Did Someone Say Olive Oil?

By Francesca – 4th Year Student

My name is Francesca and I am a Canadian student doing an internship at Boundary Bend Olives in Woodland California. I am in my fourth year of my undergraduate degree at Quest University Canada in Squamish British Columbia. Quest is a super interesting school for numerous reasons, but some of the main ones that attracted me to it are that it is not for profit, you graduate with your liberal Arts and Sciences degree, you design your own major and we operate on the block program. I love this model because you get to do both Arts and Sciences and so when you design your major your can include as much or as little of one of the other as you please. The way we design our majors is by posing a question in our second year after taking numerous foundation classes, and then spending our final 2 years exploring that question.

So that brings me to the question that I posed, and the real reason I am in California in the first place. My Question is: What is the nature of olive oil? I designed this question so that I could study everything from geology, biochemistry, organic chemistry, nutrition, marketing, Greek and Roman classics, history, and even languages like Italian and Spanish. Plus I had just finished a summer of working at an olive oil tasting bar in my hometown, and had fallen even more in love with a substance that had always played a big role in my cooking and home remedies. Olive oil became my very specific lens that I used to look at a plethora of interesting classes and subjects, trying to get to know every angle that went into the olive and then the oil. I have taken classes that have taken me on a road trip from Denver to San Francisco and back up through the Great Valley and back to Canada, all the way across the world to Athens, Mykonos, Delphi and Crete, the birth place of Olea Europea, and even classes where I have dug deep into the core of olive oil and discovered the chemistry of the molecules that really makes a great olive oil stand out amongst its peers.

Now that brings me to the last piece of the puzzle. The only thing I cannot do from Canada is actually grow an olive tree and watch its olives ripen. Our winters are too harsh and even though we have an ideal climate during the summer, hot and dry with enough irrigation to go around, the trees just cannot withstand the cold. That is of course with the exception of a couple micro farms on the West Coast that have managed to grow trees large enough to produce a small harvest, but that isn’t really what I wanted to explore. And, as you can imagine, the whole getting from fruit to table is one of the most important parts to any food product. And so I decided that that is what I had to do, I had to find a way to get into the olive groves and to be around for harvest, to really get the inside scoop on the oil making process. So that finally brings me to my internship.

Something else that we do as part of our graduation requirements at Quest is an Experiential Learning block. This is essentially a chance for the students to get out in the work force of the area that we are studying in to see how they like it and to establish valuable connections for post graduation. During my class trip across the Western States, my professor and mentor actually planned a day where we got to go into an olive grove during harvest and then we actually got to go to a mill where they were making fresh oil that we all got to sample. This instilled the California olive bug inside of me. And so, after many emails and cold calls I finally managed to get in contact with a company, Boundary Bend Olives whose brand name is Cobram Estate, who asked me a bunch of questions and ended the interview with, “How quickly can you begin?”, to which I responded with, “As soon as I get a Visa”. Three weeks later, here I am in California, thanks to incredibly quick and efficient staff at both J1-Visa Exchanges and at Cobram Estate.

Now I get to spend the next three months essentially living my dream, in the groves sampling olives every morning, meeting local growers, spending time working in the lab alongside a real-deal olive oil chemist, learning about the business structure that goes into making the oil, and the marketing that goes into getting it off the shelves. I was always taught that a good handshake is the backbone of any business deal, and being down here interacting with people that are farmers first and businessmen second has showed my how deeply true that statement is. I get to experience the agriculture business from a small town that is bursting with enough food to feed the States (and Canada for that matter). Literally everywhere I look I am surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of produce that is going all over the place to feed the world. And if you look hard enough into any horizon, an olive grove is never far off.

Before my time here is done I will have gotten to go into more olive groves than I care to count, sampled, processed and tested countless olives, hung out in the groves overnight for our pre harvest parties, been around for the harvest planning, seen the mill work around the clock 24/7 during harvest season itself, and, most importantly, I will get to watch first hand as the oil is slowing draw out of the olive paste and then poured of into bottles. My internship is the most multidimensional learning experience I could have ever imagined and it fits in perfectly with both the Quest mindset, and also my own personal goals of learning as much as I can about this truly fantastic industry.

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