Olive U.
November 3, 2007 7:24 PM   Subscribe

Caltech students spent Friday, Nov. 2, harvesting olives; the 130 olive trees on campus are expected to yield 100-200 gallons. The idea was born last October when biology major Ricky Jones and physics major Dvin Adalian were observed picking the fruit by university president Jean-Lou Chameau--who promised "he would prepare them a home-cooked meal if they could figure out how to turn the olives into olive oil. They met the challenge using blenders, concrete blocks, window screens and a centrifuge." posted by GrammarMoses (19 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It's always a good idea to make your own, because otherwise it might not be olive oil at all.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 7:27 PM on November 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I like olives, and I like this post.

Looks like they're getting some help from the Santa Barbara Olive Company, whose line of olives are quite excellent (especially the Chipotle Stuffed).
posted by dhammond at 7:38 PM on November 3, 2007

Oh, cool. There's an olive tree outside my office door, and I've spent the last few months enviously watching various birds eat the fruit. The olives are ripe now, and drop all over the walkway.
posted by rtha at 7:45 PM on November 3, 2007

"ladder safety training" with the safety office? This is not the Caltech I remember :(.
posted by Slothrup at 7:51 PM on November 3, 2007

President Jean-Lou Chameau, who saw them, told biology major Ricky Jones and physics major Dvin Adalian he would prepare them a home-cooked meal if they could figure out how to turn the olives into olive oil.

That better be some meal.
posted by dhammond at 7:57 PM on November 3, 2007

I heartily endorse anyone growing their own food in an urban environment. So much arable land is locked up under cities and housing developments! It's always seemed like such a waste to have massive spreads of purely ornamental foilage - especially the ubiquitous lawn. Really, are you going to play that much croquet? Honestly.

Ahem. Tangent aside, this seems like a great use of a resource that would otherwise go to waste, and student labour aside it's nice to see something good come of the olives, too. More power to 'em.
posted by Jilder at 8:29 PM on November 3, 2007

[100-200 gallons of *olive oil*, that is. D'oh!]
posted by GrammarMoses at 8:58 PM on November 3, 2007

[100-200 gallons of *olive oil*, that is. D'oh!]

posted by DMan at 9:17 PM on November 3, 2007

I'm missing something here- have the Greeks and Italians (and Portuguese, et al) not been making olive oil for many centuries without degrees from Cal Tech? How is this anything but a practical problem that anybody can solve pretty easily? And is the pres a good cook? He needs them to process tonnes of olives to cook them A meal?

This all sounds like fun and everything, but the association with Cal Tech also makes that association sound relevant, and it's not, really.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:48 PM on November 3, 2007

Gee guys, how could we possibly turn olives into... olive oil?

Shit, this is going to be tough...
posted by blacklite at 11:38 PM on November 3, 2007

I heartily endorse anyone growing their own food in an urban environment.

I've done it. The problem is, by the time my little crop was ready, so was everybody else's and so the price my produce would have cost in the shops would have been absolutely rock bottom. The cost of seed, weedkiller, fertilizer and other stuff actually came out about equal to what I would have ended up paying for the goods in the shops. Factor in my time, and I was taking a real beating on price. Growing my own food was actually costing me a fortune.

However, I heartly endorse anyone growing weed in an urban environment. That's a cash crop that *does* make sense.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:44 AM on November 4, 2007

There are still few presses left on the Island. I bought 5 litres of oil in Can Det last week. Most tafonas though are now hotels or restaurant centre pieces. Here's a video in Spanish about Oliives and their History in Mallorca.
posted by adamvasco at 2:51 AM on November 4, 2007

If you're ever in Sparta, I recommend checking out the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil on the south edge of town. Has tons (literally) of olive oil making equipment from various stages in Greece's history and the accompanying exhibits do a great job of tracking the development and historical/economic/cultural significance of olive cultivation in Greek and human history. It's one of a whole series of Olive Oil museums scattered all over the Mediterranean, so if you're not in the Peloponnese, you might want to try one of the other locations.
posted by longdaysjourney at 5:41 AM on November 4, 2007

It's not really just about the olives. It's about everyone working together.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:36 AM on November 4, 2007

PeterMcDermott: I don't mean for sale. When I said "growing their own food", I mean food, for them, to eat, not to sell. From a sustainability perspective it's much better than isolating the production end of things from the consumption end of things. I've also grown my own food, and it sure as hell was a lot less of a strain on the environment that shipping veggies in from 100s of km from my home.

However, I also heartily endorse anyone growing their own weed. At least we can agree on that.
posted by Jilder at 6:51 AM on November 4, 2007

PeterMcDermott: check this out.

If you were trying to do it commercially I see where you're coming from-- that's why the produce at urban farmers' markets is so pricey. However, I grow all my own vegetables for the summer, and have for years, in my little 300 sq ft backyard plot. No weed killer. No fertilizer. I could probably harvest the seeds and save there too, but I usually invest about $30 in bedding plants to save labor (I don't have the indoor space to start seedlings.) Don't sell 'em, just eat 'em and give them out as gifts. I usually don't have to buy any produce from late June through late October, plus I have tomato sauce year-round, all the herbs I need, and this year so much pesto that I'm drowning in it.

I don't think Cal Tech is saying wow we're Cal Tech look what we can do- it's just a good hook. Science nerds harvesting olives. Decorative trees used as resource. It's great. The additional links really fill it out as well. Thanks for a good post.
posted by nax at 9:22 AM on November 4, 2007

Like ethnomethodologist I am more than a bit amused that something that has been done for millenia is presented to Caltech's high-flying engineering students as a challenge. But I am even more amused by the idea that they are harvesting the olives by plucking them. Unless you are very, very finicky, the way to harvest olives, especially for oil, is by shaking the branches. Plucking is really inefficient (and also riskier).
posted by Skeptic at 10:01 AM on November 4, 2007

This is ridiculous. The oil... is inside the olives?
posted by anotherbrick at 5:38 AM on November 5, 2007

If you're going to grow your own food in an urban setting, aren't we talking about the humble kitchen garden, basically? (Or, as my mom described it from time to time, a "Liberty Garden")?

If you can keep the birds, insects and rodents out of it, and you have time to do the home canning, you can get an amazing amount of pretty good vegetables out of 100 sq m of properly prepared and tended soil.

(Missing home-grown okra.... *sniff*)
posted by pax digita at 10:47 AM on November 5, 2007

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