Olive Harvesting in the Olive Oil Capital

Jaen in Spain produces 20% of the world’s supply of olive oil.  Jaen has more than 66 million olive trees, spread over 550,000 hectares.  Jaen is located less than 2 hours north of us, so when we were invited as part of a small group to join a Spanish family at their Olive farm, we jumped at the chance!

There were a small group of foreigners, mostly English-speakers, along with a group of Spaniards – in total maybe 40 people, including lots of kids of all ages, joined us on the farm that day.

As we approached the farm, just south of Jaen, we started seeing lots of olive trees from the road.

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When we got to the farm, the kids immediately set off to play among the olive groves.

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While the adults got a bit of an explanation about the farm and the steps for farming the olives. The olives on this farm are only used for the production of olive oil, and not for eating. However, C had to try one and found it EXTREMELY unsavory – he had a rubber taste in his mouth for the rest of the day.

Farming olives in a hilly area like this is very manual.  Machinery can’t be driven on the hills, so other than one electric pole they use to shake some of the olives off the tree, they do it all with stick and manpower.

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A beating an olive tree
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C and another guy beating the olive tree
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spot the olives on the treat (pre-beating)
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A net is sitting under the tree, and the olives are caught by the net after they are beaten off the tree.  The olives are separated from the branches, then the olives are put into a big bucket to be transported to the olive mill

After a little bit of time beating the trees, we stopped for lunch. Most of us foreigners brought pre-packaged food from the grocery store to share (since many of us aren’t here or haven’t been here long), but the locals were kind enough to make some excellent paella for us to all share.

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Paella cooking over an open fire
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Serving the cooked paella

After lunch some of the adults went back to beating the tree.  Meanwhile, I headed over the olive fields with the kids.

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We (the kids) decided to climb up a big steep hill to explore more of the grove, and so us parents who were watching them had no choice but to follow.  We got wonderful views as we climbed, but it was tough to walk up – the soil in the field was very loose, making me slide down just about as far as I stepped each time I tried to move forward.

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Once we got to the top (or at least as high as us adults were willing to climb) we were rewarded with wonderful views of olive trees as far as the eye could see.

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On the way back down, the loose soil made for hard going.  I am not saying I fell and got my butt covered in dirt, but I’m also not saying that DIDN’T happen either 😉

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it is easier for them to walk down the hill – they are closer to the ground!

When we got back to where the harvesting was happening, they were just loading the day’s batch of olives into the truck, to be transported to the Olive Oil co-op – our next stop as well!

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nothing makes him happier than some manual labor!
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the day’s harvest

We all loaded up and took a half-hour drive into the town of Jaen, for a tour of the mill where these olives (and those of other co-op members) are turned into olive oil.

Since we were in prime olive-picking season, there was a steady stream of trucks bringing their olives into the mill.

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We got to see the process of the olives moving from truck to conveyor belt, and being cleaned and separated from the branches.  Then, we got to see the huge vats where the start to actually produce the olive oil – squishing the olives and extracting the oil.

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We learned a bit about the process and different qualities of olive oil (they produce the good stuff – the EVOO here – and sell their leftover pulp to companies that produce the lower quality olive oils.  At the end, we enjoyed an olive oil tasting, getting to try a few fun flavors (some were even spicy!), and the highlight for A – chocolate mixed with olive oil!  Sadly, I was too busy taste-testing to take any pictures, so you will just have to use your imagination (all the bread and all the olive oil you could want, spread around a table for all to enjoy).

It was a fascinating day and we were so thankful to get a chance to take part in such a traditional activity for this part of Spain.


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