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  • Writer's pictureKathy Condon

Harvesting Olives at Sunnylands

Updated: Sep 16, 2019

Olives at Sunnylands once they were shaken off the tree and on to nets

Many of us had the privilege of going to the Educational Center at Sunnylands on the 200 acres Annenberg Estate in Rancho Mirage. Behind the Pink Wall, we may have taken the garden tour and scored the scarce tickets for viewing the inside of the 2500 square feet house. It was the center of social scene in Coachella Valley when the Annenberg’s were alive.

The house is now used as a meeting place for world leaders and a gathering place for think tanks on world issues and is self-supported through the Annenberg Foundation.

Yet, up until now, the private golf course remained off-limits. Then there was the announcement, 200 total volunteers were needed over two days to help harvest the olives from the trees which line the private course. Access would be through a gate that would be opened only for us.

Entering the Gate and Team Assignment

We brought with us papers granting photo rights, and proof we were one of the privileged few to be registered. We arrived at the gate full of anticipation of what lies ahead for this unusual adventure.

Our cars were parked along an idyllic pond covered with water lilies. We received our nametags and colored coded wristband to identify team placement.

Then we were whisked off across the fairways on golf carts to our assigned team.

Golf Carts Transport for Sunnylands Olive Harvest

Meanwhile, we appreciated the crisp desert morning air, the majestic view, and watched as the clouds danced on the distant mountains.

The Annenberg’s planted 600 olive trees on the estate for their beauty. However, they were sprayed, so they did not produce olives. Realizing the spraying was detrimental to the trees in the long term, caretakers decided to let the trees bear fruit. So this year, with its abundance of olives, provided an opportunity for the estate to offer an educational experience.

The Process

A cherry picker is used to lift a person high into the tree. Once positioned, using a tool that has prongs on it is slipped in among the leaves. It literally shakes the olives off the trees into the waiting nets place strategically around the tree.

Then with a blower, excess debris is blown off the olives. The volunteers found their spot on the ground next to a pile of olives. Then they proceed to pick off still attached stems and put the olives into five-gallon buckets.

Temecula Olive Oil Company pressing olives harvested.

The pails of olives are then transported to a mobile olive pressing trailer. The oil goes into a stainless steel tank. Olives used are at all different levels of ripeness, so both green and ripe olives are treated equally. The pulp goes into giant tubs and looks like thick mud. Some of us took home some olive pulp and treated ourselves to a facial. Very cooling and refreshing.

The Final Product

The olive oil is taken to the Temecula Olive Oil Company, about 75 miles from Palm Springs. The olive oil will be bottled and receive a Sunnylands label. It is anticipated it will be for sale in the Sunnylands gift shop in November.

Rest and Celebration

Once our half-day adventure came to a close, we were invited to a delicious organic lunch, complete with bamboo utensils and cookies made with olive oil. We were delighted to be given a little cup to taste the olive oil from the olives we had just help harvest to taste.

Kathy Condon enjoying Olive Harvest luncheon for volunteers.

Once we were ready to leave, we were handed a great Sunnylands apron. We found our chariot, well golf carts, and were taken back to our cars. By now, the temperatures had risen. The gentle breeze was welcomed. During the ride back, we had still another opportunity to be witness to even more acreage of this vast estate.

Next Year?

It is anticipated volunteers will have the opportunity to have this terrific adventure next year. I would advise you to sign up for Sunnylands newsletter, Behind the Pink Wall. Then you will be the first to receive notification of not only this fabulous experience but many other experiences they offer through the course of the year.

Kathy Condon is a Palm Springs freelance travel writer and blogger. She is the Founder of the Palm Springs Insider Guide Her book It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask: It’s All About Communication was named Best Book Finalist By USA Book News 760-902-3094

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