Extra-virgin olive oil production at the “Cima di Bitonto” Cooperative Oil Mill of Bitonto, a town south of Bari that has about 55 thousand inhabitants and more than one million and a half olive trees. Bitonto’s strong and structured olive oils have made the fortune of the town – and of many other, more prestigious northern towns, whose producers buy millions of liters of Bitonto’s abundant (and cheap) olive oil, which is then blended with softer oils to be sold as locally produced, and priced accordingly.
In this neocolonial market in which “for mysterious reasons” the price of 100 kg of high quality olives can range from 85 to 35 euros, depending on the specific town and its distance from the North Pole, the day of the week and “the market”, cooperatives like this one desperately try to bring small producers togheter, in order to face the market together and with a better product. Established in the 60s under the patronage of the right-wing of the Christian Democrats, back then a mass party locked in a total, ideological battle with the Communist Party, the “Cima di Bitonto” coop is still in operation and in a remarkably good financial state, considering the depressing landscape of dead cooperatives bankrupted by corrupt managers that marks Puglia’s olive oil sector. “Farmers have a lot of expenses, I understand why they want the money as soon as possible, however little it is”, the coop’s secretary said about the members’ habit of selling much of their olives privately, for whatever money the can get on that day. “If they take them here, on the other hand, we can stock the olive oil and sell it later, when the price goes up again, and get them a much better price, with a much better product. But what can you do, not everybody can afford to wait months for their money.”