Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Community Olive Harvest, 2011

Saturday Morning Update: The Community Olive Harvest is on. The weather should be perfect. See you at 9am at Harmony Health, or after 10am in Oroville. Please read the information below if you haven't yet.

Information for Olive Harvest Volunteers

What: A day of picking olives in the beautiful and historic Berkeley Olive Grove in Oroville. Our goal is to harvest 1 ton of olives that will be milled into extra virgin olive oil that will be sold to benefit Harmony Health Family Resource Center.

Where: Berkeley Olive Grove, near Oroville. Driving directions from Marysville are provided below, but if possible, please plan to meet at Harmony Health Family Resource Center on the morning of the event.

When: Saturday, December 3, 2011.
9:00am: Volunteers meet at the Harmony Health Family Resource Center, 1908 North Beale Rd All volunteers must fill out waivers and medical emergency forms. Volunteers are responsible for their own transportation, but carpooling is encouraged.

If you need to come to the harvest event later, please follow the directions below. If you get lost, or can't find us in the grove, please call Marc Flacks' cell phone: 562-899-0464

10:00am: Olive picking begins. If you are coming to Oroville on your own, please plan to arrive at 10:00am or later. We will be harvesting until about 4pm. So please plan to arrive no later than 3pm. All Volunteers are asked to contribute at least one hour of picking.  

4pm: Olive picking concludes. Olives transported to Palermo for milling.

Directions (from Marysville) : Take Hwy 70 North to Oroville. Go past the city of Oroville and stay on HWY 70 North toward Quincy.

Exit HWY 70 at Table Mountain Rd.

Make a right off the Table Mountain Rd exit,  and follow Table Mountain Rd. past Coal Canyon Rd, until you see a GATE on your left that will be marked with event signs and balloons.

Make a left through the gate, and follow the dirt road through the orchard until you get to another event sign on your right hand side.

Make a right at the sign, and follow the dirt road to the parking/harvesting area.

Please call Marc Flacks' cell phone 562-899-0464 if you get lost or can't find us.

What to bring: Please wear sturdy old shoes and clothes. If you have them, 5 gallon buckets and/or re-usable shopping bags are great for harvesting, but these can also be provided.

What if it rains?: If it is raining on Saturday morning, we will cancel this harvest event, but  Please check this website on Saturday morning for up-to-date information on whether the event is cancelled or not, or for other last minute information.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Come Into My Parlor: Further Entanglement in the World Wide Web of the Olive Tree

One of the many large spiders awaiting their prey in the Teichert grove back in August.

When I went out to the Teichert grove in August to check on the fruit set I was greeted by large spiders--and not much else... Most of the trees were completely bare, and the trees that were fruited were sparsely so. The same seemed to be true out at Beale AFB when I took a trip out there a few days later. Still, Chuck Carroll, a Natural Resources Manager at the Base, and I have continued working to get permission to harvest there. Growers around the whole state, though, are reporting a vastly reduced crop this year, and the causes--weather patterns and the alternate bearing tendencies of the olive tree--would seem to fall on feral olive groves like Teichert's and the Base's especially hard. That's because dry farming, hand harvesting, and insufficient pruning all, I believe, tend to make the alternate bearing effect more pronounced.

So I was extremely gratified to have been contacted in mid-October by Olivia and Darro Grieco, owners of Berkeley Olive Grove, near Oroville. This is the same olive grove that was planted by the Berkeley professors I wrote about a few posts back! They are an amazing couple who have invested their net worth in 400 acres of beautiful, vintage olive trees, including some historic buildings. Unlike the spiders, they warmly welcomed me into their olive adventure--as well as their parlor (which in this case is a trailer abutting the stone house, now in disrepair, built by the Berkeley professors--the stone house pictured on their olive oil label). The Grieco's goals, assets and sensibilities, are neatly aligned with those of 49er Olive Oil: Darro and Olivia want to produce hand-crafted premium quality organic olive oil (indeed, they already do, and have five gold medals this year alone to prove it); they want to preserve their historic grove in perpetuity--Darro calls them "1000 year trees"; and they want to educate the general public about the joys, benefits, and wonders of olive trees, olives, and olive oil. Meanwhile, 49er Olive Oil needs access to trees that are capable of producing at least a ton or so of olives (which would be double our production last year), but not capable of producing a commercially valuable crop (because our model relies on working trees that commercial interests prefer to ignore). Darro and Olivia still have hundreds of acres of un-refurbished trees, so we've agreed to partner, on the theory that I, through my connection and work with Harmony Health Family Resource Center and Yuba College, can help them achieve their goals, and that their olive trees can help 49er Olive Oil and Harmony Health FRC achieve ours. Of course, while I am the main proponent of this theory, I am also among its foremost skeptics... Yet, since the Berkeley Olive Grove was originally established by college professors with little expertise or experience in agriculture, much less olives, it may make sense that someone like me would be involved in helping bring the grove into its next century of successful operation. At least that is what I have led Darro and Olivia to believe...

In any event, the Griecos, like me, are dreamers, and at this point we are dreaming big: We are developing a shared vision where Berkeley Olive Grove could become more than a boutique olive oil operation, and evolve into an "agritourism" destination, where the general public can learn about olives and olive oil, participate in olive processing and oil production, and acquire a range of olive-related products and services. The Sacramento region has other hugely popular agritourism destinations, like Apple Hill and Bishop's Pumpkin Farm, so it seems quite plausible that an olive-themed park, where folks can experience olive picking, olive milling, olive oil tasting, olive curing, olive history, and olive treats, as well as ancillary attractions like pony rides, a store/cafe, and possibly a pumpkin patch and/or Christmas Tree farm, would be successful as well. It would be great, too, if such a facility adhered to "community entrepreneurship" principles, e.g., by operating as a nonprofit, and giving other nonprofit organizations and educational institutions opportunities to be involved and possibly generate operational revenue. A nonprofit operation could be in a position to receive various kinds of grants, and perhaps even attract underwriting from big players in the California olive oil industry. Yes, these are large, long-term visions, but some fundamental prerequisites appear to be in place--e.g., an exquisite piece of property with acre after acre of beautiful, gnarly, older trees held by progressive, forward-looking landowners; an expanding domestic olive industry that is in  need of educating average consumers if it is to achieve its long term growth goals; a burgeoning movement around local food and agriculture; etc.

