UC Davis Olive Center Turns 10

The University of California at Davis Olive Center celebrates its tenth anniversary this week as a research and education center that continues to make an impact on the olive oil industry worldwide.

UC Davis Olive Center director Dan Flynn (Photo: NYIOOC)
Jan. 17, 2018
By Daniel Dawson
UC Davis Olive Center director Dan Flynn (Photo: NYIOOC)

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A noti­fi­ca­tion cir­cu­lated through the University of California at Davis web­site on January 18, 2008 announced the open­ing of a brand new cen­ter ded­i­cated to olives and olive oil.

Hoping to do for olives and olive oil what it has done for grapes and wine, UC Davis this week launched the first uni­ver­sity-based olive research and edu­ca­tion cen­ter in North America,” the announce­ment read.

I would be will­ing to declare vic­tory on what we had set out to do.- Dan Flynn, UC Davis Olive Center

One decade later Dan Flynn, the founder and exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Olive Center, is will­ing to say: mis­sion accom­plished.

I would be will­ing to declare vic­tory on what we had set out to do,” Flynn told Olive Oil Times. Not that the story is fin­ished, but we’ve been able to really make a mark inter­na­tion­ally and set up a cen­ter that’s going to last beyond the time that I’ll be around.”

The Olive Center has accom­plished a lot in the past decade, from a 2010 olive oil qual­ity study that has changed the indus­try to host­ing the International Olive Council’s (IOC) first sci­en­tific con­fer­ence in the United States in nearly two decades.

The cen­ter, which has been touted as a model of suc­cess, came from hum­ble begin­nings. In 2008, Flynn was about ready to leave his job in the California leg­is­la­ture to try some­thing new. During his last month there, he met Sal Genito who man­aged the grounds at UC Davis and had a prob­lem.
See Also: Articles on the UC Davis Olive Center
He had an issue at the cam­pus with olives falling on the bike path. People would run over the olives and slip and fall and some of them would sue the uni­ver­sity,” Flynn said. His idea was that he wanted to pro­duce some olive oil and then maybe sell it as a cam­pus prod­uct.”

Flynn wrote a fea­si­bil­ity study for Genito and cal­cu­lated that the olive oil pro­gram could bring in more than $11,000 per year as well as save the uni­ver­sity the $60,000 it spent on acci­dents and clean­ing up the bike path each year.

Flynn started to work with Regino, help­ing him to run the pro­gram. He sug­gested that it would be a good idea for UC Davis to have an olive oil research and edu­ca­tion cen­ter.

After help­ing to run the pro­gram for about a year, I was able to orga­nize a group of fac­ulty and some indus­try peo­ple,” Flynn said. They helped plan out the idea and then the uni­ver­sity approved it. That’s how the olive cen­ter got started.”

Then came that land­mark study in 2010, which found that 69 per­cent of imported olive oils tested in California did not meet the stan­dards that their labels claimed. The study led to con­sumer orga­ni­za­tions and other coun­tries con­duct­ing their own tests and they found sim­i­lar results.

I think now that the uproar has died down, the study has led to some good things,” Flynn said. Every pro­ducer, no mat­ter where they are, has to be con­cerned with sus­tain­ing qual­ity for the time that the oil is on the shelf.”

Since then, a report from the Olive Oil Commission of California (OOCC) said both qual­ity and accu­racy of label­ing has increased in California. According to Patricia Darragh, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the California Olive Oil Council (COOC), the Olive Center played a cru­cial role in improv­ing both of these fac­tors.

Over the last decade, both the COOC and the entire olive oil indus­try have ben­e­fit­ted from the immense scope of research that the cen­ter has under­taken,” she said. This research has assisted in rais­ing the bar for qual­ity.”

Gregg Kelley is the CEO of California Olive Ranch, the largest American olive oil pro­ducer. He has worked closely with the Olive Center before on var­i­ous projects and said that the growth of the olive oil sec­tor in California is due to the work the cen­ter does.

Their research helps main­tain strict qual­ity stan­dards in the indus­try, which we are now see­ing the rest of the indus­try adopt,” Kelley said. In the last six years, the US seg­ment has gone from less than one per­cent to six per­cent, and we do credit the Olive Center’s efforts for this.”

From the very begin­ning, the Olive Center has tried to do with olive oil what UC Davis had already done with viti­cul­ture and serve an aca­d­e­mic pur­pose on the cam­pus as well.

The Olive Center has done a great job of cre­at­ing and estab­lish­ing rig­or­ous stan­dards of test­ing in order to uphold the integrity of deli­cious olive oil not only here in California but across the globe,” Kelley said.

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The center’s main goal is to edu­cate both the grower and con­sumer on the eco­nomic and agri­cul­tural vari­ables involved in the domes­tic olive oil indus­try, and we feel the work they’ve done over the past decade has done just that.”

The cen­ter will con­tinue to inno­vate and grow, which Flynn said are two things that excite both the uni­ver­sity offi­cials and indus­try mem­bers.

The Olive Center has devel­oped a high regard among the fac­ulty as a cen­ter that’s worked, and one that is adding and enhanc­ing the abil­ity of the fac­ulty to do their jobs,” he said.

I think that the indus­try has also been grat­i­fied at the work we’ve been able to accom­plish for them and what we’ve been able to do is pro­vide the type of resource that the tra­di­tional major pro­duc­ing coun­tries have.”

Kelley agreed, call­ing the cen­ter an over­all suc­cess. The center’s work has improved and sup­ported milling oper­a­tions, bot­tling facil­i­ties, and an over­all under­stand­ing of the sci­ence behind olive oil pro­duc­tion.

Moving for­ward, Flynn said that the Olive Center will con­tinue to work on improv­ing the meth­ods by which olive oil is pro­duced and work with pro­duc­ers on improv­ing oil qual­ity through more effi­cient and cheaper meth­ods of ana­lyz­ing oil.

Kelley said that he would like to see more of the same from the Olive Center, with a con­tin­ued empha­sis on edu­cat­ing grow­ers and pro­duc­ers about how to pro­duce the high­est qual­ity of olive oil pos­si­ble.

For our grower part­ners, we’d like increased edu­ca­tion avail­able on grow­ing and har­vest­ing olives; stud­ies show­ing how to increase yields while reduc­ing tree pests and dis­ease that may impact qual­ity or pro­cess­ing,” he said. The Olive Center has been a vital leader in the bet­ter­ment of the olive indus­try and we are proud sup­port­ers of their tremen­dous efforts.”

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