Wednesday, December 15, 2010


The weather was rainy all week, and then became sunny and beautiful the day of the harvest event

The olives were quite dark since we were harvesting pretty late, but that should not negatively affect the taste of the oil (It tastes great already, and still needs to sit for 4 weeks)

We got about thirty volunteers throughout the day, and of course, some worked harder and longer than others.

We mostly got the proverbial "low hanging fruit", but the more intrepid among us used fruit picking ladders

So the first Community Olive Harvest was a success! Regular readers know that I had already written off this year for actual oil production, but when it became clear that Ramon had left some olives on the trees, I decided to try to organize a quick and dirty harvest event, and see how much we could get. With only three days lead time, we were able to mobilize over thirty volunteers, who harvested an average of about one hour each, and we got 953 pounds of olives (one 1/2 ton bin's worth).

Lewis Johnson, of Butte View Olive Oil, moving olive bins to the milling machine hopper with forklift

Our first bottle of olive oil!!! (pic taken with cell phone)

We then took these olives to Lewis Johnson at Sutter Buttes Olive Company, who milled them into 15 gallons of fresh olive oil. He set aside one 250 ml bottle for me, and that's what I am holding in the pic above. Can you tell from the pic how good it felt to actually, finally, have some oil to show, and smell, and taste! It really seemed like "liquid gold" to me, and it was truly a "Eureka moment". The 15 gallons of oil are now in storage, settling and mellowing before we bottle it in about a month. The oil is now cloudy with sediment, because Lewis Johnson's processing method is to "mill" the olives rather than to "press" them in the traditional way. Milling is now widely regarded as superior to pressing in terms of both taste and nutrition. I am hopeful that in future years, with more of the crop available, and more time to organize the harvest event, we will increase our production dramatically.

For now, I believe we can confidently say that we have "proof of concept", in that harvesting feral olive groves with volunteer labor in order to generate revenue for nonprofit organizations does seem to be a viable "community enterprise" model. In fact, Ramon indicated that his traditional commercial model of hiring experienced olive pickers in order to generate private profit, did not pan out too well with this particular orchard. There just were not enough olives, or they were too sparse, to be able to harvest quickly enough to generate much revenue above and beyond labor costs. So that is why there were still many olives on the trees after he took his crew through, and why we were able to have a harvest after all this year. I don't know if it was a "miracle" that we got oil this year, but it certainly feels like many important stars aligned at the right moment. Here is a rough video of the actual milling of our olives. I hope to put together a more polished video of the whole effort--harvesting, milling, bottling, vending--within the next few weeks.

1 comment: