Olive Branches Stand for peace… How About Olive Trees?
By Pablo Esteves
Did you know that all olives are green? Black olives are green olives that turn black in time. And green olives were simply never allowed to turn black. Did you know that olives are inedible when first picked? Or that there are about eight or nine total varieties across Spain?
Also true: you can be the proud sponsor of a beautiful centenary Olive tree smack in the middle of the Spanish peninsula.
A couple of months ago, I was invited to “Apadrina un Olivo” in the remote town of Oliete in the Spanish province of Teruel. The Spanish word “Apadrinar” means to be a patron to, to support, to godfather. The project combines technology, entrepreneurship, and the power of crowds to rescue rural towns (Oliete, the first one) through a sustainable and economic model that creates jobs, promotes tourism, and raises awareness. How they go about it is relatively simple. They find the owners of abandoned olive groves, negotiate with them to secure some rights on the yield of the groves and connect these trees with people interested in sponsoring a tree for a yearly fee.
The one-year-old project is proving to be a success
So far they have little over 500 godparents that sponsor more than 1500 trees. For a yearly fee of 50€ (about $57 USD) sponsors choose a tree, give it a name (preferably a funny one), and receive two liters of olive oil. Each tree has a QR code plastic tag that serves as an ID that includes the tree’s name, number, and location. Via the organization’s website and mobile app, tree sponsors receive updates and photos of their specific tree as well as other olive-culture related content.
Of course, like any godparent, you are proud of the progress of your godson. And thus, nothing is better than paying a visit to your tree. My visit to Oliete was during one of the several “open days” that Apadrina un Olivo organizes year-round for godparents. An eclectic gathering of people from all corners of Spain and beyond that descended on Oliete for the weekend. We reconnected with nature, ate delicious local food all day long, learned about the project, took photos of and with our trees, and visited the town. This is the ripple effect of the project.
Oliete, like many other small towns in Spain, is shrinking at an alarming rate. Located in an area rich with Iberian culture that goes back to the year 500 b.C., the town eventually grew to a population of 2,500 in the 20th century. Always reliant on agriculture, mainly olives, and commerce, the decline began as younger generations moved away to the cities and the population aged, leaving no one to take care of the trees. Living between 300-600 years olive trees require care through generations. Sadly, around Oliete today, there are hundreds of thousands of olive groves utterly abandoned.
Granted, nowadays with a population under 500, there are more godparents than town folks. Apadrina un Olivo is not only saving centenary olive trees from abandonment and death, but they have also created a handful of full-time and temporary jobs and are driving tourism to a town that badly needs it. More than 50% of sponsors have already paid a visit to their trees, and the project is injecting new life to the town.
It is known that walking in nature is associated with creative thinking and host of other health benefits including decreased depression and improved well-being and mental health. My trek around the olive groves was certainly a peaceful experience, during which I had a profound realization. These trees will outlive me and, hopefully, will outlast the generations to come. Looking at nature in this way reminded me of my mortality, how we are finite beings with a comparatively short life span, and that we belong to a world of infinite complexity and beauty. It was a feeling both immensely grounding and elevating. The genius of Apadrina un Olivo is that it gives us a shot at long lasting legacy. Guess what my family received last year’s holiday season?