Looking back on this year’s harvest produces gratefulness in us for the farmers with whom we have worked and the many new people who have joined the Libellula community.
Those of you who joined our virtual olive oil tasting, adopted a grove, or purchased a bottle of extra virgin olive oil for yourself or a friend have enabled us to invest ever more in the land and our farmers who care for it. Every new order fills us with joy, and we could not be more thankful for each and every one of you!
However as we reflect on this harvest season, we wanted to candidly share with you the challenges we have faced. It has been tough; the toughest season we’ve ever experienced.
Spring had arrived in Sabina and our olive trees had blossomed! The trees flower for about a week, and these blossoms are essential for the growth of olives in the summer and fall. This means that this week is a critical time for the trees.
Any extreme changes in temperature or wind or rain can cause the blossoms to fall, meaning no olives will grow later that summer. While olive trees can withstand gradual changes in temperature, any sudden shifts can be catastrophic.
On the night of April 5th, the air was crisp and chilly. By midnight it had gotten slightly colder, but it was still above freezing. The night breeze rustled the leaves of the trees.
As the clock struck 2am, it started. The temperature went from 34 degrees F to 19 degrees F within the hour.
And then the wind began.
Buran winds blow from Siberia, carrying brutal temperatures and icy force. These winds are sometimes seen in the northernmost parts of Italy where the olive tree varietals can withstand their brute force. But they never come as far south as us.
The Buran blew from just after 2am until 10am that morning. By mid-day the wind was gone – and so were the trees’ blossoms.
We walked through our groves that day and took in the devastation. In a single night our season’s harvest was almost entirely destroyed. And we were not the only ones: about 70% of the farmers in Sabina lost their blossoms too. Those that survived were on trees lucky enough to have been shielded from the wind by hills.
We knew that the Giardinetto and La Tenuta groves would be severely affected, but we had hope that the San Lorenzo grove would be spared. This is because trees that grow 500-800 meters above sea level, like in the San Lorenzo grove, tend to be protected from deep cold as the humidity is less and the temperatures are warmer. When we arrived at the San Lorenzo grove we found our hopes dashed, as even here the trees had been ravished by the wind.
April the 5th was devastating not only for us, but for all of the olive farmers in the area.
As spring turned into summer, the lack of rainfall quickly became apparent. The trees whose blossoms did survive had to endure one of the driest summers in decades. For four months we had next to no rain, with temperatures shooting higher than normal, scorching the soil.
We are grateful that we could use our wells to provide some irrigation to the groves, but others were not so lucky. The groves of many farmers in the area were dry and sickly by fall.
We know many regions around the world are facing extreme weather patterns due to climate change, and this season we experienced this firsthand. In total, we lost 90% of our harvest this year. It was the worst harvest Sabina has seen in over two decades.
Experiencing this kind of loss is heartbreaking. We pour so much time, care and love into creating the best environment possible for our trees to thrive. Yet no matter how much we might prepare and strategize, we cannot control the weather.
Having said all of this, we want to be very clear: we stick with our farmers and their groves no matter what. We continued to pay for the upkeep of the groves all year and then their harvest, regardless of how little olive oil we were able to glean.
Our goal is to support Sabina’s family farmers and their groves, no matter what happens. Our relationships with our farmers and our relationship with the land come first, regardless of what unforeseen challenges may be lurking around the corner.
First: a hot, dry growing season makes for an even better-tasting olive oil.
The more it rains, the more the trees soak up water and, consequently, the olives can become rather watery. So while an extremely dry season creates much less olive oil, that olive oil is of incredible quality and packed with even more polyphenols.
Second, because we had so few olives this year, we created a new partnership with another local farmer: Adolfo.
When we first moved to Sabina, Adolfo would stop by from time to time to show us around the area. He’d give us little tips like which bakery made the best loaf of sourdough or which fruit stand had the juiciest figs.
Adolfo is from a very old family that has been in Sabina for generations and is a shy, gentle, and knowledgeable man by nature. He makes the most delicious jam every season from his garden's bountiful fruit. Both he and his wife, Roberta, have warmly welcomed us into the region.
While Adolfo was also greatly affected by the Buran and the dry summer, he was still able to harvest about 30% of his olives. Our partnership with him, combined with the small amount we were able to harvest from our groves, means that we will have enough olive oil for the coming year!
Through the difficulty of such a brutal harvest, we are delighted to create both one more partnership with a local farmer as well and press some of the finest olive oil the region has produced in years. Yes, the freezing wind and burning heat created challenges, but they have encouraged us to innovate and strategize on how best to combat future weather events like this. Already we are looking to plant northern varietals of olive trees alongside ours, diversifying our crop to prevent such widespread future devastation.
It is our hope that by reading the above, you will find yourself more connected, more knowledgeable and more invested in the success of Sabina’s olive trees and their farmers.
Ecco il raccolto 2022! (Here’s to the 2022 harvest!)
Julia & Camillo
P.S. We're working as quickly as we can to keep up with your holiday orders! Thank you for your patience as we package and send off each one.
If you have any questions about which extra virgin olive oil is the right gift for your loved one, just send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to help!