A fun little bit with olive picking

The point being quite how much intensive labour has to go into it.

In just one night in mid-November 26,000 kilograms were stripped from the trees, a haul worth €15,600 (£11,500) according to the €0.60 per-kilo price being paid out by the local San Isidro cooperative to its 300 members this season.

That’s a lot by the way, an orchard full…..or at least, the sort of orchard that a small farmer might have himself. It’s not, by any means, just a couple of trees. And that’s also the price per kilo for what you’ve beaten from the trees, onto nets, and then scooped up.

Once processed, olives for the best virgin oils are now fetching €4 a kilo,

Part of that is the quality difference. But you’ve got to pick up each olive individually, check it for worm infestation, score the skin, make sure there’s no stem etc. And you do that for each and every olive: say, 100 pieces per kilo?

It’s an absolutely obscenely difficult way to try to make money. Which is why around here there’s trees dotted around, free to anyone to harvest, which never do get harvested. One right outside my door for example. Local families will make a 50% attempt at getting the easy fruit but that’s more a cultural thing. Like going out scrumping for blackberries and the like. It’s not for the fruit, it’s to say that this is what our culture does more than anything. The kids help, everyone plays round outside for four or five hours, eats a sandwich, some litre or two of oil is made at the local co op and everyone agrees that they’re fully in touch with societal roots. And then thanks God that this is done for that litre or two, not a living.

Same with the carob that grows everywhere: €4.50 for a 14 kg bag last time I checked the price for that. The mad lady and her short bus son at the end of the road will collect 10 bags of that perhaps in season. More as something to do than anything…..

Peasant farming is a really shitty lifestyle.

27 thoughts on “A fun little bit with olive picking”

  1. In Spain at least, the EU hands out a €20 pa for each olive tree, whether or not the olives are harvested. So if you inherited 100 olive trees, you get €2000 for a couple of days of pruning and maintenance a year. Similarly, I was once staying near Tomar in Portugal, and I asked the hotel owner why the crop of peaches nearby had been left to rot by its owner. The reply was that the owner banked the subsidy, so why would he bother to harvest the fruit?

    Vote Out!

  2. So Much For Subtlety

    And you do that for each and every olive: say, 100 pieces per kilo?

    Come on, no of course they don’t. A lot of what is labeled as virgin olive oil isn’t even olive oil. There are plenty of people in Italy who are happy to label anything, mostly canola, as virgin olive oil. Plenty of idiots in northern Europe are willing to pay for it.

    What did you think would happen when we joined the EU? Of course sharing an economy with feckless amoral criminals, not just in government, means importing all sorts of things. That is why fisheries have collapsed as well. Why would the southern Europeans actually observe fishing limits?

  3. So Much For Subtlety

    Hang on, there are trees full of fruit standing around with no one to pick them. And thieves target someone’s orchard? Why bother if there are dozens of laden trees standing around no one cares about? It doesn’t seem likely.

    It could be that concentration makes a big difference – but it would mean law enforcement was very weak. But why else would anyone rob them?

    If I was the local plod I would assume an inside job for the insurance fraud.

  4. I’m 800 km away from those Spanish trees. Around here, scattered around, over there concentrated into orchards.

  5. “Peasant farming is a really shitty lifestyle.”

    Funny how good it looks from a large house in North London.

  6. There’s a movement called “Natural Wine” which is about removing all the science and technical additives. So, apart from being organic, there’s no sulphur to remove wild yeasts from barrels, no adding egg white to clarify the wine, and no machine picking. But it does mean that Cotes du Rhone costs about £15 a bottle.

    (hand picking is actually better for yields and quality, and if you’re Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, worth the extra cost)

  7. When we lived on the Cote d’Azur we had about 20 olive trees. Depending on the year I’d get anything from 5-50L of oil from spending somewhere betwen a couple of hours adn most of a couple of weekends picking the damn things.

  8. SMFS: Hang on, there are trees full of fruit standing around with no one to pick them. And thieves target someone’s orchard? Why bother if there are dozens of laden trees standing around no one cares about? It doesn’t seem likely.

    I’m no olive expert but I should imagine that what holds for other crops also holds for olives, namely that trees that are properly tended will produce better quality and bigger fruit which, of course, is the reason for taking the trouble.

  9. So Much For Subtlety

    The Stigler – “There’s a movement called “Natural Wine” which is about removing all the science and technical additives.”

    Fools and their money. I love the craft of wine making. Artisans they are. But the Australians make wine in things that look like oil refineries – and it is cheaper, more reliable and generally tastes fine. The hand-craft approach is more hit and miss. In a good year, no problems. In a bad year?

    In the meantime I continue to support natural dentistry. It is a shame that modern pain killers have taken all the human dignity and artistry out of caring for teeth. Time to take it back from those evil heteronormative patriarchal doctors and return it to the people!

  10. The olive and carob trees here are mostly harvested by Sri Lankans… Or perhaps a Sri Lankan gang of fruit thieves – who knows…?

    The olive tree in my garden drops its fruit eventually which then makes a noisy journey through my garden vac.

  11. Interesting bit of info from Theo. Suppose I’m entitled to a few hundred of government extortion. Certainly the only return those trees will ever make. We buy the cocktail olives in jars, rather than harvest.
    It’s much the same with our oranges,tangerines & quince. Probably couple tons of oranges. Trouble is, when we ‘ve got oranges, every other bugger has. District’s got oranges coming out its ears. But can’ t compete with intensive naranja production up Valencis way where the picking’ s more economic.

  12. SMFS,

    “The hand-craft approach is more hit and miss. In a good year, no problems. In a bad year?”

    Indeed. You might get some interesting wild yeasts in your wine that improve it, you might get something that ruins it.

