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Meet a Cork Grower

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Antonio Pais de Sousa

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Fourth-generation cork growing family

Abrantes County, Central Portugal

Antonio and his wife, Maria, operate Ameixoeira Nova — a lush 600-acre cork ranch two hours north of Lisbon. Here, the poor sandy soil (in which cork trees thrive) enjoys ideal natural drainage. Good forestry practices have raised organic topsoil levels, sustaining an average of 50 trees per acre — over 40% more than the national average — along with maize and wheat that maintains native wildlife.

This same land has been in Maria's family since the early 1800's. Her father, Manuel, who devoted his life to the cork forest and earned the reputation of a skilled and respected grower, farmed it before her. Now 85 years old, Manuel still contributes his advice and expertise to a family business he helped grow and flourish.

Antonio and Maria have two daughters, Rita and Ana, who represent the fifth generation of their dedicated cork growing family. Currently, these two young ladies divide their time between the ranch and college, helping with pruning and harvesting when their class schedules allow. Rita has already earned a Master's Degree in Agronomics, and both girls are anxious to run the ranch in the future.

"Our ranch is special because it represents my father-in-law's life work," says Antonio. "We feel a tremendous responsibility to continue that work into the future for the next generations."

Antonio believes the secret of producing premium quality corkwood is good, practical stewardship of the land. The philosophy of using — not abusing — the land's natural resources is expressed by his family's 'three sacred rules' of cork production. First, to look after and care for the older trees, keeping them healthy and productive for as many years as possible. Second, to carefully tend and manage the trees in active production. And third, to plant and nurture new trees, maintaining the best conditions to help them grow strong and productive for the sake of future generations.

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