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The Olive Oil Capital of the World, Parched

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The landscape has inspired a few of Spain’s best 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.

With a nudge from the local government, a nascent olive oil tourism industry, dubbed oleoturismo, is beginning to grow. There are spas with olive oil treatments and specialty shops, like Panaderia Paniaceite, that sell dozens of sorts of olive oil. One almazara, as traditional mills are known, offers olive oil tastings like wine tastings at a vineyard. Visitors may also spend a day working and living as an olive farmer, meals included, for 27 euros.

“It was a surprise to us, the quantity of interest there’s in seeing how we produce olive oil,” said José Jiménez, co-owner of the mill, Oleícola San Francisco, in a village called Baeza. “We’ve already had 50,000 visitors from 78 countries.”

Tourism won’t ever offset losses within the fields nor thwart a wide range of tectonic shifts that go far beyond the weather. A harvest that after took tens of 1000’s of individuals, including an enormous influx of seasonal migrant staff, now requires a fraction of manpower because a lot of the work is now done by machines. Most notably, there’s the vibradora, a hand-held, gasoline-powered device — it looks like a series saw with a really long, thin snout — that shakes olives out of trees by clamping on to branches and rattling them.

An individual armed with a vibradora can shake 1500 kilograms (about 3,300 kilos) of olives to the bottom in a day. Using the normal slap-it-with-a-stick technique, the number is closer to 200 kilograms a day.

That’s one reason El Molar has been shedding population; far fewer persons are needed for the harvest. And people still toiling within the groves face higher costs, especially now that inflation is over 9 percent within the eurozone, raising the worth of electricity, fuel, fertilizer and labor.

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