Farmers Restore Ancient Groves

Farmers on Small Italian Islands Restore Ancient Groves and Local Production

 

Growers on Giglio Island and Capri are restoring centuries-old olive trees to revive a fading culture and protect unique island landscapes.

 

Italy’s small Mediterranean islands are treasure troves of natural and cultural wonders.  Some, now known as popular holiday destinations, were once settled by peasants who practiced subsistence agriculture.  Until the second half of the 20th century, it was common to find expanses of cultivated olive groves and active olive presses on most inhabited islets.

 

“I had been thinking for some years of running a farm with my family, but there was a bit of indecision because we already had another job,” he added.

 “Eventually, I found great support in my wife Stefania Pellegrini and my cousin Emanuele Bancalà, and with them, I started to restore our almost 300 olive trees.”

 

Fewer than 1,500 people live year-round on the island, characterized by hilly terrain, steep terraces that slope toward smooth, pale granite cliffs, and a few sandy beaches much sought-after by vacationers during the warmest months.

 

“An olive mill has been operating on the island until the mid-1990s,” Bancalà said.  “Our ancestors landed on these coasts between 1560 and 1570, and afterward, they were most likely engaged in olive farming.”

 

“Indeed, today, we are taking care of trees that have been passed down to us from our great-grandfather, who produced olive oil,” he added.  “The company’s name is a tribute to him; Goffo is the nickname by which he was known in the village.”

 

“After having recovered our plots, we started asking fellow villagers if we could manage their lands through a rental agreement,” Bancalà said.  “Our work has been highly appreciated, and several owners of olive groves ended up asking us to take care of their trees.”

 

“Today, this has become an important project for us since most olive trees are centuries old and represent a true heritage,” he added.  “At the same time, we preserve the terraces and manage the land sustainably, using only organic fertilizers.”

 

Usually, the team carries out a drastic reform pruning of the trees to restore their vegetative-productive balance after years of neglect.  They take two or three years to become productive again.

 

“We have cleaned up some plots where the olive trees could not even be seen since they were submerged by vegetation,” Bancalà said.  “Moreover, some trees can grow eight meters tall.  We prune them all according to the polyconic vase system and make them lower, up to a maximum of three meters.  Those reformed a couple of years ago are starting to bear fruit again.”

 

The team now manages 750 trees and has planned field visits to evaluate the conditions of four new plots to take over in the coming weeks.

 

“The operations are not easy due to the steep slopes and irregularity of the terrain,” Bancalà said.  “It is impossible to use vehicles, and the harvest is done by hand.  Since some trees are even ten minutes walking distance from the main road where we park the van, carrying the bins full of olives can be quite strenuous.”

 

“Despite the difficulties, including the weather issues of the last few years, we maintained high-quality standards and achieved great results that repay all the efforts.  Added to this is the awareness of the landscape and environmental value of our work,” Bancalà said.

 

“One day, while walking in the restored plots at the end of the work and commenting on the great results of the restoration, we came up with the idea of recovering all the abandoned lands of the area and the olive trees growing on them,” Lelj said.

 

“So far, we have succeeded in recovering about 30 hectares of groves, and we usually manage to restore one or two hectares every year,” Lelj said, specifying that they not only clean up the land, prune the trees and maintain the terraces but also plant new olive trees.

 

“We added approximately 700 trees to replenish the sparser orchards,” he said.

 

I Power Seeds

Here are our takeaways and thoughts - pause and reflect, then nourish and grow!

Just a “feel-good” story of being innovative and excellent management and leadership skills to turn a almost far-gone situation into one of renewed growth and prosperity.

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