Adoption Program Saves Town, One Tree at a Time

For decades, people fled Oliete, mostly to Barcelona, and left their secular olive groves behind. In 2014, a group of young locals came up with an idea to bring their village’s forgotten resource back to life.

Apr. 10, 2017
By Pablo Esparza

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In its hey­day at the begin­ning of the 20th cen­tury, Oliete was a pros­per­ous lit­tle town.

Over 100,000 olive trees were the way of life for the almost 3,000 peo­ple who used to reside in this cor­ner of Teruel, in the remote moun­tains of Eastern Spain.

This is a social entre­pre­neur­ship project where we apply inno­va­tion and new tech­nolo­gies to gen­er­ate sus­tain­able rural devel­op­ment.- Alberto Alfonso, Apadrina un Olivo

Those times are long gone. For decades, peo­ple fled Oliete, mostly to Barcelona, and left their sec­u­lar olive groves behind.

Now, Oliete’s pop­u­la­tion is less than 400 and 70 per­cent of its olive trees lay aban­doned. The last of the three olive oil mills that once func­tioned here was closed 10 years ago as Oliete — like many other vil­lages in the region — seemed headed toward relin­quish­ment.

This is an iso­lated area. The dis­tance to the Mediterranean is just 120 km (75 mi), but the sea lies beyond a high moun­tain range. Zaragoza, the near­est major city, is 100 km away.

But some Olietans” believed their village’s fate could still take a dif­fer­ent path. In 2014, a group of young locals came up with an idea to bring their village’s for­got­ten resource back to life: they would cre­ate an online plat­form to allow peo­ple all over the world to adopt aban­doned olive trees from Oliete.

Their ulti­mate objec­tive was to offer a new oppor­tu­nity for peo­ple to stay and work in their home­town by recov­er­ing uncul­ti­vated fields.


That’s how the asso­ci­a­tion Apadrina un Olivo (adopt an olive tree) for the recov­ery of Oliete’s uncul­ti­vated olive trees was born.

Alberto Alfonso and Sira Plana, the main pro­mot­ers of the project, meet an Olive Oil Times reporter at the association’s brand new olive oil mill.

Oliete, Spain

Just across the Martín River, Oliete’s ancient sky­line over­looks this new facil­ity which, for the first time in years, has pro­duced oil from locally milled olives from the 2016 – 17 cam­paign.

Alfonso told OOT how it all started: More than three years ago, we were pick­ing olives with my fam­ily and we noticed that every time there were fewer peo­ple har­vest­ing. People here did not regard tak­ing care of their olive trees as prof­itable and they started aban­don­ing their olive groves. So we thought of a new way to give value to them with the help of soci­ety.”

The way the project works is sim­ple: for €50 ($52.96) per year the padri­nos” (lit­er­ally god­fa­thers”) can choose which tree they want to adopt, give it a name and visit Oliete to meet it when­ever they want.

They get con­stant updates on the evo­lu­tion of their tree through the app Mi olivo” (My olive tree) and they receive two liters of olive oil made from Oliete’s recov­ered olive trees.

This is a social entre­pre­neur­ship project where we apply inno­va­tion and new tech­nolo­gies to gen­er­ate sus­tain­able rural devel­op­ment,” Alfonso said.

Three years after its cre­ation, Apadrina un Olivo has man­aged to recover 5,000 olive trees and has started pro­duc­ing its own olive oil thanks to the help of 2,000 sup­port­ers, as well as pub­lic insti­tu­tions and pri­vate spon­sors.

The asso­ci­a­tion pro­vides work for five staff and coop­er­ates with a local asso­ci­a­tion of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties who take part in the tasks of recov­er­ing the aban­doned trees.

We pro­duce a respon­si­ble olive oil: it is sol­idary because the sup­port­ers are the ones mak­ing this pos­si­ble thanks to their con­tri­bu­tion, it is social because we work with peo­ple with intel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties and it is sus­tain­able because we prac­tice organic agri­cul­ture,” Alfonso explained.

We wanted to be part of that change in the vil­lage and to cre­ate a project with a soul,” added Sira.

Oliete’s project is often seen as a model for fur­ther rural devel­op­ment actions in the so-called Laponia of the South, an infor­mal region which com­prises parts of the provinces of Teruel, Cuenca, Guadalajara, Soria and Valencia.

This huge rural area in cen­tral and Eastern Spain, with an aver­age of 5 inhab­i­tants per square kilo­me­ter, is one of the less pop­u­lated — and most aging — regions in Europe.

Projects like Apadrina un Olivo, as Alfonso puts it, shine a light in the mid­dle of des­o­la­tion.”

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