Producer Profiles

Finding Balance Among the Olives

Life is slower on the farm for fashion entrepreneur Joaquim Moreira, who produces the award-winning olive oil brand Acushla. "Fashion is an engaging sector. But now, I feel more passionate about olive oil."

Joaquim Moreira, owner of Acushla (Photos by Pablo Esparza for Olive Oil Times)
Jul. 22, 2019
By Pablo Esparza
Joaquim Moreira, owner of Acushla (Photos by Pablo Esparza for Olive Oil Times)

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“Being here in the olive grove gives me years of life. Being away in the fash­ion busi­ness takes them away,” Joaquim Moreira said.

He is the founder and owner of Acushla, one of the main pro­duc­ers of organic olive oil in the region of Trás-os-Montes, in Northeast Portugal.

Farming is good for your body and for your soul.- Joaquim Moreira

For 30 years, Moreira has worked in the fash­ion busi­ness. In 2004, he felt the “call of nature” and decided to dive into the olive oil sector.

“Maybe it had some­thing to do with that that I grew up seeing my father work­ing the land in our vil­lage near Porto,” he said.

“Fashion is an engag­ing sector. But now, I feel more pas­sion­ate about olive oil,” he added.

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Acushla — a word of Celtic origin which means “beat of my heart” — won Gold and Silver Awards at this year’s edi­tion of the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition and two more Gold Awards in 2018 and 2017.

“Farming is good for your body and for your soul,” Moreira told an Olive Oil Times reporter as he drove his all-ter­rain car up and down the steep slopes of his 300-hectare estate in Vale Frechoso — a small vil­lage in the munic­i­pal­ity of Vila Flor.

This is the heart of the Terra Quente “hot land,” the part of Trás-os-Montes where olive groves dom­i­nate the land­scape. By con­trast, in the Terra Fria Transmontana, or “cold land,” chest­nuts are the main crop.

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The Acushla farm, as most olive groves in the region, is a rugged place. Growing olive trees and pro­duc­ing organic olive oil here, Moreira sug­gests, is not easy.

However, he points out, this kind of farm­ing was in his mind from the very first moment.

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“I think these days we shouldn’t think only about the profit, but in the long term, about our kids and we must be sus­tain­able. It is our oblig­a­tion as farm­ers to do some­thing for the world,” Moreira said.

The estate cur­rently has around 200 hectares of olive groves, 15 of which are cen­te­nary olive trees, while the rest are new plan­ta­tions. But the land­scape here must have looked very dif­fer­ent here 15 years ago.

Back in 2004, when Moreira bought this lands, most of the area was cov­ered by euca­lyp­tus, an alien tree widely spread in Portugal, where it was intro­duced as a source of cel­lu­lose for the paper indus­try.

“The first thing we did was to cut down all the euca­lyp­tus,” Moreira explained. “I’m a fighter against euca­lyp­tus, they have ended with all autochthone plants.”

Also, the highly flam­ma­ble euca­lyp­tus was seen as one of the main fac­tors that con­tributed to the spread of the deadly wild­fires that left 66 casu­al­ties and dev­as­tated almost 45,000 hectares in cen­tral Portugal during the summer of 2017.

Most of the euca­lyp­tus in Acushla were replaced by local olive cul­ti­vars such as Verdeal Transmontana, Madural and Cobrançosa,” which is also cul­ti­vated in other regions of Portugal.

“The vari­eties from this region have unique qual­i­ties and are very well adapted to this land,” Moreira said.

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“Each of them has a spe­cial taste and char­ac­ter­is­tics. Verdeal Transmontana is very bitter and it’s good to extend olive oil’s life with­out losing qual­ity. Madural is prob­a­bly the most bal­anced vari­ety we have here, while Cobrençosa, on top of being well bal­anced, is the most pro­duc­tive one. Cordovil is very sim­i­lar to Madural,” he explained.

Last year, Portugal pro­duced 132,000 tons of olive oil, accord­ing to data from the International Olive Oil Council.

The Iberian coun­try is the sev­enth-largest pro­ducer in the world after Spain, Italy, Greece, Tunis, Turkey and Morocco.

Trás-os-Montes, which lit­er­ally means “beyond the moun­tains,” is Portugal’s second pro­duc­ing region, only after Alentejo.

In spite of that, most of the olive groves in this moun­tain­ous region are planted the tra­di­tional way — keep­ing a longer dis­tance between trees than in modern plan­ta­tions — as super-inten­sive olive groves are almost impos­si­ble to grow here.

This has been a tra­di­tion­ally iso­lated area, heav­ily affected by migra­tion and depop­u­la­tion. “This region has lost almost fifty per­cent of its pop­u­la­tion in the last decades,” Moreira pointed out.

“I think ini­tia­tives like ours help retain­ing pop­u­la­tion here. We have just 10 work­ers — we are not a big employer — but we try to do our part, even if it’s small,” he added.

When asked how he sees the future of his project, Moreira is opti­mistic.

“In the future, I would like to leave the fash­ion busi­ness and be ded­i­cated just to this. My dream is to develop Acushla more. I don’t expect to have more area or more olive trees. I expect to fur­ther refine the qual­ity of the olive oil,” Moreira said.