In the town of Arauco in the La Rioja province of Argentina stands the oldest olive tree in the country, planted in the 1600s. Although not native to Argentina, the Arauco olive is highly prized for its buttery smoothness and meaty texture, and for the robust floral and fruity flavor notes it contributes to olive oil.
There, in the Antinaco-Los Colorados Valley, the cooperative producers of Riojana extra virgin, fair trade organic olive oil are cultivating much more than their 350 olive trees. Through cooperation, they are growing a healthy, vibrant and sustainable community.
Reinvesting profits for health and education
La Riojana’s founders came from Italy to Argentina in the 1940s and began cultivating grapes for the production of wine, and planting olive trees as a natural companion plant. Certified fair trade by Fairtrade International in 2006, the members of the cooperative have invested more than $11 million Argentinian pesos (~ $730,000 US), primarily from the sale of their fair trade organic wines, in projects including a new drinking water supply for the village of Tilimuqui, where many of La Riojana’s workers and their families live. The fair trade premium has also been invested in production improvements, new community centers and medical equipment, but the most visible result of the cooperative’s reinvestment in its farmer members and their families can be seen in their commitment to education.
A new secondary school specializing in agriculture opened in Tilimuqui in 2010. Offering free education to children age 13-18, the school has had a profound impact on its community, providing a catalyst for local development, increasing employment by the creation of more than 50 new jobs at the school, and providing training in technical agronomy to help slow the migration of young people to larger cities. Since 2010, enrollment in the school has grown from 33 pupils to more than 300. With plans to build new classrooms, the cooperative hopes to expand the school’s capacity to 600 students in the next few years.
The cooperative also provides kits of school supplies to children of its members, as well as free computer courses to adult community members.
Focusing on environment to ensure a bright future
Besides supporting health and education, the cooperative is invested in green initiatives and sustainability, so transitioning more of its growers to become equivalency USDA Certified Organic is another important goal. With a focus on becoming carbon neutral, La Riojana Cooperative is introducing improved water management techniques, the use of solar and bio energy and a reforestation project.
When you purchase Riojana olive oil you are not just purchasing a delicious ingredient to enjoy, you are casting a vote in favor of cooperative, fair trade businesses—and helping more than 422 cooperative members continue to invest in a brighter future.