Community Milling in California: Small Growers Encouraged to Reserve Early

From October through December, mills across California will open their doors to hobby growers.
By Thomas Sechehaye
Aug. 16, 2023 15:03 UTC

California com­mu­nity milling days are a way for small olive grow­ers to cel­e­brate the joys of the har­vest and pro­duce excep­tional home­grown olive oil.

The days are sim­i­lar to those in small vil­lages in the Mediterranean, where all the vil­lagers bring olives to the olive mill in the town cen­ter.

It is a day to cel­e­brate the fall har­vest and to bring all our small, local grow­ers together to cre­ate a truly unique and deli­cious com­mu­nity blend of Olio Nuovo.- Samantha Dorsey, pres­i­dent, McEvoy Ranch

2022, for some, was a very tough har­vest; many grow­ers found their crops to be quite light,” Mary Louise Bucher, a mas­ter miller and owner of Trattore Farms, told Olive Oil Times. Being an alter­nate bear­ing crop, a lot of our cus­tomers are look­ing for­ward to a greater abun­dance of olives this 2023 har­vest.”

Community milling is a pop­u­lar tra­di­tion at Trattore Farms. The very wet win­ter and heavy rains in Northern California have delayed things, so we expect the har­vest to begin late and run later into the win­ter than nor­mal,” Bucher said.

See Also:California Producers Keep Olives and Workers Safe in Record Heat

The com­mu­nity milling dates are October 29, November 12 and December 3,” she added. We may add a fourth com­mu­nity milling date later in December to accom­mo­date this delayed sea­son and help our cus­tomers with later har­vests.”

Community milling offers a time to gather with neigh­bors and cel­e­brate the har­vest. At Trattore Farms, com­mu­nity milling cus­tomers and club mem­bers are wel­come to join the fes­tiv­i­ties – with or with­out olives.

With mills across the state offer­ing their ser­vices, com­mu­nity milling gives hobby grow­ers a chance to learn more about olive oil pro­duc­tion and taste the fruits of their labor.

We offer com­mu­nity milling day each year for olive grow­ers who have less than 1,000 pounds (450 kilo­grams). Some peo­ple come with a few buck­ets; oth­ers arrive with a truck­load,” Charles T. Crohare, owner of The Olivina, told Olive Oil Times.

Olivina is fam­ily-owned, estab­lished in 1881, and pro­duces extra vir­gin olive oil from Mission, Arbequina, Lucca, Frantoio and Picholine olives. The com­pany uses a state-of-the-art Italian-made Alfa Laval three-phase olive mill.

The milling process needs a min­i­mum of 1,000 pounds to oper­ate effec­tively. Growers are wel­come, whether they have one or two trees and as lit­tle as a cou­ple of pounds (about 1 kilo­gram) of olives.

McEvoy hosts one com­mu­nity mill day each fall — and it is an incred­i­bly fun day,” Samantha Dorsey, the pres­i­dent of McEvoy Ranch, told Olive Oil Times. It is a day to cel­e­brate the fall har­vest and to bring all our small, local grow­ers together to cre­ate a truly unique and deli­cious com­mu­nity blend of Olio Nuovo.”

Dorsey invites small grow­ers to McEvoy’s com­mu­nity milling days, allow­ing peo­ple with olives from just a few trees to par­tic­i­pate.

Anyone who has one pound (0.45 kg) to one ton of olives is wel­come,” she said. This year’s date for com­mu­nity milling is Sunday, November 12, just in time to have Olio Nuovo on their Thanksgiving table. Gravy is cool, but noth­ing beats Olio Nuovo on mashed pota­toes and stuff­ing.”

Bucher advised using clean, food-grade con­tain­ers but avoid­ing used juice jars and milk car­tons. First time around, we sup­ply a con­tainer to buy, and cus­tomers are wel­come to clean those and re-use them year after year,” she said. Stainless steel fusti are also wel­come.”


A fusto (plural fusti) is a stain­less steel con­tainer used for stor­ing and dis­pens­ing liq­uids, par­tic­u­larly oils and vine­gars. Fusti are designed to pre­serve the qual­ity and fresh­ness of the liq­uids they hold, and they usu­ally come equipped with a spigot or faucet that allows for con­trolled pour­ing or dis­pens­ing.

Fusti can come in var­i­ous sizes, rang­ing from small coun­ter­top mod­els to larger ones that hold sev­eral gal­lons. They are often used to store and dis­play olive oils, spe­cialty vine­gars, and other liq­uids used in cook­ing and sea­son­ing. The stain­less steel con­struc­tion pro­tects the con­tents from light, air, and con­t­a­m­i­nants, help­ing to main­tain their fla­vor and qual­ity over time.

Olive grow­ers should check with each mill for their spe­cific qual­ity guide­lines. Trattore Farms only accepts olives with less than ten per­cent olive fly dam­age.


More than that, and we reserve the right to refuse them, as they are com­bined with every­one else’s olives, and we are com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing the high­est qual­ity olive oil for all,” Bucher said.

Crohare agreed that grow­ers must be aware of the dam­age the fruit fly can do and can affect oil qual­ity.

We have had some over the years that we had to reject due to exces­sive fly dam­age,” he said. It is dis­heart­en­ing for them, but it does teach them about the pains of agri­cul­ture.”

Any batch of olives with greater than five per­cent fruit fly infec­tion rate will be rejected — we are mak­ing extra vir­gin olive oil here,” Dorsey added. We’re very selec­tive regard­ing the qual­ity of olives going into our blend.”

