Have you noticed how much land there is in Southern Italy with fruit, citrus and olive trees growing everywhere? Most of this land is split into small plots and could belong to numerous family members who put in the hard work to maintain it. You can see a large piece of land in Calabria, perhaps owned by different people, and have certain boundaries marked, so the proprietors know exactly where their land ends. Many disputes exist when hedges grow over this.
Most of the land in Calabria is agricultural land which cannot be built on for residential use. There is vast land in Calabria due to less inhabitants living in the region and strict laws.
If you buy a piece of land, it is your responsibility to look after it and put in the hard work. You will be rewarded when you see the fruits. I have often been invited to spend time at a local person’s plot of land and it is wonderful to see all the olive and fruit trees neatly laid out in pretty rows.
Calabria like Sicily and the rest of Southern Italy has many olive trees. You can see them everywhere. These trees are sacred and cannot be touched. Some of them have been there for centuries and their roots can grow deep into the ground. Most people with a small garden would like an olive tree but they have to be aware of how big it can grow and how much oil they can get from it, so for this reason, people prefer to buy land and grow several trees.
How to collect the olives
They then collect the olives when they are ripe by placing a green or brown olive net on the ground beneath the tree and use a hand-held tool or industrial device to carefully shake the branches of the trees and let the olives fall into the net. Most families still use the old-fashioned, hand-held shaker.
They then load them into crates and take them to the olive press which turns them into extra virgin olive oil. I noticed that many people give the oil to friends and family and then sell the remainder of it. The colour of the oil is yellow to dark green, and its taste is unique in this part of Italy.
Olive oil production
80% of Italy’s olive oil production comes from Sicily, Calabria, Puglia and Basilicata as well as Sardinia. Italy is the second largest producer and exporter of olive oil in the world with most of it being exported to America. The land in Southern Italy is extremely fertile with plenty of sunshine, so it is no surprise.
Unfortunately, climate change is affecting the normal growth of olives and quite often some of those olives need to be discarded. This is disheartening for many olive growers. Another problem is the young generation who are losing interest in this tradition. For years it has been handed down from father to son and luckily, some young people are still keen to continue this.
Eating outdoors amid olive trees
Many people spend hours working their land. Some spend time with their families there, especially on Sundays once everyone has helped, they sit at a long table outside and have lunch. I remember being invited to this large plot where there were spectacular views of the countryside and the sea.
I had to help with putting the olives into crates and then we were rewarded with a wonderful Calabrian lunch and a few weeks later, a bottle of this exquisite oil. The atmosphere and the experience was incredible. Many of us volunteers sat around a long wooden table with Calabrian delicacies and plenty of red local wine surrounded by olive trees.
The weather was warm. It was great being outdoors with all those local people. There were olive trees, fig trees, citrus and even almond trees. Some of the delicacies were picked from this land. Delicious figs for dessert which had been picked in August, dried and placed in jars to keep them going over the winter period.
Zucchine flowers were picked, dipped in flour and egg and then deep fried. Some people brought local cheese, cured meats, bread and wine. Marinated vegetables were served. After this wonderful lunch we carried on packing the olives into the crates. Calabrian olives are delicious and most Calabrians season them with a touch of chili pepper.
Many olive growers are now using a program called workaway to find people from all over the world who want to enjoy this experience in Calabria and help them pick the olives and fruit. They have to offer them accommodation and food in return.
This appeals to many young backpackers who want to travel on a budget. Some farms have seen many different nationalities come and go. The olive growers are happy as they have some help and the tradition lives on.
Olive oil in Calabria
It is thanks to them and their helpers that we can appreciate a good olive oil in our kitchen today. The best olive oil to use in cooking and salads is extra virgin olive oil and when you come to Calabria, you will have the opportunity to try it.
It is used in all foods and dishes. Some people just have small pieces of bread with olive oil drizzled on top as a snack. The bruschetta is wonderful. Many local people prefer to produce their own olive oil from their land.
Hard work and dedication
It is not expensive to buy land but you must be dedicated, know how to nurture it and be willing to work hard in return for the best fruit and olive oil ever. The more trees you have, the more you can sell. Everyone wants a piece of land but if you do not know what you are doing, you will never be able to grow anything.
It takes skill, especially when you see how they do it. You need to know how to water them correctly. I tried to grow a miniature Chinese mandarin tree. I was so excited when I bought it, it was full of small mandarins and after a month or so, it never produced fruit again and sadly, I was left with a bare tree.