    A wine writer I know states that the whole movement is about an imagined glorious past, much like the organic movement, but points out that the general quality of wine has been rising for decades because of all the science.

    I know that using egg whites for fining has been going on for decades. An old lady at Chateau Labegorce told me that in the 1960s, you couldn’t get eggs for a few weeks because they all went into fining wines.

  13. A few years ago we saw a woman and child picking up walnuts on a small green we drove past. There’s always a huge surplus of apples, and more rarely pears, lying around in the autumn. I have seen a Chinese chap, presumably a student, gathering some. We like to gather Japanese quinces that nobody else has bothered with.

  14. It’s like when I saw some chanterelles in the market at £3.50/100g – that’s £35/kg for what I’d been picking for free a few days eariler! But then I realised that I typically was able to find 500g in total in a good year from my random wandering around, it would take a lot of effort to make money from it.

  15. @SMFS: ” I continue to support natural dentistry”

    Yes its instructive that when people are diagnosed with all manner of painful and life threatening illnesses and health problems, they tend to demand the most up to date technological and chemical drug using methods of attempting to solve the problem. I’ve not heard anyone refuse a heart bypass because of all the drugs and invasive surgery used, and not many turn down radio or chemotherapy because they prefer the traditional method of just dying from cancer there and then. But the same people will eat organic and use homeopathic medicines for non life threatening illnesses because pesticides and drugs ‘kill you’.

    I love revealed preferences.

  16. @jim
    Regretably or not, alas,some are that stupid. Old girl I knew, bsck in London, self medicated herself to terminal cancer on aromatherapy. Apparently would have resonded to early intervention but for the healing miracle of lavender.
    One hopes it’d be stupidity editing itself out the gene pool, but her daughter’s just as barking & she’s already bred a litter.

  17. Growing your own fruit can make sense, my mother used to keep gooseberry bushes which are extremely hardy and easy to manager. The only problem is gooseberries are disgusting. Raspberries were harder, blackcurrants less so: you need a fruit cage for both. Blackberries were obtained by sending a squad of children, me included, into the brambles that surrounded the fields we owned. It was all good for home-produced jam and puddings, and my Mum made a few quid flogging them at the WI market, but it probably only works for your own consumption. There’s certainly not a living to be had out of it.

  18. BiS

    I have a friend who lives between Jaen and Granada. Her business is holiday accommodation, but she has 220 olive trees on the slopes beneath her plunge pool. She is very happy with her €20 pa a tree. The local cooperative harvests and processes the olives for her for a small fee, which she more than recoups by selling the oil to her paying guests. So get the subsidy if it’s available in your area.

    Interestingly, the harvest is partly mechanised. Rumanian and Bulgarian casuals spread out the nets. The harvester drives a tractor with a tree-shaking attachment. The driver can do 5-10 trees an hour, depending on size and on the ground. It’s the work of minutes to carry the nets to a trailer.

  19. I have a friend who lives between Jaen and Granada

    Rumanian and Bulgarian casuals spread out the nets.

    It seems the Spanish are as workshy when it comes to farmwork as their British counterparts.

  20. Bloke not in Cymru

    People do refuse chemo/radio therapy in cases where odds of success are low and they didn’t want to spend their last months sick from the treatment, sometimes it can literally be a kill or cure option. Those that refuse it early and with good odds are delusional I agree.
    Steve Jobs refused treatment until too late because of his belief in alternative medicine so just goes to show there’s different levels of mad

  21. It seems the Spanish are as workshy when it comes to farmwork as their British counterparts.

    Correct! 57% youth unemployment in Spain, and the local youngsters won’t touch seasonal farm work. The Rumanians and Bulgarians come over for the potato harvest in the north and then move south for the olive harvest. Couples often leave their children with their grandparents in their home country. Completely different work ethic.

  22. My landlord is in his late 70’s and has a bit of Mr Magoo about him. He comes up once a week to do the gardens, picks all the olives and the fruits, puts them in tubs, then leaves them on the front door for me getting out of bed in the morning.

    I feel a bit guilty when I end up chucking them in the bin.

  23. In the meantime I continue to support natural dentistry. It is a shame that modern pain killers have taken all the human dignity and artistry out of caring for teeth.

    I’ve run into strife about this arguing with the no-painkiller birth movement (they insist that birthing should not be made “artificial” with drugs to kill the pain, but is better “natural”). However they take painkillers for dental work!

    As a person who doesn’t take injections for dental work (they don’t work well on me, and anyway it saves money, is quicker and less noxious afterwards) I would point out that the biggest decrease in pain from high-speed drills. I would take injections if I had to use the slow drills of my youth.

  24. So Much For Subtlety

    The Stigler – “A wine writer I know states that the whole movement is about an imagined glorious past, much like the organic movement, but points out that the general quality of wine has been rising for decades because of all the science.”

    Well I do imagine that glorious past and so I am sympathetic. But the reality of the industry does not seem to support my political views, so what can I do?

    Deny! Deny! Deny! Obviously.

    “I know that using egg whites for fining has been going on for decades. An old lady at Chateau Labegorce told me that in the 1960s, you couldn’t get eggs for a few weeks because they all went into fining wines.”

    I believe that the French have traditionally used horse blood as well. Although the Veggies are making them stop. Ahh, traditional food preparation methods!

  25. Chester Draws

    The injections don’t work on me.

    Me neither, until I discovered most dentists use Lidocaine which is obsolete and doesn’t work on about one in eight people. (There seems to be some sort of “it were good enough for me da” thing going on there.) Google “lidocaine resistance”.

    Talk to your dentist. If his eyes glaze over change dentists. It was a revelation to me to discover that there are anesthetics which actually work and years of suffering were unnecessary.

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