Villalba del Rey is a municipality nestled in the northern part of the province of Cuenca, Spain, within the region of La Alcarria, renowned for its honey and immortalized by Nobel Prize winner Camilo José Cela in his personal travel book (“Journey to the Alcarria”, 1948). In the early sixties of the last century, the village thrived with nearly two thousand inhabitants, coinciding with the construction of the Buendía reservoir fed by the Guadiela river. However, today, the population has dwindled to a mere 500 residents. It serves as a poignant example of what is known as “empty” or “emptied” Spain, and also reflects the Spain that aspires to overcome this state.
This backdrop sets the stage for Mayor Antonio Luengo's conviction that “the advancement of the olive cooperative could potentially be the sole pathway for the town to reshape its future, for farmers to witness enhanced incomes, and for residents to choose to remain in the community.”
With a third of the municipality dedicated to olive groves, oil production is one of the most traditional activities in an eminently agricultural town. Created 65 years ago, the Cooperativa Santos Sebastián e Isidro was for many years oriented to the self-consumption of its members–to produce oil “for home”–until the loss of population forced it to go out to the market.
"We felt a bit adrift since we're not experts; we're farmers with limited knowledge of marketing. We undertook tasks with immense dedication, but the lack of expertise was evident. Merely following in my father's footsteps isn't sufficient, given the evolving landscape," confesses Pedro Romero, president of the cooperative. Mayor Luengo emphatically underscores, “We were teetering on the edge of vanishing.”