Saturday, July 24, 2010

Oregon Olive Oil Update

Ran out to Belle Ragazze farm last weekend for some more olive oil and had a chat with Hank, owner of Belle Ragazze.  If you read my last post on oregon olive oil, you may remember that last December we had a cold snap that really put this year's crops in jeopardy.  Now that it's the prime growing season of the year, I was curious how the Oregon oil orchards are fairing. 

I met Hank at his farm and asked him how the farm fared.

Not so great.

To see if the trees are still alive, you take a knife and make a small cut in the bark and look for green.  You start up higher, then move down the trunk until you find green inside.  If there is none, the tree is dead.  Hank said he found green at the ground level in only about 25%-30% of his trees.  This means the tree had died, but the roots had survived. 

Basically, Hank is starting from zero...again.

He said he'd heard reports from the other farms that almost everyone lost their entire plantings from last year.  Those that did have survivors have no idea why those particular trees survived.  Hank plants 3 different types of olive trees, and it was not always the most "cold resistant" breeds that survived. 

"Really, it was just random," he told me. "Some trees rooted better than others."  That's about it.

Basically, the Oregon olive oil industry is starting from zero...again.

I have to hand it to the farmers who continue to put their hearts into such a risky venture.  I can't image the disappointment these guys and their families must have felt. 

"I knew the risks when we started this," Hank says with a patient smile. 

We also talked about the goal of this whole venture and why it is even worth trying.  In the end, everyone wants a high quality local Oregon olive oil industry.  The types of trees that almost everyone is growing are the same cold-resistant ones that are grown in northern Itally, where some of the best olive oil in the world is produced.  If Mother Nature gives the trees get a chance to mature, the quality of oil produced should be outstanding.  This will be a boon for the ever-growing locavor restaurant niche in Portland, as well as all of us who are trying to get as much as we can from local sources. 

But for now, it is hard times.  The constant replanting and tending is expensive.  Attrition is sure to become a determining factor over the next couple years.  Let's hope for the best.

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