A Note from Farmer Al: October 27, 2014
Dear CSA Members,
Last Tuesday evening I attended an olive oil tasting event sponsored by CUESA at the Ferry Building. We tasted seven different oils, two of which were ours; last year’s oil and this year’s just pressed olio nuovo. The olio nuovo is amazing....grassy with notes of green banana, walnut, etc.
We also learned some interesting facts about the olive oil industry. While California olive oil production is rapidly expanding, it still only provides about 3% of the U.S. market for olive oil, which is dominated by Spanish and Italian oils, supplying over 90% of the U.S. market. Up to 65% of that oil is diluted with some sort of tasteless vegetable oil, a corrupt practice which exists because there are really no standards in place to protect the American consumers from this MAFIA dominated industry.
I also learned that most olives here in California are picked by machine. This is made possible by the development of varieties and rootstocks which produce smaller trees with less vigor. These trees, once established, must be pruned back each year to keep the tree within the narrow, short size range that can be straddled by the huge picking machine, which completed encloses each tree as it drives over each row gently pad- dling the olives off of the branches and onto conveyor belts which carry the olives to bins.
By contrast, our trees are huge (up to 20 feet tall) and extremely dense with branches and foliage. As I drive along looking at my men picking, I can hardly even see them. Just their lower legs and boots on the ladder are visible, as they are immersed in the dense canopy of leaves, searching for the hidden crop. The trees are so tall that we actually have to cut the higher branches and pick them on the ground. Their fingers are heavily wrapped in silver duct tape, as they literally use their fingers like rakes, combing olives off of each branch, into their picking totes. But they’re young, strong, agile, and proud of their work. By the end of each day my team of ten pickers has filled seven bins, which is over 2.5 tons of olives, and they’ll do it five days a week till we’re done. There will probably be about three weeks of picking this year, because the crop is so huge!
Two years ago, when we reported to our organic certifier CCOF our olive oil tonnage, they couldn’t believe us and actually sent out an inspector to verify that we were producing over 700 gallons of oil from just 2 acres of olives.