Since I arrived last week, the farm has dropped from 4 WWOOFers to just me. To be fair, it is pretty tedious work, and for those people who aren’t from places like Minnesota, “75 and sunny” just isn’t sufficient motivation to do anything outside.
But since I only get about 5 days like that every year, and am still water-logged from Washington, I will take any excuse to bask in the warm weather. My new picking buddy is Jen, who along with her dad and daughters help run the olive oil business. Jen and I were the only ones in the fields today. Not only is there a shortage of WWOOFers day laborers are also in short supply this year. Jen theorizes that this might be due to conflict with some other harvest, as the olives are about 2 weeks early. There is also a new trend of day laborers returning to Mexico, which drastically cuts down the work force.
The olives are specific to oil, known for having high polyphenols, which help contribute to a bitter taste. (pro-tip: don’t eat these right off the tree). They are usually about the size of grapes, and range from pale green to cherry red to deep purple.
Once the five gallon buckets are filled, we pour them into a large basin that feeds directly into the mill. They finally got to fire up the mill today. The first batch of oil sent through the mill is used to flush out the system. This sacrificial batch is eventually made into soaps.
The olives are rinsed, and then lifted into a mill, where there are churned for about 40 minutes. From there they are sent to a centrifuge to help separate the oils from the pulp. The oil is then pumped into a holding tank where it racked for a week to a month, depending on the weather. When it is decanted, it is then bottled into dark glass bottles, and stored in a cool, dry place.
This is almost the exact opposite type of storage problems I have with honey. That being said, they do have some slick metal descanting tanks that would be perfect for honey house. Some handy dandy internet research shows that they even come with heated jackets.
The agricultural drama that is unfolding is that is a race against time to try to get the olives picked before a frost hits. With night time temperatures dropping rapidly, and Jen and I being the only pickers, it makes for some long days in the future. Today we started a few hours earlier, at 7, and went all the way to 4 until the imminent threat of rain and cold wind sent us in for the day.