How to Join the Olive Harvest in Italy
It might have been Under the Tuscan Sun that really jump started the craze, but there is something about spending a day on an olive grove helping out with the harvest that has always appealed to visitors to Italy, especially outdoorsy types exploring the small hilltop towns of Tuscany.
If you are in search of your own harvest experience, you’re in luck.
You’ll be one of the most welcome kinds of visitors to Italy!
Help with the Olive Harvest is Always Welcome!
While large commercial olive groves have seasonal staff come through to help with the harvest, many farms that produce olive oil are small, family-run operations. And many private homes have sizable olive groves.
When you own an grove of olive trees in Italy, until the end of the harvest, you’re always asking yourself, “Who is going to help me pick all of these?”
Most landowners with olives are surrounded by neighbors with olives who have the same problem, so it’s hard to count on the good will of neighbors—especially when everyone’s olives ripen in the same couple days.
That’s why, no matter where you go in Italy, if you want to help with the olive harvest, you will be welcomed with open arms!
If you’re driving around and see people harvesting and jump in for even just an hour between other stops on your itinerary, you’ll be appreciated. But if you can set aside an entire day or morning to help and see the olive presses, you’re likely to walk away not only with a bottle of the freshest green gold, but also a dinner reservation.
How the Olive Harvest Works
Unlike many fruits, olives are removed from the tree by shaking rather than picking. Since they’re due to be flattened in the press anyway, it’s not important to take care not to bruise them. And they’re very hardy anyway.
The harvest begins by setting large nets that look very much like fishing nets on the ground below the olive trees, a few at a time. Then the real fun begins.
Either people or mechanical shakers attack the trees, first at the base and then on the branches to try to propel as many olives as possible into the net.
In the meantime, other strip the branches, especially harder to reach ones on top, with special olive rakes that primarily remove the olives and leave the leaves. Once you’ve gotten as many olives as possible from a tree, the nets are lifted and the olives funneled into waiting crates, which are then loaded on an open back truck to go to the olive press.
Note: don’t “sample” the wares! It’s not that it’s impolite. Raw olives are highly inedible due to extreme bitterness. A little won’t kill you, but it won’t taste good at all.