The members of La Olivilla (Photo by Marino Scandurra)

Five years ago, a group of neigh­bor­ing farm­ers in Sierra de Cazorla, Spain saw their 500-year old olive trees slowly dying. They took courses in organic farm­ing and decided to work together to restore their groves, pro­duce high-qual­ity olive oil and estab­lish a model of envi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship.

Working with kids is the way to reach out to all of the farm­ers and talk to them about a dif­fer­ent way of doing things.- Lucia Gamez, La Olivilla

They learned that pro­duc­ing a world-class extra vir­gin olive oil in a sus­tain­able way meant they needed to look beyond and below the trees, to all of the mem­bers of the com­plex ecosys­tem and restore the har­mony that seemed to be dimin­ish­ing through the effects of con­ven­tional farm­ing tech­niques and cli­mate change.

La Olivilla’s Lucia Gamez received the Best in Class Award for Dehesa de la Sabina Picual at the 2017 NYIOOC.

Since then, their Dehesa de La Sabina mono­va­ri­etal Picual has gar­nered crit­i­cal acclaim includ­ing a Best in Class Award at the recent 2017 New York International Olive Oil Competition.

The mem­bers — Sebastian Romero, Miguel Angel Romero, Enrique Gonzalez, Vicente Morillas, Damian Sanchez, Leon Bayona, Juan Ignacio Valdes, Luciano Gamez — are show­ing their com­mu­nity a bet­ter way to farm that restores nature’s del­i­cate bal­ance, set­ting an exam­ple for a new gen­er­a­tion.

It started when the neigh­bor­ing farm­ers were hav­ing some com­mon prob­lems with their land. “They were look­ing for solu­tions and they all went toward try­ing organic farm­ing. It was a big unknown, they did­n’t know what else to do,” Lucia Gamez, the daugh­ter of Luciano Gamez, told Olive Oil Times pub­lisher Curtis Cord dur­ing an inter­view on the On Olive Oil pod­cast.

“They invited tech­ni­cians to their olive groves and tried every­thing they were advised. The one thing that had not tried yet was organic farm­ing. To do that they enrolled in some stud­ies and so that’s how they all met, dur­ing this course.”

Soon it was revealed that the issues they were hav­ing stemmed from the declin­ing bio­di­ver­sity of the land­scape. They dis­cov­ered, for exam­ple, that birds of prey were dis­ap­pear­ing from the groves.

“When I was lit­tle, I grew up among the olive trees and we used to see owls in each olive tree. We even have Spanish say­ings around that. Today if you go to the groves, you see none. There are no birds of prey, no owls. They have slowly dis­ap­peared. There is essen­tially no life,” Gamez said.

“When you drive around areas where there is a lot of olive farm­ing, all you see is a lot of trees, which is beau­ti­ful, but if you pay atten­tion, you look closely into the ground, the earth, it’s dead. It’s dry, it’s empty, there is no life in there. If there is no life, insects, birds, ani­mals, can­not live in there. So they all go. And that’s what is hap­pen­ing today. As a result, the olive tree largely depends on a human inter­ven­tion to actu­ally sur­vive. Because there is no life in the earth, there is no nutri­ent and there is no nat­ural way of fight­ing pests.”

La Olivilla (Photo by Marino Scandurra)

The farm­ers con­tacted BirdLife International, a wildlife con­ser­va­tion group that Gamez said, “views olive farm­ing as a key to restor­ing the bird pop­u­la­tion” and they learned how the two were quite code­pen­dent.

“The loca­tion where we are is suf­fer­ing a deser­ti­fi­ca­tion process some­times,” Gamez noted. “Because of the lack of water, it is extremely com­plex to main­tain the veg­e­ta­tion cover, so BirdLife International is help­ing us with addi­tional prac­tices in terms of recov­er­ing the ecosys­tem.”

One of the first steps was to install accom­mo­da­tions to attract birds and the bugs they feed on. “We’ve part­nered with schools to edu­cate the kids and they’ve con­structed insect hotels, they’ve con­structed bird houses to install in our groves.”

Gamez said she is con­cerned about the wider impli­ca­tions of declin­ing bio­di­ver­sity for Andalusia.

La Olivilla (Photo by Marino Scandurra)

“Conventional farm­ing meth­ods, abuse of chem­i­cals, end up killing all sorts of life. Weeds for us are immensely impor­tant because in the weeds there are plants that release nutri­ents very impor­tant to the tree like potas­sium, for exam­ple. You need to go and put in there the syn­thetic chem­i­cals. You can cre­ate all of those nutri­ents work­ing with nature.”

After gar­ner­ing the indus­try’s top prize in New York Gamez said the mem­bers of La Olivilla remain stead­fast. “What we want to do is increase our pres­ence in the mar­ket and con­tinue to advance in improv­ing our ecosys­tem because we believe we have a respon­si­bil­ity, espe­cially in the area where we are.”

Listen to the com­plete inter­view with Olivilla’s Lucia Gamez on the On Olive Oil web­site or get it on iTunes.


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