Restoring Abandoned Olive Trees at Leonardo da Vinci's Home

A startup focused on restoring abandoned olive groves has adopted three hectares of trees around the House of Leonardo, with plans to expand.

By Paolo DeAndreis
Nov. 15, 2021 14:00 UTC

Efforts are under­way to restore the long-aban­doned olive trees located around the birth­place of Leanardo da Vinci in Montalbano, Tuscany.

The recov­ery of the trees and many other aban­doned groves in the cen­tral Italian region is the goal of a recently founded agri­cul­tural startup that focuses on restor­ing his­toric olive orchards.

We decided to start this project because there are so many aban­doned orchards. Official data show that in the whole of Tuscany, there are around four mil­lion trees that need to be recov­ered and restored.- Tommaso Dami, founder, Ager Oliva

Olive trees have grown in Tuscany and Vinci, a small town just west of Florence, since their intro­duc­tion in the Fifth or Sixth cen­turies CE. For the past 1,500 years, they have become an inte­gral part of Tuscany’s econ­omy and cul­ture.

See Also:Rehabilitating Olive Trees in Aragón to Stem Spain’s Rural Exodus

When Da Vinci was born in 1452, olive trees dot­ted the sur­round­ing coun­try­side and were con­sid­ered to be a valu­able fea­ture due to their low num­bers and the oil they pro­duced. A few of the trees that cur­rently share the gen­tle Vinci slopes with vine­yards likely pro­duced olive oil eaten by the poly­math.

Since the 15th Century, the num­ber of olive trees and other crops in the town has steadily increased. After falling into a state of aban­don­ment, hun­dreds of sup­port­ers of Ager Oliva have invested in the recov­ery of the olive trees.

In exchange for their con­tri­bu­tions, Ager Oliva gives them the olive oil pro­duced by those trees. In addi­tion, the com­pany labels the bot­tles with the name cho­sen by the con­trib­u­tor, maps them on their web­site, releases an adop­tion cer­tifi­cate for the trees and allows sup­port­ers to visit them when­ever they like.

How Ager Oliva solved the prob­lem with the aban­doned groves of the Da Vinci birth­place is increas­ingly being repli­cated around Tuscany.

Many choose to adopt an olive tree and to give the adop­tion as a present to their loved ones,” Tommaso Dami, an econ­o­mist, olive farmer and Ager Oliva’s founder, told Olive Oil Times. We decided to start this project because there are so many aban­doned orchards.”


Tommaso Dami

Official data show that in the whole of Tuscany, there are around four mil­lion trees that need to be recov­ered and restored,” he added. That is why we worked on a busi­ness plan that allowed us to pro­gres­sively expand our area of inter­ven­tion.”

In the first year of oper­a­tions, the com­pany has seen the num­ber of its restored olive trees jump from 600 to 1,200, with a grow­ing num­ber of requests com­ing from own­ers who can no longer take care of their groves, a well-known phe­nom­e­non through­out Italy.

Abandonment is mainly due to an age­ing gen­er­a­tion of farm­ers, the reduced prof­itabil­ity of small-scale olive oil pro­duc­tion and the grow­ing chal­lenges pre­sented by cli­mate change and dis­eases.

The recov­ery inter­ven­tion in the Vinci orchard is quite rel­e­vant,” Dami said.

Over time, other plants grew around the trees and some­times on the trees them­selves, with branches often entirely cov­ered.

We start with the mulcher in the area sur­round­ing the trees, then we pro­ceed with the help of small equip­ment, such as grass trim­mers to clean around the trees,” Dami said. From that moment on, we inter­vene by hand to remove all extra­ne­ous veg­e­ta­tion.”

Once the clean­ing is done, our agron­o­mist decides which organic fer­til­iza­tion strat­egy to adopt and how to pro­ceed to get rid of pathogens,” he added.

Some of the trees have grown so tall over the years that they have become increas­ingly com­pli­cated to restore.


Sometimes we have to inter­vene on trees that are more than 10 meters tall, which is too high to be man­aged cor­rectly,” Dami said. Once restored, trees are pruned accord­ing to the poly­conic vase train­ing sys­tem.”

The tech­nique accel­er­ates the return of the trees’ abil­ity to yield fruit, accord­ing to Italian olive tree prun­ing cham­pion Riccardo Macari.

