“I believe that here, in our region, solidarity and social bonding are an essential part of the olive oil culture,” Giovanni Aletto, the head of the municipal botanical garden of Agrigento, Sicily, told Olive Oil Times.
Like other agricultural experts in Italy, and with the help of the dozens of olive trees in the botanical garden, Aletto works overtime to help the younger generations cultivate an appreciation for olive oil culture.
The picking of the olives is a joyful moment, not only because we do it for a good cause, but also because it brings together people who over time have become friends, and many more who are just now discovering the beauty and the harmony behind the olive oil production.
As the harvesting season unfolds across Italy, several charities and social volunteer organizations have joined efforts with Aletto to give a deeper meaning to the picking of the olives.
“It all started three years ago,” Aletto recalled, “when we first approached several local charities and they sent over young seminary students to help us harvest the olives, bring them to the oil mill and then distribute that oil to families in need.”See Also: In Italy, Students Return to Study Among Olive Trees
As the COVID-19 pandemic began to take its toll on local economies, Aletto and many others believed that even more could be done.
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“This year, we got in touch with several associations and charities involved in managing kitchens and canteens dedicated to families in need,” the agronomist said.
While the botanical garden of Agrigento contains just under 100 olive trees, they are more than enough to involve many of the younger generations in a new experience, Aletto emphasized.
“Even with the protective distancing due to the pandemic, kids and youngsters had the best of experiences, conjugating the joy of the olive harvest and olive oil production to a true experience of solidarity and togetherness,” he said.
Within more than 6,900 hectares (17,000 acres), the botanical garden is home to many other trees, mostly oranges and tangerines but also apples, so Aletto is already planning new initiatives in favor of the poor involving children and charities.
Helping the young generations approach olive harvesting and olive oil production is the path followed by a number of other educational institutions throughout the country.
Students from the middle and high schools of Città Sant’Angelo, in the Abruzzo region, have harvested all of the olives within the municipal territory for a project dubbed the “olive oil school.”
Under the supervision of their teachers, students have picked the fruits and followed them to the nearby oil mill, where they were transformed into organic extra virgin olive oil. That extra virgin olive oil is then bottled and the students supervise the labeling.
Once the whole process is complete, the bottles will be sold at an auction, with the profits donated to local families in need.
In Puglia, solidarity and collaboration with local charities are also bringing students, public servants, schools and local institutions together.
In Locorotondo, not far from Bari, an educational garden project has brought together young people from several schools to care for the olive trees and help with the harvest.
It all started four years ago thanks to a municipal initiative that was welcomed by the local schools. Since then, all of the harvested fruits from the olive trees cultivated on public lands within Locorotondo have been transformed by a local oil mill. From there, the olive oil is given to local Caritas volunteers for distribution among those families who have asked for food support.See Also: Italy Pledges €20M to Buy Local EVOO for Families in Need
In another town in the Bari area, Modugno, the local parishes keep gathering and giving away essential food to the families in need, with olive oil being one of the most relevant items. With the closure of the parish buildings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Don Amedeo managed to arrange food distribution from his balcony, located just above street level.
Volunteers bring food bought or donated by the parishes to the priest’s apartment and from there, the 74-years-old cleric hands out bags filled with pasta, milk, flour and olive oil to those in need.
“If they have young kids in their family, I usually add some cookies and fruit juices,” Amedeo told the local newspaper, Barinedita.
Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the country, in the region of Lombardy, the traditional harvesting of the olive trees in Bosto have seen many volunteers from the entire Varese region flock to participate.
Starting 10 years ago, the goal of the initiative has been to harvest the olives for producing the Sant’Ilario Lake Olive Oil, a brand that is synonymous with solidarity. Every year hundreds of liters of organic extra virgin olive oil are given to those in need by the local associations and the local parish.
In just two days, the volunteers harvested more than 16,000 kilograms of olives, and more were added by local small and medium growers, many of whom traditionally donate a part of their own production to charity.
“The picking of the olives is a joyful moment, not only because we do it for a good cause, but also because it brings together people who over time have become friends, and many more who are just now discovering the beauty and the harmony behind the olive oil production,” Michele Daverio, a local volunteer, told Olive Oil Times.