I didn’t anticipate when I was coming to this farm that I would experience the olive harvest as it usually starts later than I was going to stay, but I was in luck. Due to compromising weather on the horizon, Mariejeanne made the executive decision to start the harvest earlier than usual. Olive trees differ from most other fruiting trees in that they don’t produce consistently. Typically if the trees produce a lot of olives one year, the next year they will produce very few or none at all. That being said, there is the odd outlier: the occasional tree that produces a good amount of olives for a few years in a row. However, even these experience off years of dormancy.
2012 was a record olive harvest: trees so burdened with little green olives that their branches sagged to the ground, the sheer volume of the fruit causing them to emit strained moans. 2013 was a record year for the lack of olives. In 2012 the harvest took 5 people 3 days and yielded 59 sacks of olives and 250 liters of olive oil. In contrast, the 2013 harvest took 2 people 2 days and yielded 9 sacks of olives and 50 liters of olive oil. Yes, the year I come to Greece to experience the joyous, magical occasion that is the harvest, MJ has the worst year in her records. The fates are cruel indeed. All that aside, I did get to experience the harvest, however brief it may have been, and to learn about the process that takes olives from tree to pasta.
The method for harvesting olives has not changed much in the past few centuries: hit the tree with a long stick and collect the olives that fall down. Though large industrial farms do make use of a few amenities not available to the Greeks of old, most small scale farmers still do it the ol’ fashioned way. We spread out large tarps under the trees, extending 10 feet past the farthest branches on all sides. Branches that are the most heavily burdened we cut off to be fed through the automatic thresher, a machine with spinning plastic tines that knocks all the olives off and feeds them into a burlap sack. We then commence the whacking: Taking what look like long, plastic pitchforks with small, flexible tines, we hit the branches that we didn’t cut off, knocking the olives onto our tarps. When all the olives have been removed from the branches we lift the tarps and pour their contents into sacks. The sacks are loaded onto a pickup truck and taken to the olive press. Most towns in Greece have an olive press which, like its name suggests, presses olives. At the olive press you pour your olives into a metal hopper to be carried up a metal conveyor into a vat of churning water where most of the unwanted debris is separated. Next they are blended, pressed, extracted, piped through all manner of tubes and contraptions, and voila: an hour later your oil is poured into big plastic barrels ready for consumption.
It was a good experience overall. Though we had a meager harvest it was still really hard work and had I had to do four or five more days of it I don’t know if I would think so highly of the experience. It was also interesting to work alongside someone who didn’t speak any English. In order to do what had to be done we developed a language of onomatopoeia and hand gestures in order to communicate–difficult at first but progressively easier as time went on.
This week I have been battling some virus that I picked up. Not the way I wanted to spend my last week here in Patra but I think I am over the hump now so I expect to arrive at my next farm on Saturday in good health. I am looking forward to my next host, it should be a good change of pace from the last two months. It is getting late now and my mental faculties are steadily decreasing so I must end this post.
More to come soon!