The New York Times reports that "drought has ravaged dozens of crops throughout Europe - corn in Romania, rice in Italy, beans in Belgium, and beets and garlic in France. Among the hardest hit is the olive crop of Spain, which produces one half of the world’s olive oil. Nearly half of Spain’s output comes from Jaén - pronounced hi-EN - a landlocked southern province of 5,200 square miles, about the size of Connecticut, that yields far more olive oil annually than all of Italy, according to the International Olive Council. It is often called the olive oil capital of the world.
"Farmers and political leaders are now searching for answers to a pressing question: What happens to a one-crop economy when that crop is scorched by record-breaking temperatures?"
According to the Times, many of those who remain in the region "are fourth- or fifth-generation farmers who can trace their holdings back more than 100 years. They have an attachment to the business that transcends facts and figures, tiptoes into romance and bursts with civic pride. Oil from here winds up in dozens of different varieties sold around the world, many of which can be purchased online directly from local mills.
"The landscape has inspired some of Spain’s greatest poets (Miguel Hernández, Antonio Machado), singers (Juanito Valderrama) and painters (Rafael Zabaleta). Now the groves are turning up on social media. One Jaén farmer who has 1.7 million followers on TikTok makes gargantuan sandwiches, all generously slathered with olive oil."
Now, social media celebrity is begetting olive oil-centric tourism:
"With a nudge from the local government, a nascent olive oil tourism industry, dubbed oleoturismo, is starting to grow. There are spas with olive oil treatments and specialty shops, like Panaderia Paniaceite, that sell dozens of varieties of olive oil. One almazara, as traditional mills are known, offers olive oil tastings like wine tastings at a vineyard. Visitors can also spend a day working and living as an olive farmer, meals included, for 27 euros."
However, the Times notes that "tourism will never offset losses in the fields nor thwart a variety of tectonic shifts that go far beyond the weather. A harvest that once took tens of thousands of people, including a massive influx of seasonal migrant workers, now requires a fraction of manpower because so much of the work is now done by machines. Most notably, there is the vibradora, a hand-held, gasoline-powered device — it looks like a chain saw with a very long, thin snout — that shakes olives out of trees by clamping on to branches and rattling them." And, since the average age of olive farmers in Jaén is 60, with many of their children having moved to cities where they are less tethered to an industry trouble, it may not be that long before there's nobody left.
Yet another example of how the realities of climate change threaten things that many people have grown to count on, to love. I know I keep coming to these kinds of stories, but I think it is important that we not all labor in some sort of alternate reality where these kinds of things are not happening.
The Wall Street Journal this weekend reported that "high temperatures in the Western U.S. are hitting the produce industry, damaging crops, shrinking shipments and leaving fewer leafy greens and fruits on supermarket shelves.
"A California grower said some of his lettuce leaves are turning brown and melting in the fields because of crop diseases intensified by the high temperatures. In Pennsylvania, a retailer said its stores went a week without having strawberries to sell. A New York distributor has substituted honeydew melons for watermelons, which have become scarce.
"Supermarkets say they are giving less shelf space to products with weather-induced discolorations, bruises or burns. Stores are cutting prices on poor-quality items to avoid getting stuck with them, and increasingly receiving products from Canada, Florida, New Jersey and Ohio instead of California, long the go-to source for U.S. grocers."
One example of the impact: "California vegetable growers said the current heat wave could be fueling diseases that kill or damage lettuce, leaving less to sell to restaurants or grocery stores. High temperatures can promote diseases such as pythium wilt and impatiens necrotic spot virus, or INSV, according to produce growers, researchers and trade groups. Pythium wilt is a soil-borne disease, while INSV is transmitted to lettuce by small insects known as western flower thrips."