Living monuments

22 Oct 2012

About 80,000 olive trees grow in Lun, a small village on the eastern tip of the island of Pag, Croatia. These trees have grown in particularly difficult conditions. It rains very little on the island, but the often very strong wind erodes the soil and blows seawater on it, thus making it difficult for the vegetation to grow. It has been calculated that about a thousand among these trees are thousands of years old.
A study conducted in 2010 revealed that all these trees are genetically different from one another. Oil samples have also been extracted from these wild-type trees: due to their chemical features, they can be classified as extra-virgin olive oils. The presence of 80,000 different genotypes may allow the selection of new varieties. Being exclusively linked to the Lun territory, these would increase the relevance of olive tree growing and consequently open new job opportunities for the locals. Only a small part of the Lun area is a botanical reserve, the remaining land is not subject to any form of protection.

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We talked with Marijana Cvijetic, Slow Food Liburnia Convivium leader, who has just returned from a visit to Lun.

How was your experience in Lun?
It is impossible to put it into words. Lun exudes a lot of energy and the feeling you get is of great peace. I felt like one of the characters of Tolkien’s novels, looking at Treebeard. I had the feeling that, all of a sudden, trees may start walking and talking to me. They are so old and still standing: despite the wind, salt, stones and wars they have survived everything and everyone.

Are the olive trees in danger?
People who inhabit these lands have always known how precious they are. But today man is seriously threatening their survival. Five trees have already been taken away (four in 2010). And what for? Personal profit, of course. Moving an olive tree from its original habitat and planting it in a garden for mere decorative purposes is a barbarity. These trees have managed to survive in the same place for thousands of years; they are living beings which are still bearing fruits.  width=It takes a heart of stone not to feel the positive energy coming from them while standing under their branches. They are immense.

Why is it important to protect them?
Each single one of these trees is unique, not only in terms of phenotype (there are no two identical trees), but also of genotype. The phenotype is determined by the microhabitat and by the influence of the microclimate (such as the wind). Simply put, they are an extraordinary living monument to the history of mankind. Destroying just one of them means destroying the living testimony of the generations who have lived here.

What is Slow Food Croatia doing to protect them?
At the moment, the idea is to create a strong brand of Lun olive oil and plan a good marketing strategy. We are trying to safeguard the Presidium. Also, the cheese from the island of Pag is a really special product, because the sheep eat herbs (mainly sage) covered with salt from the seawater. Local meat and cheese are very eco-friendly, but also very good… they are very Slow Food!
On Friday October 26 at 6.30 pm, in the Puglia region area, I will be leading a tasting of six types of olive oils from five different countries: Albania, Croatia, Turkey, Palestine and Israel.
My husband is leader of the non-government organization Ekokvarner; in 2010 we managed to take the Croatian president to Lun to show him the trees and explain the problem. All media reported the event.

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