93. Olive Garden

So I did it, and I’ll do it again tomorrow. And the next day, too, and the one after that, weather permitting.

Along with our leader, Tonio Creanza, and our band of six Workaway volunteers (chosen from 65 applicants) hailing from the U.S., France, Canada and Switzerland, Ben and I helped harvest olives from branches of nearly twenty trees, from the 700 that Tonio’s family has cultivated for generations near the small city of Altamura in Puglia.

We knew nothing whatsoever about what this would entail, but we were committed to Tonio’s vision of championing all aspects of the culture of this region. We suspected, however, that we would be 30-40 years older than the other volunteers, which turned out to be mostly true. But so what? Our only hope was that we could make a contribution, help a bit, and not hold anyone back.

When we arrived at the orchard, I was handed a small hand rake, and shown how to rake the “low hanging fruit” from the lower branches, while the others used vibrating electric rakes above. When we completed a tree, we would dump the olives that had collected on a net below into a plastic crate, from which someone would remove the extra sticks and leaves that had gotten mixed in. Then we would move on to the next tree. Simple, right?

Well, yes and no. Simple for an hour; for ten, not so much. Thankfully, everyone’s spirits were high, the other volunteers who had been at it for a week and were veterans at this point were patient in telling us what to do, and we could see concrete progress as we worked along.And then there was lunch. In typical Creanza fashion, once the lunch break was called, a beautiful picnic — consisting of an escarole, egg and bread dish; fresh olives picked a few days before; Altamura bread (considered the best in Italy); mandarins, and a carafe of espresso — was served on real china. To an American, that’s beyond shocking. But an Italian wouldn’t have it any other way.

6 thoughts on “93. Olive Garden

  1. Surprised the olives look black; don’t they get picked green? Do they cure on the trees? They’re edible fresh? More details, pls!


    1. Tonio told us that all olives are black when completely ripe, but that it’s best to pick them before that. They’re not edible off the tree–they have to be cured. The trees, though, are a beautiful array of olive colors, ranging from pale green and pink to deep purple.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. What a wonderful (if taxing) adventure. I love your title, too. I must admit, I thought you were going to report an episode of slumming!


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