Volunteers Lend a Hand in Italy's Olive Harvest to Help Those in Need

Across Italy, students and volunteers are flocking to the olive groves to help with the harvest. The olive oil they help produce is destined for those in need from Sicily to Lombardy.
Harvesting olives for charity in 2018. (Photos: Giovanni Alletto)
Nov. 9, 2020
Paolo DeAndreis

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I believe that here, in our region, sol­i­dar­ity and social bond­ing are an essen­tial part of the olive oil cul­ture,” Giovanni Aletto, the head of the munic­i­pal botan­i­cal gar­den of Agrigento, Sicily, told Olive Oil Times.

Like other agri­cul­tural experts in Italy, and with the help of the dozens of olive trees in the botan­i­cal gar­den, Aletto works over­time to help the younger gen­er­a­tions cul­ti­vate an appre­ci­a­tion for olive oil culture. 

The pick­ing of the olives is a joy­ful moment, not only because we do it for a good cause, but also because it brings together peo­ple who over time have become friends, and many more who are just now dis­cov­er­ing the beauty and the har­mony behind the olive oil pro­duc­tion.- Michele Daverio, vol­un­teer, Sant’Ilario Lake Olive Oil

As the har­vest­ing sea­son unfolds across Italy, sev­eral char­i­ties and social vol­un­teer orga­ni­za­tions have joined efforts with Aletto to give a deeper mean­ing to the pick­ing of the olives.

It all started three years ago,” Aletto recalled, when we first approached sev­eral local char­i­ties and they sent over young sem­i­nary stu­dents to help us har­vest the olives, bring them to the oil mill and then dis­trib­ute that oil to fam­i­lies in need.”

See Also: In Italy, Students Return to Study Among Olive Trees

As the COVID-19 pan­demic began to take its toll on local economies, Aletto and many oth­ers believed that even more could be done.

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This year, we got in touch with sev­eral asso­ci­a­tions and char­i­ties involved in man­ag­ing kitchens and can­teens ded­i­cated to fam­i­lies in need,” the agron­o­mist said.

While the botan­i­cal gar­den of Agrigento con­tains just under 100 olive trees, they are more than enough to involve many of the younger gen­er­a­tions in a new expe­ri­ence, Aletto emphasized.

Even with the pro­tec­tive dis­tanc­ing due to the pan­demic, kids and young­sters had the best of expe­ri­ences, con­ju­gat­ing the joy of the olive har­vest and olive oil pro­duc­tion to a true expe­ri­ence of sol­i­dar­ity and togeth­er­ness,” he said.

Within more than 6,900 hectares (17,000 acres), the botan­i­cal gar­den is home to many other trees, mostly oranges and tan­ger­ines but also apples, so Aletto is already plan­ning new ini­tia­tives in favor of the poor involv­ing chil­dren and charities.

Helping the young gen­er­a­tions approach olive har­vest­ing and olive oil pro­duc­tion is the path fol­lowed by a num­ber of other edu­ca­tional insti­tu­tions through­out the country.

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Aletto believes that solidarity and social bonding are key components of Sicily’s olive oil cutlure.

Students from the mid­dle and high schools of Città Sant’Angelo, in the Abruzzo region, have har­vested all of the olives within the munic­i­pal ter­ri­tory for a project dubbed the olive oil school.”

Under the super­vi­sion of their teach­ers, stu­dents have picked the fruits and fol­lowed them to the nearby oil mill, where they were trans­formed into organic extra vir­gin olive oil. That extra vir­gin olive oil is then bot­tled and the stu­dents super­vise the labeling.

Once the whole process is com­plete, the bot­tles will be sold at an auc­tion, with the prof­its donated to local fam­i­lies in need.

In Puglia, sol­i­dar­ity and col­lab­o­ra­tion with local char­i­ties are also bring­ing stu­dents, pub­lic ser­vants, schools and local insti­tu­tions together.

In Locorotondo, not far from Bari, an edu­ca­tional gar­den project has brought together young peo­ple from sev­eral schools to care for the olive trees and help with the harvest.

It all started four years ago thanks to a munic­i­pal ini­tia­tive that was wel­comed by the local schools. Since then, all of the har­vested fruits from the olive trees cul­ti­vated on pub­lic lands within Locorotondo have been trans­formed by a local oil mill. From there, the olive oil is given to local Caritas vol­un­teers for dis­tri­b­u­tion among those fam­i­lies who have asked for food support.

See Also: Italy Pledges €20M to Buy Local EVOO for Families in Need

In another town in the Bari area, Modugno, the local parishes keep gath­er­ing and giv­ing away essen­tial food to the fam­i­lies in need, with olive oil being one of the most rel­e­vant items. With the clo­sure of the parish build­ings due to the COVID-19 pan­demic, Don Amedeo man­aged to arrange food dis­tri­b­u­tion from his bal­cony, located just above street level.

Volunteers bring food bought or donated by the parishes to the priest’s apart­ment and from there, the 74-years-old cleric hands out bags filled with pasta, milk, flour and olive oil to those in need.

If they have young kids in their fam­ily, I usu­ally add some cook­ies and fruit juices,” Amedeo told the local news­pa­per, Barinedita.

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Local producers, students and volunteers team up each autumn to harvest olives for charity.

Meanwhile, on the oppo­site end of the coun­try, in the region of Lombardy, the tra­di­tional har­vest­ing of the olive trees in Bosto have seen many vol­un­teers from the entire Varese region flock to participate.

Starting 10 years ago, the goal of the ini­tia­tive has been to har­vest the olives for pro­duc­ing the Sant’Ilario Lake Olive Oil, a brand that is syn­ony­mous with sol­i­dar­ity. Every year hun­dreds of liters of organic extra vir­gin olive oil are given to those in need by the local asso­ci­a­tions and the local parish.

In just two days, the vol­un­teers har­vested more than 16,000 kilo­grams of olives, and more were added by local small and medium grow­ers, many of whom tra­di­tion­ally donate a part of their own pro­duc­tion to charity.

The pick­ing of the olives is a joy­ful moment, not only because we do it for a good cause, but also because it brings together peo­ple who over time have become friends, and many more who are just now dis­cov­er­ing the beauty and the har­mony behind the olive oil pro­duc­tion,” Michele Daverio, a local vol­un­teer, told Olive Oil Times.





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