Arnold Schwarzenegger, a celebrity chef, and several German actors are sponsoring ancient olive trees on the island of Crete in Greece. Their donations and the resulting publicity help preserve these impressive Greek natural monuments, which are in danger of destruction due to financial pressures and inadequate awareness of their multi-faceted value.
The German celebrity chef Alfons Schuhbeck learned about these olive trees from his German-Greek friend Karl Röske, who started a campaign to save them in 2020. Given his great appreciation for Crete, Cretans, and their olive oil, Schuhbeck was glad to sponsor a tree. He told his friend Arnold Schwarzenegger about the campaign, according to Rethemnos News, and then Schwarzenegger also became a “green guardian angel” for an ancient Cretan olive tree.
Schwarzenegger’s sponsorship of an ancient tree that can remove a substantial amount of carbon from the atmosphere is not as surprising as fans of his action movies might think. “Arnold Schwarzenegger has been fighting pollution and climate change for nearly 20 years,” according to the website of the international Schwarzenegger Climate Initiative, which he founded after supporting many environmentalist standards and solutions as governor of California. No longer portraying a terminator on the silver screen, Schwarzenegger now seeks to help preserve the health of the planet.
While Schwarzenegger may not have had the opportunity to visit Crete yet, Karl Röske has enjoyed visiting his mother’s homeland since childhood. He also traveled extensively during a television career focused on hunting for beneficial plants and highlighting the value of biodiversity. Last year, Röske settled on the island and founded Cretan Aenaon to help preserve Crete’s aged olive trees, which are in danger of being cut down for firewood or tourists’ souvenirs, or to make way for new crops. Moreover, entire trees are sometimes uprooted and sold to gardeners abroad.
Many Greek farmers struggle to make ends meet. As Rethemnos News reports, Röske advocates more social and economic support for farmers, through both European Union grants and better prices for their olive oil and other products, to help enable preservation of the local ecosystem. Given financial help and greater awareness of aged olive trees’ value and their potential as tourist attractions, Röske’s website suggests, farmers and tree owners might be willing and able to care for the trees instead of destroying them.
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Röske understands the olive trees’ importance to the history and culture of Crete and Greece, where they have constituted productive forests for millennia. Olive oil and olives have long been central to the economy and the famously healthy traditional Cretan diet. According to his site, Röske believes “the old olive trees naturally bring us a higher quality olive oil, an elixir of life, which benefits us all” with significant nutritional value in their olives, oil, and leaves.
Helping to care for areas that have been neglected as young people leave the countryside, Karl Röske aims to work sustainably to restore olive groves, protect ancient trees, and cultivate rare olive varieties. Röske wants “to preserve the landscape for future generations: not only because of the cultural heritage, but also for the preservation and restoration of biodiversity.” Röske and his team use GPS trackers and wildlife cameras to monitor olive trees that should not be cut down and need to be protected from wildfires; they also uproot and relocate old trees that would otherwise be destroyed during construction.
The Cretan politicians who have supported Röske’s work include Mayor Giorgos Marinakis of Rethymno, Mayor Ioannis Malandrakis of Platanias, and Deputy Mayor Manolis Psaroudakis of Amari. Southeast of Rethymno in Amari, central Crete, Psaroudakis took part in the official inauguration of the sponsorship of a centuries-old olive tree by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Home to a remarkable monumental olive grove, the Municipality of Amari has been working on preserving the Cretan natural heritage, including the ancient olive trees, for some time.
As Psaroudakis told Greek Liquid Gold, “the supercentenarian olive trees are an integral part of the natural landscape” of Amari and Crete. He believes “respect for their long-term contribution to the generations obliges us to look for ways” to preserve the ancient olive trees. His goal is “to raise awareness in the population because of their importance, and also to be able to take care of the olive groves (with fencing, better access, small-scale cultivation).” Wider promotion of the olive groves can increase visits to them, encouraging owners to care for them, with help from sponsorships.
To find out how to sponsor a Cretan olive tree, see the Cretan Aenaon site, which is available in English, French, German, and Russian. One section of the site includes noteworthy photos of the sculpturesque olive trees that have already been sponsored.
Originally published on Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (greekliquidgold.com). See that site for recipes with olive oil, photos from Greece, agrotourism and food tourism suggestions, and olive oil news and information, with thanks to Aspassia Stavroulaki for the photos from the ancient olive grove in Amari that were used with this article. With her “Oliving” project, Stavroulaki organizes tours and outdoor olive oil tastings in special venues such as the monumental olive groves of Crete, exploring the heritage, importance, and art of olive trees and olive oil in Greek life over the centuries.