In the depths of the financial crisis, biologists Guillermo and Laura took over the neglected family olive grove and embarked on a risky project: to make farming a sustainable way of life once again.
Even today, the countryside is still strewn with abandoned farms. Driving through rural Toledo, Guille points to an abandoned vineyard. Though the stakes and wires are gone, the vines continue to grow and have now morphed into stout, sprawling bushes, optimistically centrifuging outwards only to buckle under the weight of their own fruit.
We stop the car to take a closer look and spot hundreds of plump purple grapes. It happens to be harvest time, something that even abandoned vines adhere to, and we pick and eat the fruit straight from the vine. It’s extremely sweet, and we feel as though we’re truly immersed in nature, foraging for our own food. At the same time, we experience an eerie feeling that no one is going to stop us – because nobody cares. These vines don’t really belong to anyone anymore.
Ghost vines like these aren’t an unusual sight, nor are the countless abandoned olive groves that we hurtle past. One of them stands directly beside Los Aires’s plot, and you can see the stark difference between the pruned trees and the abandoned ones: left untended, the trees grow tall and shabby and produce very small olives, as too little energy is directed into the fruit.
AGAINST ALL ODDS, THE PROJECT BEGAN
It all started over a century ago in a small town in the region of Toledo, where Guille’s great grandfather planted his first grove of around 200 saplings. A hundred years later, the trees have grown beautifully gnarled and twisted, with silver leaves and hard, shiny fruit.
Olive farming has been in both Guille and Laura’s families for generations, and it was this sense of agricultural tradition that inspired the Madrileño couple to study biology at university, where they would eventually meet. From an early stage, they drew sketches on scraps of paper, setting out their grand ambition to reconnect our booming capital with its rural backyard.
One degree and two master’s (each) later, the pair found themselves in the depths of the financial crisis – possibly the worst imaginable time to start a business. Laura had found temporary work at a hospital, and Guille was drifting from one low-paid job to the next. They look back on this as a necessary time in their lives, but it’s clear how much it began to destroy them. Driving out to the family olive grove every weekend in their tiny, clapped-out old Fiat was the only thing that kept them going. It was on these trips that they slowly started to sow the seeds of their project.
By mid 2014, their dream had gathered enough steam for them to quit their jobs and make Proyecto Los Aires a full-time pursuit – and, given they were in the midst of an economic depression, it’s incredible how much they’ve achieved.
THE OLIVE GROVE TOUR
Guille and Laura are proud to walk you through their oldest plot and explain the process of creating olive oil: from planting and harvesting to filtering and bottling. Their scientific angle on the entire practice is fascinating.
During the tour, Laura escapes for a moment to set up a shady table, nestled idyllically among the centenarian trees. This is for the tasting, where you professionally sample several olive oils in little blue-glass cups, learning to distinguish between generic supermarket oils and top-quality organic oils such as theirs.
Then comes the food and wine. Through neighbouring farmers and their family, Guille and Laura have brought together a plethora of local foodie gems for you to eat (a mercado on a table comes to mind). Glau, as they’re known to friends, are warm people with a contagious aura of calm. The entire experience is everything you could hope for and more. Much, much more.
THE PROJECT EXPLAINED
Proyecto Los Aires aim to promote local agriculture by running educational tours and tastings at their farm and by forging direct links between urban consumers and the rural economy. Their oil (Proyecto Los Aires Extra Virgin Olive Oil) can be found in gourmet shops around Madrid. Guille and Laura also regularly sell their oil in markets across the capital, such as Mercado Central de Diseño, Nómada Market and Gastro Market. Next time you’re there, go and say hello!
- Facebook & website
- Address: Proyecto Los Aires, c/Visitación 12, Arcicóllar, Toledo
- How to get there: The meeting point for the tour is the bus stop in the town of Arcicóllar (see location here). Regular buses (see timetable here) will take you there from Madrid’s Méndez Alvaro bus station in just over an hour. If you’re driving, it takes around 50 minutes from central Madrid.