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11/15/2012 09:11:13

Bottling Liquid Gold

Caltech Olive Harvest Festival to be held Friday

If you happen to see groups of people perched in the trees along Caltech's famed Olive Walk and Beckman Mall on Friday, whacking at the branches with rakes and PVC pipes—rest assured there's nothing unusual going on. They are participants in this year's Olive Harvest Festival, just trying to gather as many pounds of olives as possible in a day's time.

Friday's event, the fourth festival of its kind, kicks off at 8:30 a.m. and runs until 2:30 p.m., bringing together students, faculty, staff, and Caltech community members. The day's activities include the olive harvest—where undergraduate- and graduate-student teams compete to pick the most olives—as well as olive-oil tasting and olive-products sampling, a Mediterranean-themed lunch available for purchase, and student games (olive-related, of course, such as a tug-of-war with an olive-oil-coated rope).

"It's a good way to share a lot of community without spending a lot of money," says Tom Mannion, Caltech's senior director of student activities and programs.

The festival will wrap up with a raffle drawing and prize giveaway and the announcement of the student competition winners. Winners at the undergrad and graduate levels will be determined not only by the weight of their crops, but also by their degree of participation and spirit.

Caltech president Jean-Lou Chameau and first lady Carol Carmichael will host an upcoming lunch for the undergraduate house that picks the most olives per resident, and Mannion will prepare a gourmet feast for the winning graduate team. Drs. Chameau and Carmichael are passionate about the campus's olive trees and have been strong supporters of the harvest since its inception in 2007.

Olives picked tomorrow during the festival will be shipped to Regalo Extra Virgin Olive Oil Inc., a nonprofit organization, for pressing, and the resulting oil will be processed and bottled by the Santa Barbara Olive Company. Depending on the harvest, anywhere from 50 to 150 gallons of oil will be produced. Previous years have yielded as much as 6,000 pounds of olives and 127 gallons of oil.

Caltech olive oil will be available for sale at the Caltech Bookstore in about a month—just in time for the holidays—and proceeds from the sales will benefit the student activities fund. For more information on the Olive Harvest Festival, please visit

Written by Andrew Allan