Monday, December 5, 2011

Olive Picking

When I first gazed upon the massive back-yard, I couldn’t believe just how breathtakingly gorgeous the Tuscan terrain was.  Behind the house sat two mountain top towns boasting a magnificent sight. Directly in front of us was Montegiove and 90 degrees to the left was Castel del Piano and my home for 2 weeks.  Before proceeding down towards the olive orchard, it became a ritual for all of us to quietly absorb the natural beauty of the towns for more than 3 minutes. 

After 9:00 am we would descend down the steep slope of the back-yard, careful not to trip over the thousands of loose rocks and white crystals which littered the earth.  In total, nearly 350 Olivevastra trees lined up neatly across the property.  On average, the trees were no taller than 12 feet in height but surprisingly offered an over abundance of olives.

Gordon would happily drive his mini tractor down the slope, carrying tools consisting of: two large nets, several baskets and mini plastic rakes.  Our task was simple: collect as many olives as possible for the day and be careful not step on them while working.  First, we would lay the nets neatly and directly underneath the trees and made sure it hugged against the trunks.   We also made sure that one of the nets over-lapped the other by about 12 inches, thus making sure that the falling olives would not escape between the nets.   Next, Jaime and Wyatt would fearlessly climb up the trees and pluck the olives by hand while balancing on the surprisingly strong braches; while Matthew and I would stand in-front of the tree and gently comb out the olives using our hands or retractable pole rake.  After stripping nearly every olive from the branches we would methodically move the heavy nets and then carry them to the next tree in line.
We were in the midst of autumn and the leaves on every tree, set ablaze an orange hue across the valley. For the most part, the temperature ranged between 13 to 17 degrees with clear skies as wide as the land touched the horizon.  The essence of bonfires filled the air with the sweet scent of burning wood and dead leaves, while the grey billowing smoke created a mystical, hazy view.  Intertwined with the atmosphere were the frequent sounds of shot-guns echoing throughout the landscape.  Neighboring farmers turned hunters, sought for game of rabbits and other prey, all of whom were careful not to tread upon your land - only if you had paid the local Commune to have a no-hunting sign on your property.  Though, the sounds of guns made us all feel uneasy at times, especially when the blasts were only 100 meters away.  Because of this, the macabre part of my brain wondered if an innocent volunteering olive farmer had involuntarily intercepted an errant hallowed point or tiny shot in the past.

By mid-afternoon, we would break for lunch and pile into the kitchen to enjoy various dishes like pizza, soup or sandwiches made from freshly baked bread.  After eating a healthy meal prepared by our hosts we would return to the orchard for a few hours more, but usually our days would end when the sun dipped behind the mountains.  By this time, we would carefully lift our green nets and slowly roll the olives into a basket or cassetto in Italian.  There was never quota to fill, yet on average our haul for the day was between three and perhaps five baskets depending upon our production. 

At night, we would enjoy a home cooked dinner.  We all took turns cooking, though because of my lack of cooking skills, I was happy to contribute by washing the dishes afterwards.  Usually by 8 pm the lot of us would sit quietly in the living room with our computers, checking e-mails or answering phone calls through Skype.  Usually by 11pm we would turn into bed and rest our tired bodies.

Picking olives was completely foreign to me and something I thought I’d never try in my life, but it quickly became a fun activity.  Primarily because, I was among good and like minded people and the working dynamics between us was perfect.

If you are interested in volunteering your time in a foreign country, go to

Pictures and Story by Antony S Scandale 2011 Copyright

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