Many events had to align to bring us to Fourka where we spent 2.5 days trying to learn the ways of the Greeks by picking olives. Greek people consume on average 24 L of olive oil a year so to understand the process of how it is made means we are one step closer to understanding the country and its people.
Rigas, our host, grew up in Thessaloniki but currently lives in Amsterdam from where he makes a trip (for olive picking purposes) every two years back home and usually brings a few friends along for the ride. For the past two rounds of picking, he has created a couch surfing event and invited strangers to join in the fun. The price: some manual labour for a few days, the reward: knowledge of how olives are harvested and processed, accommodation and food, take away olive oil at the end, and some great company throughout.
All in all there were 10 of us.
Rigas, Adri, Marko and Ronald from Amsterdam; Villy (Rigas’s sister), Talia (Rigas’s mother), Dimitri (Rigas’s brother – currently lives in Munich), Lassaros (a friend from school/near Thessaloniki, and Greg and I. We were quite the eclectic bunch.
Arriving on Friday morning we were whisked off directly to one of their two fields – apparently the less productive one- where we were put to work.
A short summary of the steps of olive picking:
1. Clear all bushes, weeds and general grub from under the olive tree;
2. Lay down large plastic tarps to cover the ground beneath and around the tree;
3. Using long sticks, start hitting the lower lying branches of the trees – this will cause the olives to fall to the ground;
4. Cut down the higher branches using a saw or chainsaw (this was done by an Albanian worker who was probably more efficient than the rest of us combined..);
5. Comb the olives off of the branches that have been cut. This essentially feels like you are a tree hairdresser and someone with really knotted hair has come in. You can also complete this step by hitting the branches with sticks which is faster but produces more twigs and branches in the olive mix and makes step 7 less fun;
6. Collect by dragging each tarp onto one central tarp and combining the olives into one large pile;
7. Quality Control – here is where the large sticks, any rocks or unwanted matter is removed from the piles. Depending on how much time you want to waste this step could go on forever. In the end most of the leaves and small branches get taken out in the processing plant so the focus is on removing only the large objects;
8. Bag the olives in large potato sack bags and tie them with string (or in our case improvise with vines if you happen to run out); and
9. Collect the bags on the tractor that comes from the factory and ship them off for processing. Greg and I got to ride on the tractor with our 42 bags of olives which was a highlight at the end of our last day picking.
Another memorable part of the whole experience was actually getting to see our olives being processed. In Canada I am not sure it would have been possible as I assume the inside of the factory would be closed to all non workers. In Fourka however it is a different matter. At the factory there seem to be people milling about everywhere, unloading olives, carrying full barrels of oil, watching as the olives get dispensed via hopper onto the loading belt etc. We were able to watch the whole process and wander through the factory looking at the different cleaning machines, separators and distillers until our oil came pouring out.
The whole process took about 1.5 hrs.
In total we picked 42 bags: 1600 kg of olives which produced 175 kg of oil.
The whole experience was accented by the unbelievably delicious food we ate the whole time (thanks to Rigas’s mother!), laughter filled games such as telephone dictionary and Palermo (a.k.a mafia) and the enjoyment of meeting a new group of people all from such different walks of life.
I don’t think I would drop everything and become a professional olive picker .. it’s a lot of work, but I will definitely remember this experience as something completely unique and thanks Rigas and his family for allowing us the opportunity to tag along!
She went to the olive field by walking and found out that a kitten was dying from cholera or appendicitis and eventually started crying because none of it made it to achieve levels of sickness worthy of higher meditation however she refused death from grief, amen.
– Olive picking team 2012