Producer Profiles

For Spain's 'La Olivilla,' Winning Top Award, Restoring Nature Go Hand in Hand

Just five years ago, a group of neighboring farmers in Sierra de Cazorla, Spain decided to work together and produce high-quality olive oil with respect for the environment. Last month, their Dehesa de la Sabina earned the industry's top award.

The members of La Olivilla (Photo by Marino Scandurra)
May. 23, 2017
By Olive Oil Times Staff
The members of La Olivilla (Photo by Marino Scandurra)

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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.


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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.

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“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.

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“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.