Olive trees are some of the oldest trees ever harvested by humans, a practice that dates back more than 8,000 years. The trees grow slowly and require meticulous cultivation; in exchange for that intensive investment, their longevity rewards many generations. They live long, long lives—some for as much as a millennium.
There are three main ways of harvesting olives from their trees: hand-harvesting, industrial harvesting, and harvesting from super-high-density planting. We’ll start with hand-harvesting, as this is the ancient method that’s been done for generations and generations. All of Gaea’s olive oil comes from hand-harvested olives. Hand-harvesting means exactly what it sounds like—our farmers pluck the olives from the trees when they’ve reached their perfect ripeness with their own two hands. Sometimes they may use wooden combs or a mechanical arm extension to reach the olives on the upper branches. These mechanical arms have something like “long fingers” attached on one end that detach the olives from the branches. Either way it’s a physically demanding job that means getting down on hands and knees, sorting the good olives, getting rid of any defective or damaged olives and rooting out twigs and debris.
Gaea works with growers from family farms who take enormous pride in their work. Harvesting by hand means they get extremely up close and personal with the fruits that will become Gaea olives and oil. They painstakingly select only the best.
Contrastingly, industrial producers use machines to “pick” their olives. What the machines really do is to shake the trunk so that the fruit falls from the branches and catch the olives in a net. It’s a much more efficient method (a tree can be harvested in less than sixty seconds!), but the cost is quality. These machines have none of the finesse of farmers. Whole branches can fall into the olives, along with bugs and other unwelcome detritus—sometimes even the trunk can get damaged. Olives may get banged up and bruised. The fruits languish in piles for long stretches before heading into the mill to be pressed. At Gaea, our olives are crushed within 24 hours. All of these details make a huge difference.
The newest method, popular in California and Australia, is something called super-high-density planting. Scientists have created dwarf versions of olive trees, which get packed into hedgerows and pruned so that the olives grow close to the central trunk. These dwarf trees are created so they are easy to plant close together—they grow between 1,000 and 2,000 trees per hectare (or 2.5 acres), which is a giant number of trees in a small space. They are harvested with equipment that combs the olives from the trees and places them on a sort of conveyer belt. Super-high-density harvests are almost entirely mechanized.
At Gaea, we believe that there’s a reason olive trees have been cultivated by hand for countless generations. We work with hundreds of family farmers, many who tend groves that have been nurtured for hundreds of years. The tradition, people, history, community and love are evident in the final product. There’s a reason our olive oils win so many awards and taste so delicious.
Gaea Olives are always sourced from small farms, hand-picked and crushed the very same day; never factory-farmed or massed produced like so many olive oils on the grocery store shelves. Our attention to detail, starting with the careful picking of each individual olive, means our oils are extraordinarily healthy and exquisite.