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.