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.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Operation Olive Harvest

Information for Olive Harvest Volunteers

What: An olive harvest to benefit Harmony Health Family Resource Center (Yes, we are having a harvest after all, rain or shine, come heck or high water! But please check this website on Saturday to make sure that we have not canceled the harvest unexpectedly and for other possible last minute information)

When: Saturday, December 11, 2010
                 Start Time: 10am
                 End Time:  4pm

Come any time between 10am and 4pm. Please plan to spend at least one or two hours harvesting--or more, if you think you are up for it!

What to Wear and Bring: Olive picking can be messy (and oily), so please wear sturdy old clothes and sturdy shoes or boots. It could be muddy, too. You can pick the olives with your bare hands, but if you can bring any harvesting rakes or harvesting poles or other fruit harvesting equipment, we can probably use it! It would be great if you could bring one or more re-usable shopping bags or plastic buckets with handles to use for picking. You will need to fill out a volunteer packet when you arrive.

Where: 4249 Hammonton-Smartville Road, on the Teichert Aggregates lot.
(See below for directions and map)

Directions from Yuba College: Take North Beale Road west towards Walmart. Turn right on Hammonton-Smartville Road. Take Hammonton-Smartville Road about 5 miles, and when you pass Brophy Road, keep a lookout for the balloons tied to a gate on your left. PLEASE BE CAREFUL as you  make a left turn onto the dirt road at that gate and follow it to the parking area.

(The directions above are not for the quickest route, necessarily, but hopefully the easiest. Check the map below for alternate routes)

View Larger Map

Why?: Well, you'd have to read this entire blog, going back several months, to get the full story, but the short answer is: To make olive oil to be marketed and sold by Sutter Buttes Olive Oil  in order to generate income for Harmony Health Family Resource Center, a community organization that assists families in Linda and the entire Yuba-Sutter area. And also, so some students can earn extra credit... 

Is this another Hanukkah olive oil miracle?: I hope so, but we will see how things go. In my last blog post I indicated that we would not be harvesting this year due to unforeseen circumstances, but then, during Hannukah, I learned that it would, in fact, be possible to have a harvest this year, and I have been trying to plan and organize the harvest within the space of about a week. Hanukkah is a celebration of "miracle" olive oil and the light it can bring during the cold winter months. So hopefully our olive harvest will be "miraculous". If things go really well, we could harvest up to a ton of olives, in which case we could make 20-40 gallons of olive oil. If we are able to sell this oil for about $10 per 250ml bottle, Harmony Health Family Resource Center could earn...well you do the math. See you Saturday I hope!

Imagine: In honor of olives and Hanukkah and peace (and the anniversary of John Lennon's death), here is a video about how Israelis and Palestinians are using olives to foster peace in that troubled region