This vision got a bit of a test last weekend when I brought my family and a small group of volunteers to harvest Barouni olives for a few hours. My daughters, who had to be dragged kicking and screaming up to Oroville for the day, had a wonderful time, and have been begging to go back. I asked Ally afterward if she thought olive-picking was fun, and she said it is, "The best!!". True, the chance to ride exceptionally sweet horses rescued by Olivia was a huge part of their enjoyment, but they also had fun picking olives, and running around in the shade of the largest trees, and pretending they were in an enchanted forest (a game which actually requires very little imagination in this particular locale). The volunteers also appeared to enjoy themselves, and to appreciate the new knowledge they gained about olives, and one of them, a Yuba College student with large family land holdings in India, reported to me that his father is now very interested in exploring potential olive opportunities in that country. So although we only managed to pick about $27.00 worth of olives, and while this financial bottom line was more than swamped by expenditures on pizza for the harvesters and transportation costs, the day was a success according to our "triple bottom line" that places new knowledge and understanding (i.e., cultural capital) and new social connections and relationships (i.e., social capital) on the "credit" side of the ledger. Financially, the day was more debit than credit, but culturally and socially, it was quite profitable, I would say. In any event, we are planning our next harvest event for December 3, and if we are able to recruit the 20-30 volunteers we hope for, we should be able to harvest enough olives to contribute positively to all three of our bottom lines.

Photo from the Marysville Appeal-Democrat article on Super High Density olive operations in the Yuba-Sutter area.

Meanwhile, the larger California olive world has had lots to be excited about since my last real post. For example:

1. California State Senator Lois Wolk's legislation to establish standards for EVOO was passed and signed by the Governor.

2. Tom Mueller, the investigative journalist who exposed the corruption in the European olive industry in a New Yorker piece a few years ago is about to release his new book on olive oil.

3. California olive oil is getting attention from national media outlets like the Wall St. Journal, and CBS News.

But while things seem to be falling into place for California's effort to produce more of the olive oil that Americans consume, these developments are not necessarily positive for small, hand-crafted operations like Berkeley Olive Grove and 49er Olive Oil. Although it is currently possible to maintain that these smaller operations produce a superior, if more costly product than what is available in most markets, the day is coming when premium California olive oil from producers like Corti and California Olive Ranch will be widely available and priced comparably to European oils, and at that point, it might be hard for the smaller California producers to compete. But that is why Berkeley Olive Grove's future may lie in "3D Capitalism", offering a multidimensional olive experience to consumers and travelers, rather than simply selling olive oil.

Darro and Olivia and I found each other through the Web, and while it is unclear at this point who has ensnared whom in their olive oil dreams, those of us caught in the silk threads of olive obsession are willing victims, and the key for all of California's olive industry, it seems to me, is to lure more Americans into this network of deliciousness, healthfulness, and conviviality. So please, come out to our harvest event on December 3, and check this space for up-to-the-minute information about it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Operation Olive Harvest, 2011

Information for Olive Harvest Volunteers

Big news for 49er Olive Oil: We have partnered with Berkeley Olive Grove, and this season our harvest activities will take place there. Our first harvest day is planned for Saturday, November 12th. So, here is all the information for that:

What: A day of picking olives (and possibly some pruning) at Berkeley Olive Grove. We plan to harvest the Barouni olives grown there, and then process these into delicious table olives--later in the season we will harvest Mission and/or Manzanillo olives for milling into olive oil. Proceeds from the sale of these olive products will benefit Harmony Health Family Resource Center. Pizza will be provided to volunteers for lunch, and we will end our day with a chance to enjoy olive oil and other tasty treats.

Where: Berkeley Olive Grove, near Oroville, CA. Volunteers should plan to meet at 9am at the Harmony Health Family Resource Center parking lot, 1908 North Beale Rd., Marysville (one block from Yuba College). If you have to arrive later than 9am, please follow the directions to Berkeley Olive Grove provided below.

When: Saturday, November 12, 2011. Please meet at the Harmony Health Family Resource Center parking lot at 9am, so we can carpool as a group. If you need to come to the harvest event later, please follow the directions below. If you get lost, or can't find us in the grove, please call Marc Flacks' cell phone: 562-899-0464

Directions (from Marysville) : Take Hwy 70 North to Oroville. Go past the city of Oroville and stay on HWY 70 North toward Quincy.

Exit HWY 70 at Table Mountain Rd.

Make a right off the Table Mountain Rd exit, and follow Table Mountain Rd. to Coal Canyon Rd.

Make a left on Coal Canyon Road.

Make your next left on Rocky Rd. Berkeley Olive Grove will be the first house on the left. It is an old stone house, with a grey gate in front. Again, call 562-899-0464 if you get lost or can't find us.

What to bring: Please where sturdy old shoes and clothes. If you have them, we can use pole saws, a long bar chain saw, harvesting poles, ladders, and tarps.

What if it rains?: If it is raining on Saturday morning, we will cancel this harvest event. Please check this website on Saturday morning for up-to-date information on whether the harvest is a "go" or not.

Darro Grieco, owner (with wife Olivia), of Berkeley Olive Grove. Some of their 400 acres of vintage olive trees are visible in the distance.