When the olives start turning from green to black. That’s when Italian olive farmers know it’s time to start harvesting their precious fruits. Their work needed to be quick; not much time could pass between gathering and pressing the olives to avoid them being exposed to too much oxygen, which could ruin acidity levels. It was an intense but rewarding moment of the agricultural calendar.
I moved to Rome from the UK some years ago. Here I met Giuseppe and we share a passion for Southern Italy. Giuseppe, born in Molise, remembers days when he worked long after the light had faded helping his parents with olive harvest, sorting the olives from the leaves, and being rewarded by bread held under the olive presses to catch the zingy, bright-green olive oil. His family’s knowledge comes from tending to their trees each and every day of the year, gathering experience and learning their art in the fields and olive mills.Olive farmers in Italy today are in difficulty. In recent years, the olive oil market has been slowly but surely dominated by big multi-national companies, who are not above resorting to dirty tricks in the name of profit. Frequently olive oil is imported cheaply from other Mediterranean countries and chemically altered to improve its taste, driving market prices so low that farmers in Italy cannot get a fair price for their product. In rural areas, many farmers are selling their groves, unable to make a living from the very same olive oil that has sustained agricultural societies in Italy since Roman times.Talking to Giuseppe’s parents, we often discussed the plight of struggling olive farmers. We thought it would be great to help them and contacted friends of Giuseppe’s family who had olive groves to see if they would be willing to participate in a new type of collaboration. The farmers that we chose for the project thrive to make the best quality olive oil and committed to paying their olive pickers a good wage. We called the project Terra Adopt, and offer people the chance to adopt an olive tree in these farmers’ groves and receive extra virgin Italian olive oil from their chosen grove in the post. In this way, farmers are able to safeguard their future by asking what they consider a fair price for their olive oil.For now, Terra Adopt is working with three farmers in the small region of Molise. The project wants to help the farmers avoid selling their oil at below-market prices to big conglomerates, or selling up their groves because they are no longer productive. Terra Adopt hopes to involve more farmers in this project in the future and to help give farmers back the respect and dignity they deserve. If you are interested in volunteering during the olive harvest in an olive grove involved in the Terra Adopt, you can contact the owners, who are always willing to have a helping hand. Please call to inquire: 0039 333 9586771. If you would like to adopt an olive tree go to our website.
This is a guest post by Francesca Still of Terra Adopt.
Photos by Claudia Perilli