Bucher noted a few myths about com­mu­nity and cus­tom milling. She explained the best times for pick­ing and milling to col­lect olives for the high­est qual­ity field blend­ing and pro­duc­ing excep­tional extra vir­gin olive oil.

We ask our com­mu­nity milling cus­tomers to pick no later than the Friday before the event,” she said. Ideally, olives go from the tree to the mill in 24 to 48 hours.”

If picked on Friday, they need to be kept in a cool, dark place, in ven­ti­lated bins,” Bucher added. Rotten olives, those picked up off the ground, are not accepted. Everyone par­tic­i­pat­ing gets very par­tic­u­lar about that.”

Crohare agreed on the impor­tance of proper pick­ing and stor­ing of olives. Olives should be free of olive fly dam­age and have min­i­mal leaves or twigs. There can be no dirt, peb­bles or rocks, as that can dam­age the milling equip­ment.

Dorsey con­curred: Please pick all your olives on the Saturday before com­mu­nity mill day,” she said. Olives picked too far in advance will not fare well and may not meet the qual­ity stan­dards to be added to the blend.”

Bucher explained how she cal­cu­lates exact pro­por­tions and guar­an­tee dis­tri­b­u­tion.

We do not keep any oil from com­mu­nity milling – all that is pro­duced is dis­trib­uted entirely back to those who par­tic­i­pated, in pro­por­tion to the quan­tity of olives con­tributed,” she said.

I have a great spread­sheet that cal­cu­lates that and then con­verts the oil quan­tity to weight so we can eas­ily divide it into everyone’s con­tain­ers,” Bucher added. We tare (sub­tract out) the weight of the con­tainer before fill­ing, so the amount is cor­rect.”

Crohare invites grow­ers to uti­lize their olives to pro­duce extra vir­gin olive oil. We want every­one to enjoy the olive oil-mak­ing process and bet­ter appre­ci­ate the work involved in mak­ing true’ extra vir­gin olive oil,” he said.

Due to the inher­ently non-uni­form nature of com­mu­nity milling, Bucher noted that fla­vor and yield will vary from year to year and batch to batch.

See Also:State-of-the-Art Irrigation Management Leads to Rising Yields in California

Every event has dif­fer­ent vari­etals and degrees of ripeness that are brought in, so the fla­vor and yield will vary,” she said. We have seen it range from 50 pounds per gal­lon (about 5 kg per liter) to as high as 80 pounds per gal­lon (about 8 kg per liter).”

A rough esti­mate is 75 pounds per gal­lon (7.5 kilo­grams per liter) – three 5‑gallon buck­ets worth of olives – is a good way to gues­ti­mate the amount of oil to be received,” Bucher added.

Crohare noted that typ­i­cally olives pro­duce about 10 to 40 gal­lons (45 to 180 liters) of oil per ton. This indus­try stan­dard can help grow­ers esti­mate, but actual vol­ume depends on the qual­ity and cul­ti­var of olives of har­vest being milled.

Oil mak­ing is not an instant process, so Bucher reminds poten­tial par­tic­i­pants to be patient.

The oil will not be ready at the end of the week­end,” she said. We mill late into the evening and ask that deliv­er­ies stop at 2 PM”

We then blend the oil, cal­cu­late the quan­ti­ties, and when you have more than 100 guests at the event, it takes a while to par­ti­tion the oil,” Bucher added. That is why it is indi­cated that your oil will be ready for pick-up two weeks later. We ask for prompt pick-up as our mill is not very big.”

Acceptable con­tain­ers for deliv­ery of the olives include five-gal­lon buck­ets, large plas­tic totes, grape bins, large macro-bins, or wicker bas­kets. No garbage bags are allowed. The best con­tain­ers are solid-sided ones that will not flop and spill when poured.

Am I tough on qual­ity,” asked Bucher. Yes. Ask those who have been turned away and those who have hand-sep­a­rated out fly-dam­aged olives before com­ing.”

Groups of pick­ers, friends, and fam­ily are all wel­come,” she added. You can walk to the mill and see it in action. You can join us at the win­ery tast­ing room for wine, oil tast­ing and food. We also offer spe­cials to par­tic­i­pants.”

At Olivina, Crohare noted that all olive deliv­er­ies must be labeled, and inter­ested par­tic­i­pants should check rec­om­mended dates for har­vest­ing.

Due to mov­ing parts and mov­ing equip­ment, Olivina is not able to allow any­one except staff on the premises dur­ing milling,” he added.

Depending on how many trees par­tic­i­pants have and their ripeness lev­els, Bucher said peo­ple can sign up for mul­ti­ple com­mu­nity milling days.

Lucky you to have that many olives, and how fun to com­pare the fla­vors from each dif­fer­ent date,” she said. On deliv­ery day, com­ing right at 9 AM is not ideal – as lots of peo­ple have the same idea, and there is often a line. It takes a bit to unload, weigh and col­lect the olives – we always appre­ci­ate the patience.”

On a play­ful note, Bucher rec­om­mended: Start brib­ing your friends now – pick­ing olives is hard work, and you’ll want to get help. We love play­ing the how much did I pick?’ game.”

Dorsey agreed and rec­om­mended invit­ing friends and fam­ily to help har­vest olives.

Don’t for­get to feed your pick­ing team,” she said. If your har­vest or milling day didn’t go accord­ing to plan and you didn’t get as much olive oil as you’d hoped, don’t fret for a minute.”

Give your har­vest crew some of the incred­i­ble Olio Nuovo you pick up later from the mill,” Dorsey con­cluded. That’ll surely keep them com­ing back year after year.”


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