The annual Big Valley, Small Farm Tour will be held on September 19th. In preparation, The Bloom is writing articles on some of the farms that will be participating. For more information on the tour, please visit their Facebook page.
The sun blazes overhead, searing my skin. It’s August in Lake County, and the olive trees soak it up. Lianne and Richard Campodonico of Campodonico Olive Oil walk next to me, well covered from the bright yellow glare of the sky.
“They’re more like bushes than trees,” Rich says, looking down the row of various-sized olive trees. “Look at that one!” He points towards a fifteen-foot-tall shrub of an olive.
“We planted them in blocks,” he continues. One quarter, the first year, one quarter the second year. Then we had a hard winter that killed 40% of the trees.” He shows me a tree springing out of a broken stump. “Several of them grew back, like this one, but we had to get more.”
“We bought the trees 100 at a time, kept them in our home in Piedmont, and hauled them up when there was no frost,” Lianne explains. “All of those took.”
The sun doesn’t relent, so we move to the shade of an olive tree to continue our conversation.
“It started when we won a vacation in Tuscany at a charity auction,” Lianne begins. “We spent a week there, and saw all of these small, cooperative olive farms.”
“I thought to myself, I can do this,” Rich adds. “So when we got back, we started looking for a place. We looked all over California, and chose Lake County because of the affordability and the proximity to the Bay Area.” He pauses. “And it’s beautiful here.”
Lianne nods in agreement. “We bought these sixteen acres, and planned on putting nine and a half acres of olive trees on it.” Her short hair hides under her wide-brimmed hat.
“The first things we did was buy a Kubota tractor,” Rich smiles, “And had the barn built. We had Sarah Willmer, an architect from San Francisco design it.”
We walk over to the barn, happy for the shade. The barn exemplifies Willmer’s style, with corrugated tin and pallet-like doors. Along the wall hang several long sticks, with a motor on one end and ten-inch fingers on the other, like a strange mechanical Edward Scissorhands.
“This is how we harvest our olives,” Rich explains, showing me how the fingers pull the olives from the trees. “Every year during harvest, we have over sixty people come and help. People camp by the house and bring their RVs.”
“It’s like a family reunion,” Lianne adds.
“I tell them that they get a dinner with a day’s work,” Rich smiles. “We usually harvest on November 1st, and it’s at the mill by the 4th. We copied how they do it at McEvoy ranch, and use the same varietals as they do.” Rich pauses, thinking of the varieties. “There’s Frantoio, Leccino, Moraiolo, and our pollinators, Pendolino, and Maurino. The blend of olives creates a balanced flavor profile.”
“Green olives tend to be more peppery,” Lianne explains, “And dark olives are milder.”
I look at the olives hanging on the tree, still bright green and speckled, soaking in the summer. In a few months, the weather will cool, bringing crisp nights and it will be time to harvest.