The first territory where olive trees were cultivated outside their Mediterranean homeland

In 1492, Spain started to plant olive trees in the Americas. From the port of San Lúcar de Barrameda, near Seville, the first stakes left for the Antilles and then for the American continent. From Veracruz (Mexico) between the XVI and XVII centuries they were distributed through Mexico, eventually arriving to California and today it is possible to find olive trees cultivated in different regions of the American continent like the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Peru and Uruguay.

Olive trees were brought to Mexico in 1531 by Fray Martín de Valencia, at the time when Hernán Cortés was there.Tulyehualco was the first place in all America where they were cultivated and from there they spread to Texcoco, Chalco, Amecameca, Jalisco and Baja California due to the fact that these places had just the right conditions for the trees to be developed successfully. They formed a strip of olive trees amounting to several kilometers on the bank of the Xochimilco Lake.

The area known as «Valle de Méjico» includes the 16 delegations of the Federal District, 59 municipalities of the State of Mexico and one municipality of the State of Hidalgo. Both Tulyehualco and Xochimilco are located in Mexico City. The municipality of Chimalhuacán in the State of Mexico is the only one in the Metropolitan area that cultivates olive trees and extracts oil. Olive trees were brought to this municipality by Franciscan monks 400 years ago and they planted them in church yards and, thanks to the qualities of the soil and climate, they managed to both adapt and survive.

The neighbors of the municipality began to cultivate olive trees from these trees. Two hundred years later, people from the neighborhoods of Xochiaca, San Lorenzo, Xochitenco, San Juan and San Agustín, and communities settled at the foot of the Cerro del Chimalhuache and dedicated themselves to the production of olives and olive oil, passing on their knowledge of cultivation, care, tanning and treatment of the olive from generation to generation. The urbanization of the municipality has been a great problem for the Centennial Olive Trees, causing many of these living monuments to be destroyed completely.

The Buendía-Peralta family, originally from the San Juan neighborhood, is one of the families that has adopted this knowledge, and they have done so for five generations. They have been so successful thanks to the accumulated experience they adapted to the new demands of the market, thus preserving their livelihood by innovating with new products. In the small family gardens and patios, many people grow olive trees and sell their production to the Buendía family. They go home to harvest the olives and then process them.

The tricentennial olive trees are between 13-15 meters high, with an average circumference of 2.5 to 7 meters. The harvest is done totally by hand, without any kind of machine which has led them to adopt special harvesting techniques with tools such as a loop to tie and close the tree and then to lower the basket, hook and buckets. The hooks are one meter long in order to approach the branches and to raise the baskets that have a capacity for 20 kg of olives.

The groups of seven people per olive tree get 400-700 kg of fruit/tree. In one day, 6 trees can be harvested.

The owners of the olive trees do not like their trees to be pruned so they only resort to maintenance mostly for phytosanitary purposes and the wood obtained is used for the manufacturing of utensils based on this valuable material. The harvest season is marked by the size and color of the fruit; generally pint green or total black for later storage in barrels with pure brine. The date varies according to the varieties. For example, Manzanilla is harvested in July, Picual in August. Other varieties such as «Menuda», Empeltre and Kalamata are harvested between November and January.

Market demand has led the family to develop their own brand, «Kasbah», with which they have managed to increase commercial demand and make themselves known in other countries. The name of Arab origin refers to the «place where their cultures and traditions are maintained.”

It was started as a project of the municipal government and is the support of many families in the municipality. They are trying to increase the cultivated area of olive trees to meet the growing needs of the oil market for its healthy and nutritious qualities.

Most of the green olives (50%) are sold directly to the Jewish and Lebanese communities as olives are a highly valued food in Mexico for the preparation of traditional dishes. The other 40% is barreled for sale in Tulyehualco and Mexico City and 10% is sold locally.

The local sale is used for the elaboration of typical food, mainly in Lent: cod, tamales with olives, rice and beans, tabule salad, stuffed olives that are sold in bulk in public squares.

Other activities developed by the company are the sale of cuttings in order to plant more of the crop. Extra virgin olive oil with modern and efficient production lines in small quantities is also produced.

The demands of the market have led to the elaboration of secondary products such as body cream based in honey, olive oil and aloe vera. Shampoo from tender olive stems and bars of olive oil soap complete the line of derivatives.

The remains of wood and stone are the raw material for the elaboration of handicrafts such as bracelets, earrings, necklaces and chokers. The form in which it is sold or distributed is local. They are sold directly in exhibitions, fairs and conferences.

Mexico only produces 20% of its consumption, so marketing olive oil cultivation needs to be done in order to increase the number of producers in Mexico, especially because consumption is increasing year after year. The company distributes plants for new orchards taking the role of propellers to the advance of the activity at a national level.

The varieties found in this area are : Mision, «Menuda», Picual, Arbequina and Empeltre. The most productive is Picual (8k/1 lt oil), followed by the smaller «Menuda» Empeltre, which requires 30 kg of olives to produce one liter of oil.

This is all from an area where three and four hundred year old olive trees predominate, where the traditional techniques of cultivation and processing are combined with the most modern ones. The other zones that are more productive are the desertic ones: Chihuaha, Zacateas, Aguas Calientes, Hidalgo and Baja California

One of the interests of the company is the general improvement of the crop, for example the plantation frame, that is currently 3×3 m. They are not proposing to change it to 8×3 to prevent diseases.

Due to the geographical characteristics of the planted area, which is 2300 meters above sea level, the oil has a high content of polyphenols.

The country’s consumption is very low, amounting to 70 grams/person/year among a total population of 130 million people. The consumption adds up to 9,100 tons, 80% of which is imported. The consumption of olives is also very low at the national level, amounting to 200 grams / person year, 2600 tons per year which are produced almost entirely in the country, in the states of Sonora (60%) and Baja California (40%). The average price is 20 dollars per liter of oil.


Photo: First olive tree ever to be planted in the Americas. Tulyehualco. Distrito Federal. Mexico. (1531)