…the prodigal returns

Back where we came from, reluctant returnees.

The changing face of farming

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As regular readers know, we own a small 22 acre olive farm in the mountains near Yunquera. Our farm borders the Sierra de las Nieves National park. We came here in 2003 from the UK – I’m American by birth, and my husband is British. We have gradually reformed our farm after 10 years of disuse, and now produce a small amount of wonderful olive oil, which we sell in several countries, and also use in making soap and skincare products. We do all the work ourselves, with no hired help.

We have, over the past few years, noticed how sharply the price of olives, and olive oil, has dropped. Many of our neighbours sell their olives to the mills here – this year’s price was 25 cents/kilo. No one even picks the olives that have fallen anymore, as the mills will not buy them.

None of the olive groves here are huge – the land is mostly mountainous and/or steep, so you have to pick tree by tree.

Many of the men here are getting out of the business. Two of our neighbours have cut down all their olive trees – they say the price of olives is so low that there is no point picking them. Add to that the fact that the work is hard, and that here, the olives ripen in Dec/Jan, when the weather here is pretty awful for us pickers.

We are witnessing an alarming trend, in my opinion. A couple of years ago, most of the orange trees here were cut down in favour of planting avocadoes (they command a higher price). We used to be given bags and bags of oranges – now, few are available. We used to help our friend pick his orange crop; now, no need to, as there are none.

And now it’s happening to the olive trees. And some farmers are even cutting down the ubiquitous chestnut tree, and planting…nothing in its place.

Most of the farmers in our area are nearing or past retirment age – but because of falling agriculture prices, the next generation is not following their fathers into working on the land.

So what does this mean? It feels like we’re seeing the end of small agriculture. Maybe that means nothing.

But I remember the same thing happening in the US when I was little, and to the UK more recently. Small farms are no more, and agribusiness takes their place. Food is no longer grown close to where you live, and is no longer quite so fresh. That tomato no longer tastes quite as good, because it’s been picked before it’s ripe, and trucked in from miles away. Maybe you don’t think it’s a big deal, but think about it – don’t you remember how good fresh corn, tomatoes, oranges and other fruit and veg used to taste?

There is a reason why it no longer tastes so good. I don’t know if it’s too late to stop the changes in our area, but in the meantime, we try to either grow what we need, or buy locally.

Author: Ann Larson

One-time IT executive who lives on a 22 acre olive farm in Spain with husband Kenton and 2 boxer dogs. We make Yunquera Gold olive oil, and soap and skincare products from same. We aim to make natural, fresh, and handmade products at affordable prices!

4 thoughts on “The changing face of farming

  1. I have made several blog post about growing your own food and small livestock like chickens and rabbits.

    I my area of Southwest Oklahoma, anything beyond a home orchard or garden is not and option, lack of rain and little or no underground water for irrigation fruit or vegetable production is not possible.

    Not being raised on a farm my daughter, grandkids and great grand son have seldom if ever tasted fresh ripe from the tree or garden foods.

    They think tomato’s all taste like they are green and fruit is always sour from being picked green to survive shipment and warehouse storage.

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    • Welcome to my blog, and thanks for the comment! I grew up in South Dakota, so I know what you mean about dry areas – the same is also true in some parts of Spain. (That’s one reason I get so annoyed when they build yet another golf course!)

      We’ve had children visit our farm and have the same reaction to fruit and veg – they pick a tomato or a watermelon fresh from the garden, and they can’t believe how they taste! It makes me sad for those who never experience that.

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  2. It does seem to be a trend, the going-away of small farms, small agriculture, however, I keep reading articles that it is on the way back up, that people are turning back to basics, growing their own crops, selling them at farmer’s markets and even to local restaurants. Some of the larger retailers, such as Wal-Mart, are purchasing a select amount of local produce to sell in the neighborhood locations.

    I really dislike seeing the breakdown of farming in general. It seems those that stick with it in our area are the Mennonites (those that were raised Amish). They have the large farms, beautiful fields full of corn and soybeans, multiple diary’s, and hay. They have the large families to support their farm…and perhaps that is part of it. Families are not as large as they used to be. No longer do we see 6 or 7 children that are taught to do chores, to help as a family unit. Help these days equates to hiring…not so good. And diesel for the tractors, 4.00 a gallon.

    Big topic!

    I totally appreciate your blog post. It hits right on target with me.

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    • It’s a difficult issue, Mary. And I agree, things are gradually moving back to home or farm grown – in a small way. I understand the desire for cheap food, but agribusiness has produced nothing but ill, in my opinion – more fuel used, lower quality food. Most of the farms around here are small farms – can be run by a few people, but not enough income to provide for the things that people now want. In the hey day of farming here, you didn’t have a car, you didn’t go on vacations, you didn’t worry about gadgets. That has all changed – and farming can’t provide the income for it.

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