At the Las Varas del Zumajo estate in the La Mancha region of Spain, expert axemen carefully harvest the thick exterior bark from cork oak trees. This cork extraction occurs every nine years, in July and August when the trees are not as vulnerable to the elements. The red cork cambium or phellogen inside must not be harmed so that the tree can remain healthy and continue to grow back bark for the next harvest.
Cork oak trees can be harvested up to 15 times, starting from when a tree is 25 years old. Cork after the first two harvests is considered higher quality. Filmmakers at Kauri captured this artisanal tradition in this wordless video titled Harvest: A Rural Spain Anthology • Cork.
Cork harvesting takes place in a dehesa, that is an agroforestry system which exists in the Iberian peninsula where human intervention is compatible with the conservation of nature, vegetation and fauna. Here, locals work hard to make the most of the resources available to them, respecting the production cycles and the environment.
Spain produces 22% of the world’s cork and in this estate, up to nine tonnes are obtained daily, the corcheros working on 20 to 200 year old trees. Using only their axes, wooden poles, ladders and hands. Respecting the tree, making sure it suffers no damage.
Harvested cork planks are boiled—this cleans and softens them—and then cut or punched out into cork shapes. The remaining material is crushed into tiny pieces and mixed with polyurethane food-grade glue. That mix is molded into agglomerated corks.