Olive Harvest 2011 – Vatopedi, Halkidiki, Greece

September 20, 2011

olivepicking5The olive pickers are here. Sounds are amplified on the hill where we live amidst quiet olive tree heaven, so early one morning last week we heard a large truck rattling up a nearby dirt road, and then the voices began wafting over the tops of the trees. The men’s voices weren’t speaking Greek, most likely Albanian or Bulgarian. Since it is mid-September, the early green eating-olives are being picked. Later, the oil-producing olives will be picked, and even later in November the black eating-olives will be picked. The longer you leave olives on the tree, the darker they get and the more oil is produced. Our neighbor told us that some very large trucks arrive from Florence, Italy each year to buy the large Halkidiki olive (the largest in Greece), they pay well, and then they drive back to Igoumenitsa via the Egnatia highway where they board the ferry back to Italy.
The pickers earn about 2.50-3 euros per crate of olives they pick in our region, and the farmer earns just 80-90 euro cents per kilo, yet to buy processed olives in the super markets here can cost between 6 and 8 euros per kilo. An acquaintance in the village told us that all talk now in the kafeneion revolves around olives: how much the olive industry agents are paying, what insecticides didn’t work this year, whose dakos (a worm that enters the olive and makes the pressed oil taste bitter) damage was the greatest, how the Greek economy has hurt the olive growers. Some call it men’s gossip, but the men consider it “sharing information.”
September 25, 2011
I was hanging out my laundry on the clothesline this morning and heard and saw Vassilis’ olive pickers at olivepicking3work. Amidst their laughter and chatter, I heard the sound of olives hitting the baskets. He hires 8-10 pickers and tries to hire a mix of Albanian and Bulgarian pickers; they don’t speak each other’s language and they keep an eye out for theft. Each picker gets 2.50 euros per basket they pick. That many pickers can gather in up to 75 baskets per day. Each basket weighs about 25 kilos or 55 lbs. Vassilis estimates it will take 5-6 days to pick all of his eating-type of olives. This year the olive agents are paying the producers about 80-90 euro cents per kilo. (Kroger has Halkidikis olives in their olive bar: $9.99/lb.) And each agent or olive press pays the same amount. One of Vassilis’ sons said, “san cartel like a cartel.”
olivepickingYesterday morning we stopped by Vassilis and Asimenia’s house in the village to see how they were sorting their olives. We jumped in and offered to help them. It was so much fun, we later returned at 5pm and did another 2 hr stent! The olives are dumped into a bin that shoots them out and down a conveyer belt that is wired to allow certain sizes to go in one bin and others to go in another. Three people were spotting them at the beginning to pick out those olives that had been bitten by the hated dakos, an olive-loving worm that often resists all the pesticides that are sprayed on the olives all summer long. And another person (me!) spots them again as they fall into the baskets.
These dakos are very clever as their entry point is just pin prick size, but they go all the way to the pit to eat the olive’s goodness. If the dakos travels with the olive to the olive press, the resulting oil can be bitter. A few are ok, but none is better! It took us about 2 hours to sort through 25 baskets. As soon as they’re filled, they stack them in the back of a truck and drive to the olive press which buys eating-olives and presses olives for oil later in the season.

October 5, 2011

My olives are bigger than your olives.
We just returned from witnessing the pressing of our own olive oil: agourelaio or olive oil from unripened olives, supposedly the healthiest olive oil. Our friend Aristotelis who lives in the Peloponnesus, southern Greece, says their elaiotrivio (olive press) doesn’t even open until the end of October because most people wait until their olives are ripened in order to get the most oil from them. In about two hours, we went from 6 huge 50 lb. bags of olives to almost 2 denikedes or about 22 kilos of olive oil from about 7 mature trees. Twenty two of our forty two trees are very young and some trees were bare (just not their year). Our helper Fatmir used his hands and a special “comb” to bring down the olives onto a tarp. The olives were then put into crates or into special olive bags which we loaded in the car and drove about 24 km to a village called Portaria outside Nea Moudania and Elaiotriveio Savvas run by his widow Eleni, a very nice lady who told us she had cousins in Michigan and Arizona. When she asked our last name for her records, she looked at us, waved her hand, and said “Amerikan.” The olives were emptied into a bin. Along the way, leaves were blown outside through a chute. The olives were then carried up to a washing area and ground into a lovely aromatic mush. After that, we didn’t see them; they were processed with water and the separation then occurred.
An electric, almost neon colored chartreuse oil was the result.
As we were waiting for the oil to appear, another customer lady (she was the “baker”) standing nearby ran her finger through the stream of oil (belonging to another customer) and licked her finger. I was hoping she wasn’t standing there when our oil came through! It took about 2 hours from start to finish with two customers ahead of us. You could bring your own containers to carry your oil home or buy new denikedes (cans) for about 2 euros each. Each denike holds about 15 liters of oil. To make oil from our olives, the press charged us 13% of our production (22 kilos) or 3.90 euros x 2.86 kilos= 11.15 euros. Quite a deal!
Olives’ leaves are blown off and then washed.
The “Amerikan’s” mush next to the “Baker’s” mush.
Olive mush
Final product: This neon green will return to a clear olive color after it settles.

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2 Responses to Olive Harvest 2011 – Vatopedi, Halkidiki, Greece

  1. A wonderfully written explanation of the olive process. That neon green color is amazing!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Fantastic! I learned more about olives in 5 minutes than I ever knew.

    All the best,
    Ayan Bagchi (Nikoletta's husband)

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