Olive Harvest at Grumpy Goats Farm

Nov 14, 2016

Yesterday I was an agritourist. Pamela Marvel and Stuart Littell, owners of Grumpy Goats Farm, in the Capay Valley of Yolo County, invited me to be part of their annual olive harvest, joining the "friends and family" contingent and picking alongside a hired picking crew. Grumpy Goats is a twenty acre organic farm planted with multiple varieties of olives that are pressed into prize-winning extra virgin olive oil. For me, the day was an adventure. I got to enjoy a sunny fall day being part of an ancient rite of the season, and I got to spend a few hours with some people whose paths don't often cross my own.

olive picker with basket
For Pamela and Stuart, harvest means picking almost a couple of tons of olives by three o'clock in the afternoon, loading the bins onto the flatbed truck and driving them to the olive mill to be pressed into prize-winning oil. The day started with the light. The crew had already pulled into the driveway with their cars and pickup trucks at about 6:30 a.m. when Stuart went to meet them. Everyone strapped on picking baskets, put on gloves and were ready to start the day. The eight acres of producing olive trees on twenty acre Grumpy Goats Farm are still young, but they were full of green and purple fruits ready for picking. The crew got busy quickly, three or four people circling each tree to rake the small branches gently by hand into picking baskets, then dumping the baskets into harvest bins laid along each row.

Being a guest, I didn't arrive until 9:30 or so, after a beautiful drive through the surrounding farm land. Stuart was there to meet me, introduced me to the other friends and family, and offered me coffee and pastries. With my own picking basket strapped on, I started picking. The young trees were soft and kind, giving their fruit easily with a gentle pull. Even the lowest branches almost dragging on the ground bore olives to harvest. The rhythm was easy on the body - no ladders to climb and lots of trays close by to dump olives when the picking basket began to get heavy. The crew of men and women worked fast around me, and I learned by watching. The other family and friends guests and I tried to keep up, and talked as we picked.

After a few hours it was lunch time. Stuart and Pamela put on lunch for the "family and friends", while the crew gathered to eat by their vehicles or in the shade of the trees. We talked and ate and enjoyed the pleasant day, learning more about each others' lives. Then it was time to go back to picking. This time I joined in with the hired crew, trying not to get in their way.

olive picker with basket
Everyone was talking in Spanish, and I don't talk Spanish, but the talk sounded light-hearted for the most part. Some workers had brought small radios, so we had music to pick by, or music drifting from between the rows sometimes. One friendly woman from the picking crew noticed that I didn't have gloves or a hat, so she went off and came back with a fresh clean pair of white gloves and a bandana for me to wear. We chatted a bit as we picked, with her little bit of English and my even smaller bit of Spanish. She told me she was a mother of eight and a grandmother of five, so far. She lives in Woodland, but has family in Los Angeles and two sons in Mexico.

I thought of the election earlier this week. I thought of our new president-elect and the fearful changes that might be coming for this kind woman and her family and her friends. I wondered what harvest day would be like for Stuart and Pamela next year, or the year after. This agritourism adventure connected me briefly to people whose kindness and friendliness I hope to be able to repay before too long.

olives loaded in bins on the truck
We quit at three so Stuart could load the six big bins of olives onto the flatbed truck with the forklift and get them to the mill in time to be pressed. The day was still young when I made my way happily home with a bottle of last year's good organic extra virgin olive oil and a bag of fresh-picked olives to try to cure. Thank you to all. Learn more about Grumpy Goats Farm and olive oil.

By Penny Leff
Author - Agritourism Coordinator/Public Education Specialist