Olive Trees on Public Land Provide Bountiful Harvest for Italian Locals

A growing number of local authorities encourage local citizens and schools to harvest abandoned olive trees on public lands.

Students from Catullo secondary school harvesting olives on public land
By Paolo DeAndreis
Oct. 16, 2023 17:14 UTC
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Students from Catullo secondary school harvesting olives on public land

Italian vol­un­teers are car­ing for olive trees in parks, along roads, river­banks and pub­lic squares, with the result­ing olive oil des­tined for self-con­sump­tion or char­ity.

The idea of a com­mu­nity-dri­ven olive har­vest activ­ity came up dur­ing the peak of the Covid-19 pan­demic when every­thing was on hold, the econ­omy and so forth,” Cristina Degasperi, the sec­re­tary of edu­ca­tional and envi­ron­men­tal poli­cies in Desenzano, a munic­i­pal­ity near Lake Garda, told Olive Oil Times.

See Also:Optimism in Italy as Olive Harvest Gets Underway

That was some­thing that could be done; it could ben­e­fit our trees while also sup­port­ing our cit­i­zens, so we went for it,” she added.

The north­ern Italian region of Garda, which sits on the south­ern banks of Italy’s largest lake, has a long tra­di­tion of olive grow­ing. In Desenzano, hun­dreds of olive trees are scat­tered through­out the munic­i­pal­ity.

For a long time, local insti­tu­tions invested in plant­ing new trees every year, not only olive trees,” Degasperi said. A new tree is planted for every new cit­i­zen born in our town. Last year, we planted 183 trees.”

Still, man­ag­ing and main­tain­ing many trees may divert resources from other pub­lic pri­or­i­ties. In the case of the olive trees, a ded­i­cated coop­er­a­tive takes care of their prun­ing. Before the new ini­tia­tive, olives were often left on the trees.

To par­tic­i­pate, inter­ested cit­i­zens only have to answer the pub­lic call based on the offi­cial map of more than 500 olive trees. Each res­i­dent can ask to har­vest up to five trees, which are then listed as reserved,” Degasperi said.

Up to now, the only excep­tion is the Catullo sec­ondary school,” she added. Their har­vest of 100 trees is reserved.”

For years, the Catullo stu­dents par­tic­i­pated in the olive har­vest of the trees grow­ing next to the school play­grounds.

This is our fourth year,” Carlo Viara, Catullo’s head teacher, told Olive Oil Times. The idea of har­vest­ing the olives came on the heels of the other char­ity ini­tia­tives that the Catullo school always orga­nizes at the end of every year.”

The suc­cess of the ini­tia­tive and the inter­est among the school com­mu­nity prompted the agree­ment with the munic­i­pal author­i­ties and the expan­sion of the har­vest to dozens of other trees. The ini­tia­tive attracts stu­dents and their fam­i­lies, teach­ers and oth­ers related to the school activ­i­ties.

One of the most inter­est­ing aspects of the ini­tia­tive is the enthu­si­as­tic par­tic­i­pa­tion in the group activ­i­ties by all stu­dents, even by those who strug­gle a lit­tle more dur­ing nor­mal class hours,” Viara said.

Last year, we har­vested just about seven quin­tals of olives and pro­duced 180 half-liter bot­tles,” she added. This year, 180 stu­dents par­tic­i­pated in the har­vest on school grounds. Approximately 70 vol­un­teers on Saturday and Sunday par­tic­i­pated in the har­vest of the trees in the other areas.”

Students, their fam­i­lies and the other vol­un­teers can assist in the olive milling and bot­tling processes. Sales of the bot­tles will finance a sup­port­ing ini­tia­tive at a twinned school in India.

This year, the num­bers are going to be much lower, as there are fewer olives on the trees, and they are not the same qual­ity as last year,” Viara said.

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Catullo secondary school students produced 90 liters of olive oil from the olives they harvested.

In some cases, such as in Massa Marittima, a town in south­ern Tuscany, local author­i­ties look for vol­un­teers to solve what is also per­ceived as a hygienic issue, as olives on aban­doned trees can eas­ily be tar­geted by the olive fruit fly.

Dozens of olive trees on pub­lic land can be spot­ted near the medieval walls sur­round­ing large por­tions of Massa Marittima. More are located in other pub­lic areas out­side the city cen­ter. Every year, vol­un­teers can apply to har­vest up to 25 olive trees each.

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The max­i­mum num­ber of olive trees each vol­un­teer can har­vest changes sig­nif­i­cantly from one region to another. In Cerveteri, a munic­i­pal­ity in cen­tral Italy not far from Rome, res­i­dents apply to har­vest a max­i­mum of five trees each.

In all cases, though, access to the trees is com­pletely free. Volunteers use their own means to har­vest and only need to remove debris or small branches pro­duced dur­ing the olive-col­lect­ing oper­a­tions.

In a few instances, includ­ing vol­un­teer har­vests in Grottammare, a town on the Adriatic Sea in cen­tral Italy, the requests from the vol­un­teers far exceed the avail­abil­ity of trees, which num­ber slightly more than 200.

According to the local author­i­ties, Italy’s long cul­tural ties to olive grow­ing and olive oil pro­duc­tion fuel the long-stand­ing inter­est in har­vest­ing aban­doned trees. Additionally, many olive trees are cen­tury-old mon­u­ments, fur­ther enhanc­ing the sig­nif­i­cance and the appeal of main­tain­ing them.

Given the suc­cess and the inter­est in com­mu­nity har­vest activ­i­ties, some munic­i­pal­i­ties are try­ing to take it fur­ther.

In 2023, the town of Pistoia, not far from Florence, in north­ern Tuscany, began look­ing for vol­un­teers inter­ested in car­ing for the olive trees all year round for a min­i­mum of three years.

There are almost 900 trees that ben­e­fit from ded­i­cated care­tak­ers who began work­ing on most of them in 2019.

We have included even more trees in the project now,” said Alessia Bartolomei, a munic­i­pal sec­re­tary of urban green spaces. Through these years, the main­te­nance work done by res­i­dents ensured qual­ity, and the ter­ri­tory prof­ited from this.”

The goal is to pre­serve a col­lec­tive her­itage and raise aware­ness about the envi­ron­ment and the advan­tages of tak­ing good care of pub­lic spaces together,” she con­cluded.



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