This year for the holidays, my girlfriend and I decided to adopt. We recognize it's a big responsibility, but we are confident that, with careful pruning, judicious watering and annual picking, our little bundle of joy will continue to be productive for years to come. Did I mention that we adopted an olive tree?
On a recent trip to Italy's Marche region, which borders Tuscany and Umbria and features that same classic Italian landscape of picturesque ancient villages dotting rolling hillsides, we met Jason Gibb and Cathy Rogers of Nudo Olive Oil, a British couple who left London in 2005 and bought an abandoned 21-acre olive grove near the village of Loro Piceno.
In an effort to turn their dream of being olive farmers into a profitable business, they began collaborating with other artisanal producers in the region to launch an olive tree adoption program. For $116, people get an adoption certificate and two shipments of olive oil over the course of a year.
The spring delivery is two litres of cold-pressed organic, extra-virgin olive oil blended from frantoio and maurino olives and in the fall a trio of flavoured oils (lemon, chili and orange) arrive. The dark green oil is spicy and fresh, and the brightly flavoured ones are best suited as finishing oils for drizzling over fresh fish, composing salads or simply dipping good bread into.
On the surface, there is something silly about adopting an olive tree, but the scheme has some serious real-world consequences. It offers small-scale farmers access to international markets and has had the benefit of increasing tourism. Once people adopt an olive tree, they soon want visiting rights and Nudo has hosted dozens of tourists from around the globe.
With the trend to farm-to-table dining on the rise and consumers stressing the importance of sustainable, fair-trade agriculture, adoption programs like Nudo's are becoming ever more popular.
The Podere Le Fornaci farm in Chianti offers people the opportunity to adopt a goat for 100 euros and receive milk and ricotta cheese for a year. For 390 euros, people who adopt a sheep from Sardinia Farm in Italy receive two 10-kilogram shipments of vacuum-packed pecorino in addition to being able to name their sheep and receiving an adoption certificate complete with a photo.
Yorkshire Meats in Malton, England, offers up Oxford Sandy and Black Pigs for adoption. It's initially free, but adoptees agree to buy the whole pig when it's butchered, and that works out to about £300. It is a six-month investment, and afterward you get an entire pig's worth of bacon, sausage, pork chops and roasts.
The sheep, goats and pigs are available only in Europe, but closer to home, Red Rooster Winery's popular adopt-a-row program provides a case of wine and access to special "adoptive parents" events at its vineyard in the Okanagan Valley.
My girlfriend and I always knew adoption would be rewarding. We just didn't know it could be so delicious.
Special to The Globe and Mail