`Harvest at a Tuscan Oliveto - Olive Oil Times

Harvest at a Tuscan Oliveto

Jan. 31, 2013
Paul Bates

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For the past four years my father has been trav­el­ing to Italy to spend a week pick­ing olives in the Tuscan hill­tops at an oliveto run by a child­hood friend of his. Each year he would elu­sively go away for a week and return with huge tins of the best tast­ing olive oil I have ever wit­nessed. After he explained the process of how his friend’s orchard made the oil, I quickly real­ized it was a very dif­fer­ent process to more com­mer­cial meth­ods of pro­duc­tion.

The fact the orchard is non-profit and inde­pen­dent really struck a chord with me. I live in a small sea­side town a stone’s throw from London and grow­ing up here I vividly remem­ber the main row of shops all being inde­pen­dent. Gradually over the years global cof­fee shops and super­mar­kets have started to take over and many of the inde­pen­dent shops started to close down. The impor­tance of inde­pen­dently run busi­nesses in a small town like the one I live in is key to the com­mu­nity. As you can prob­a­bly tell, inde­pen­dent pro­duc­tion is some­thing I believe in, and with this in mind I thought a mini-doc­u­men­tary on an inde­pen­dent olive orchard would make a great film.

After pitch­ing the idea to my father’s friend Ross, who owns the orchard, he kindly agreed to let me come and stay for a week to make the film. I actu­ally only spent a cou­ple of days shoot­ing the project and spent the rest of the week up an olive tree with the oth­ers to earn my keep.

One day I decided to go for a walk in the Tuscan moun­tains and dur­ing the course I must have walked past at least ten other olive orchards. With it being the pick­ing sea­son and with a good break in the weather every­one was out har­vest­ing their olive crops. It was inter­est­ing to see the meth­ods the other orchards were using. I did­n’t see any of these other farm­ers pick­ing the olives by hand, instead they were using large machines with belts attached to shake the trees so the olives dropped into a net. Picking olives by hand seemed like a more sus­tain­able way of har­vest­ing the trees.

What really stuck out to me though, was that using these machines was a very lonely process. It only took one per­son to run. However, whilst shoot­ing the film I really got a sense of friend­ship and com­mu­nity between the hand­ful of pick­ers who worked on Ross’s orchard and this ended up being a large part of the film I made. Every time I ran back up the gar­den to the house to get my cam­era bat­ter­ies on charge, all I could hear was laugh­ter com­ing from the tree­tops of the olive trees, and you could just tell how much fun these guys were hav­ing and that it was more of a ther­a­peu­tic process than work for them. Most of the pick­ers weren’t even work­ing for money, they were actu­ally work­ing for a share of the olive oil which is tes­ta­ment to how nice Ross’s oil is.

Prior to arriv­ing in Tuscany, Ross had told me about the rit­ual they have when they taste the new batch of olive oil for the first time. I really con­tem­plated cap­tur­ing this process for the film but when we returned from the fran­toio with the cans of olive oil, I really felt it was­n’t a moment that I wanted to expe­ri­ence myself. The olive oil, as expected, was absolutely won­der­ful. It had a very dis­tinct and rich fla­vor, that I’m sure tasted even bet­ter know­ing I had picked some of the olives myself.

The film was was my own per­sonal project and a chance to cap­ture a charm­ing story in a beau­ti­ful nat­ural sur­round­ing. As a film maker you could­n’t pos­si­bly ask for any­thing more than this. On return­ing to the UK I felt very refreshed to know inde­pen­dent pro­duc­tion was still some­thing peo­ple cared a lot about and the whole trip was a reminder that a qual­ity prod­uct that is less prof­itable can be far more impor­tant than mak­ing the most money pos­si­ble.

To see more of Paul’s work, visit his web­site.

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