With this approach, we encour­age the pro­duc­tion of veg­e­ta­tive branches in the lower part of the canopy while facil­i­tat­ing har­vest and the imple­men­ta­tion of all the other agro­nomic prac­tices dur­ing the year,” he told Olive Oil Times in a 2017 inter­view.

We respect the plant’s equi­lib­rium and devel­op­ment” by pro­mot­ing the devel­op­ment of fruity branches, rather than suck­ers and water sprouts, he added.

The restora­tion process also pro­duces plenty of olive wood, which Dami said can be a logis­ti­cal chal­lenge to give away.

It is not as easy as one may think,” he said. It really is a lot of wood, and, up to now, we have not been very lucky in find­ing inter­ested par­ties.”

Dami hopes some pizze­ria with its wooden stove will soon come to the res­cue.

Throughout the restora­tion process, Ager Oliva strictly uses organic and bio-ele­ments pro­to­col.

All of our activ­ity is organic, which is the best option, of course, even if recov­ery times might be a lit­tle longer and inter­ven­tion might cost more,” Dami said. You can’t go there with some chem­i­cals, spray them around and solve the prob­lem.”

You have to take care of the trees, com­bat the fruit fly, and often spray organic com­pounds on the trees every three weeks dur­ing spe­cific bio­log­i­cal cycles,” he added. That is our top pri­or­ity, to have a sus­tain­able farm­ing activ­ity, both eco­nom­i­cally and envi­ron­men­tally, respect­ing the ter­ri­tory, the land and the peo­ple who live there.”

The grow­ing num­ber of olive tree adop­tion sup­port­ers can choose the plant they want to adopt and pay €49 or €59 per year to recover one olive tree, with the exact sum depend­ing on the state of the tree.


Ager Oliva’s managing team

We were founded online, but since we started, we hoped to host an event among the olive trees,” Dami said. Last year, just a few months after we started, we were about 100 peo­ple hav­ing bruschetta and tast­ing excel­lent extra vir­gin olive oil in a restored orchard.”

Some of these early adopters con­sider their trees as fam­ily mem­bers; some are adopt­ing more than just one tree while some com­pa­nies adopt many of them,” he added.

The com­pany has dis­trib­uted 1,200 liters of extra vir­gin olive oil to its mem­bers in the cur­rent har­vest­ing sea­son.

Our pro­jec­tions are to dou­ble the num­ber of adop­tions in the com­ing months and end 2022 with at least 3,000 adopted olive trees under Ager Oliva man­age­ment,” Dami said.

However, he admit­ted that it would not be easy to go wher­ever an inter­ven­tion is needed.

If we look at areas such as Lucca or Florence, we have one mil­lion trees there that would need restor­ing, hun­dreds of thou­sands near Arezzo and 20,000 or 30,000 in Pistoia,” Dami said.

We hope many trees in pub­lic lands, which are today on sale for very high prices incom­pat­i­ble with the mar­ket, will be pro­gres­sively given to ini­tia­tives that can bring them back to pro­duc­tion,” he added. Many of those trees are his­toric orchards. It is a pity to see them aban­doned.”

Some local munic­i­pal admin­is­tra­tions may share Dami’s sen­ti­ment. They are work­ing to change the tra­di­tional approach.

Florence recently launched an ini­tia­tive to allow pri­vate cit­i­zens or asso­ci­a­tions to adopt one or more olive trees in the area by for­mally com­mit­ting to tak­ing care of them. Once assigned their trees, adopters are enti­tled to pro­duce their own extra vir­gin olive oil.

The Tuscan regional assem­bly also has recently adopted a res­o­lu­tion that paves the way for new restora­tion oper­a­tions to take place in aban­doned fields and olive groves in the region.

One of the things we are look­ing at is to safe­guard and pro­tect bio­di­ver­sity,” Dami said. We are now crowd­fund­ing an ini­tia­tive to bring sup­port irri­ga­tion to those olive orchards where that is fea­si­ble. With the ris­ing sum­mer tem­per­a­tures and the last­ing sum­mer drought, plants and their envi­ron­ment will greatly ben­e­fit from spe­cific tar­geted irri­ga­tion inter­ven­tions.”

The lack of water in our region greatly affects yields,” he con­cluded. During sum­mer­time, we have seen orchards los­ing up to 60 per­cent of their olives because of heat­waves.”

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