Going Organic on the Mediterranean
A basket of organic fun.
For Liz Barratt-Brown, owner of historic Pedruxella Gran in Mallorca, Spain, the garden of Eden might just be her own olive grove.
Pedruxella Gran has an incredible history.
There are many reasons why Pedruxella Gran is one of the best known posesiones (large historical estates) in our town of Pollensa, Mallorca. During The Crusades, the farm was owned by the Templars and rumored to hold a secret supply of silver. It later became the wealthiest estate in Mallorca because of the large number of pigs it owned. Today it lays claim to one of the last working traditional olive presses on the island.
But what really makes it special is that its a local staple. Many old-time townspeople still remember picking Pedruxella's olives when they were young — some of them can still recall the tunes they hummed while picking. I inherited the estate in 1997 from my father who made it his life's work to restore the farm and conserve both its traditional agriculture and local ecology. My husband and I have carried on my father's mission and our own commitment to the environment through Pedruxella.
What inspired you to open the farm to volunteer workers?
We were living on the farm with our two small children when we had the idea t0 open up the farm to volunteers — we thought it would provide them with great role models, and it certainly has for the past eight years. We also thought it would be a great experience for volunteers who wanted to learn more about organic olive farming — there are always countless different jobs to be done on the farm and plenty of opportunities to learn about the history, organic practices, and culture of the estate. We got the green light from our resident farmer, Tolo, who has had great experiences teaching and working with the volunteers. So far, we've had volunteers from over twenty countries.
How does one take part as a volunteer? Walk us through a typical stay.
We ask that volunteers work five days a week for six hours a day in exchange for room and board (this is consistent with the guidelines of WWOOF, the network the majority of our volunteers come through). Tolo meets the volunteers in the morning to start on whatever the work is for that day — possibilities are anything from feeding the animals, to weeding and planting in the green or ornamental gardens, to pruning olive trees, to fixing walls and fences around the estate. Tolo is always willing to answer questions about the traditional and organic way we farm, so our volunteers also have a great opportunity to learn more about farming.
Who benefits from your work?
Mostly our ancient olive trees! Pedruxella's main product is olive oil and we make it the traditional way, from a special variety of trees that are at least 500 years old and only found in Mallorca. Not many people do this anymore. It's often difficult to compete with larger estates that irrigate young trees and employ mechanical collection, but our oil is very good and we are maintaining olive orchards and a way of producing oil that has existed for centuries.
As an environmental attorney, what is your one piece of advice for being environmentally conscious? What sort of farming practices do you fight against?
Know where your food comes from and with what consequences to the environment. We have to wake up to the practices that are destroying our land, emptying our oceans, and ruining our health. Unfortunately, that applies to most of our industrial agriculture today, but is gradually changing with efforts like the Slow Food movement that we are a part of.
I feel really good about the way we produce olive oil at Pedruxella, but unfortunately not all olive oil is equal. When buying oil, it's always important to read the fine print — only buy oil that says it has been extracted using "mechanical means" and be sure to avoid oils that have been extracted with chemicals. Most of all, buy organic — it's good for the planet and it will give you a much better assurance that your oil actually comes from where it claims.
What are the challenges you face running an organic olive farm? The rewards?
Our biggest challenge is farming on the side of a mountain. The farm is made up of many terraces built during the time of the Moors. A lot of our work is done on foot, walking the terraces. We pick the olives with nets and sticks, gather them into buckets, and then transfer them to the back of our tractor, which is often far from the trees we are harvesting. But its a really peaceful and beautiful way to harvest. One of our volunteers desrcibed it perfectly once after collecting from a particularly generous tree — the sound of the olives falling onto the net must be like the smell of freshly baked bread to a baker. It is a lovely experience that I would not trade for all the mechanization in the world.
What do you hope to teach volunteers about sustainable farming and environmental consciousness?
Working on our farm has been a pivotal experience for many of our volunteers. Many come with ideas about sustainable farming but have never actually done it. It's hard work and we go through a lot of work gloves and band-aids, but the experience is transformative for many. Escaping our plugged-in world is one of the best parts. A volunteer once admitted to me that she had never had such deep thoughts about her life and its direction as she did while weeding our green garden. I hope that this experience gives our volunteers the encouragement to follow their dreams, which they all seem to come with in spades. I know I feel a lot more positive about the future for having gotten to know many of them.
Organizations like WWOOF and HelpX run volunteer programs on thousands of farms across the world. What makes Pedruxella Gran special?
Mallorca is a beautiful and historic island in the crossroads of the Mediterranean. Its vibrant culture and history is based on agriculture, and Pedruxella Gran is at the heart of it. We work hard to make sure that our volunteers get a diverse experience and an opportunity to learn, have fun, and enjoy their surroundings. Those who are interested can visit our website and read the testimonials by past volunteers. If you don't want to volunteer but would like to visit the estate, we also host guests for weekly rentals.
Pedruxella Gran/Petruxella S.L., Aptdo 123
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