er­a­tive mill ded­i­cated to olive grow­ers and pro­duc­ers of the region.

A very par­tic­u­lar species is cul­ti­vated here – the Brun vari­ety. The cul­ti­var thrives in this seafront area and the fruité noir (fruity black) extra vir­gin oil obtained has a dis­tinct spicy taste with hints of green grass and arti­choke.


Besides cul­ti­vat­ing for their own use, the small pro­duc­ers who bring their olives to the town’s coop­er­a­tive mill, Cooperative Ollioules, sell their oils online and to a few out­lets in the region includ­ing a well known hyper­mar­ket.

The small­est grower has only a few trees in her gar­den while the largest orchard boasts about 450 trees. Despite their mod­est size, the grow­ers are proud to recu­per­ate good qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil from their very own trees.

In 2010, 33,600 liters of olive oil was extracted from the 230 tons of olives brought to the mill.

A group of ten vol­un­teers man­age the small olive oil mill which is open from November to January every year.

The coop­er­a­tive has 480 mem­bers who each pay a one­time fee of 30 euros. 80 per­cent of the pro­duc­ers are mem­bers.

Growers pay a fee of 0.37 cen­times per kilo for pro­cess­ing their olives and those who har­vest more than 350 kilos leave with their own extra vir­gin olive oil.

Olivier Cronel, one of the vol­un­teers said the prices were among the most afford­able in the region. He said the goal of the coop­er­a­tive is not to make money but to pre­serve the olive trees in the region. To encour­age peo­ple to har­vest even the two olive trees they have is a true objec­tive. And if they have 300 trees, that’s even bet­ter.”

Cronel described some of the con­cerns fac­ing the mem­bers

  • Complying with European reg­u­la­tions is not always easy when pro­duc­ing small quan­ti­ties of oil. Installing stain­less steel machines and tanks for exam­ple is expen­sive.
  • EU reg­u­la­tions call for strict stan­dard of trace­abil­ity which might be ben­e­fi­cial for con­sumers and gov­ern­ment author­i­ties, but not always easy for these small scale pro­duc­ers to fol­low.
  • Various taxes have to be paid: Two exam­ples are — The French asso­ci­a­tion, L’association Francaise Interprofessionelle de L’Olive (Afidol) imposes a tax of 0 .14 cents/ kg to the pro­ducer for the olive oil he processes at the mill. In addi­tion to that, the mill has to pay Afidol, a tax of 0.01 cen­times per kilo­gram of oil. Then there is the local tax – last year the Cooperative paid 13,000(17,130 USD) euros to the Town Council.

Cronel is opti­mistic about the future. He said it was impor­tant to keep the activ­ity run­ning with vol­un­teers. If we can find young peo­ple to main­tain the tra­di­tion of vol­un­teer­ing, we can keep our costs down and offer cheaper prices for pro­cess­ing which in turn will attract more cus­tomers,” he said.

Payback was good in 2010. For the first time, there was an unex­pected profit of 20,000 euros.

But mak­ing money is not the aim for these small pro­duc­ers. These olive grow­ers sim­ply want to pro­vide enough oil for their own use, to enjoy their trees and most espe­cially to pre­serve their ter­roir. They are not both­ered by col­or­ful posters and infor­ma­tion filled labels. Their goal is to pre­serve the olive trees in the region.

For this ded­i­cated lit­tle group of olive oil pro­duc­ers, moti­va­tion and ter­roir are impor­tant issues.

The year 2011 was not a very good year for grow­ers in this south­ern region of France and the Cooperative did not do well. The month of April, the flow­er­ing period for olives was extremely dry, the olive fly attacks were ram­pant in June and July fol­lowed by the heavy rains in October. Sadly, they processed only 40 tons of olives.

Cooperative Ollioules was offered help. Did they want to process 100 tons of olives which came from Tunisia and then buy half of the oil? At 0.37 cen­times per kilo, this would have upped the profit mar­gin con­sid­er­ably. But the Ollioules Cooperative, loyal to their Provençal l her­itage and true to their ter­roir refused the offer.

I won­der where those olives ended up.

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