ROSSINYOL: Presentation of “The Rossinyol Collective Project”

Who we are

We are a small group of people who come from the anti-authoritarian milieu, working as a self-organised collective —horizontally, collaboratively and without bosses— to produce raw and organic cold-pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Since 2014, we have been squatting and recuperating abandoned olive groves situated in the countryside around Manresa, a small town in the Catalonian area of the Iberian Peninsula. At first, the idea was to produce high-quality organic olive oil for our own consumption, but gradually we recuperated more and more olive trees and began to increase our production.

The groves

Since the beginning of our project, one of our intentions has been to rescue from abandonment the centuries-old olive groves which we could see slowly disappearing around us due to decades of neglect.

In the fields which we have recuperated there are mostly old trees, some of which have survived fire and all of which have survived nearly-mortal freezes, losing their old trunks and being converted by the farmers of that time into trees with several trunks… something that we are trying to slowly change so that each tree can return as close as possible to its original and more natural shape. But, perhaps most importantly of all, these are trees which have also survived the industrialisation of Catalonia and the migration of the population towards the cities and towards jobs not associated to a daily symbiotic contact with nature. Unfortunately, some of these trees are also now within an area which is under threat of being devastated in order to leave space for the speculation in Manresa associated with the ominous combination of gentrification and religious tourism.

So, our work in these olive groves is not only a part of our path towards self-sufficiency and towards being in constant touch with nature and its cycles; we feel that it is also a part of the resistance against the weight of the cities and the industrial system they are based upon, a system which is destroying life on this planet.

The olives

The olive trees we work with are mostly of the Verdal variety, with the presence of a few trees now and then of the Corbella and the Arbequina varieties. As a result of this blend of local types of olives, what is created is an olive oil with a flavour unique to the groves that we have recuperated. And, by maintaining as much variety as possible amongst the olive trees, we are helping to keep the ecosystem of the groves healthier.

Most of the olives are harvested early, while still green, in order to maintain all of their nutritional properties and therefore maximise the health benefits of the olive oil produced. If the olives are picked only when they have already become dark, as is often done for economic reasons, the resulting oil contains fewer polyphenols than the early-harvest oil that we make.

How we work

Inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka’s approach to caring for the land, we don’t till the earth below or around the trees and always minimise the disruptions we may cause to the soil and its biodiversity, concentrating on regenerating the topsoil and increasing its fertility so as to reverse the negative effects of the destructive farming these groves have suffered from in the past.

We don’t use any chemical products whatsoever. We don’t even spray the trees with copper sulphate although it is permitted by organic farming legislation, regardless of its toxicity. So, this means that there are no chemical fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides in our olive groves. In fact, we encourage a controlled growth of what industrial agriculture calls “weeds”, so as to create as many cover crops as possible and therefore limit soil erosion and maintain moisture. We also keep some other trees and shrubs in between the olive trees; plants which the industrial mentality would eliminate but which we see as important to the holistic health of the fields because they dismantle monoculture and give shelter to a greater variety of animals and insects.

With regards to pruning, we follow the guidelines set out by the local expert Tomàs Llop, based on respecting each tree’s natural form and cutting away the least amount of leaves possible so that the plant doesn’t suffer too much. We also use the cuttings and other organic material to create mulch below the trees, therefore giving back more than is taken away and slowly generating more soil in the groves.

During the harvest we avoid using machines and so the olives are hand-picked, minimising the damage to the trees and to the olives themselves, thereby guaranteeing that they arrive at the press in a perfect and fresh condition.

The olive press

Our olives are pressed in a family-run mill called Can Gibert, which is located in the small village of San Genís, just half an hour away from the olive groves we look after. The oil is extracted from the olives only and exclusively by use of a mechanical press, which means that neither chemicals nor heat are applied, thereby obtaining less oil but preserving the flavours and aromas and, above all, the properties beneficial to human health.

The whole milling process is undertaken with great care. The olives are cold-pressed, always at a temperature below 20 ºC (very low even by gourmet standards). Oxidation is minimised at every stage and so the presence of antioxidants in the final product is maximised. And, finally, the olive oil is not filtered in any way.

The oil

When you taste our raw and organic cold-pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil, you will perhaps feel a tingling in your throat or it may even cause a slight cough. This is perfectly normal and is caused by a type of antioxidant called polyphenols, and the pungent and bitter flavour is what usually accompanies a high-quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Polyphenols are one of the many health-protective antioxidants that are found in Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and they help fight against oxidative stress and ageing-related diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and certain types of cancer. Polyphenols also contain strong anti-inflammatory properties and contribute to olive oil’s ability to help reduce the risk of strokes. And, of course, they are an important part of the great taste of high-quality olive oil!

Some of the main factors that contribute to ensuring the maximum presence of polyphenols in an olive oil are those that we are most careful with: an early harvest of the olives (while they are still green), the least amount of oxidation during the pressing and no refining whatsoever, just pure and raw cold-pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Projects for the future

With our olive oil production gradually establishing itself, we are now working on other projects stemming directly from the olive groves or in some way compatible with the work we are doing. We already have a close collaboration with Yanara, a local like-minded project which produces eco-compatible handcrafted remedies and detergents, to whom we provide our olive oil to use as an ingredient, and we also supply a couple of local woodworkers with olive wood from the pruning. However, as a collective our intention is, on one hand, to widen the spectrum of our work by creating new products and, on the other hand, to strengthen and expand the solidarity network that we have been building over the past few years together with other projects. In fact, we are already beginning to integrate new projects inside our cooperative framework.

December 2017

The Rossinyol Collective Project