The Sicilian-style olives that are processed in our Oroville, CA facility, are cured, prepared and packed with nearly zero impact on the local environment, utilizing a surprisingly low volume of water and chemicals. A combination of factors has allowed us to minimize our water usage, which has also enabled us to completely forego any discharge into the local community sewer system.
For those new to olives, a Sicilian cure is one in which the olives (Sevillano variety only) are delivered to our facility during the normal harvest period of mid-September to the end of October— possibly into November for some seasons. They are immediately graded by size, and then transferred to our storage and processing tanks to go through a lactic acid fermentation process (requiring a minimum of 12 months). We minimize the environmental impact of our raw product transportation, by providing trucking, at our expense, which allows us to accumulate full semi-truckloads in the growing areas for delivery to the plant on a timely basis. It should also be noted that approximately 90% of our growers use drip irrigation and/or micro-sprinklers, which greatly reduces their water needs.
The curing process itself follows a time-honored tradition of adding small amounts of salt, lactic and acetic acids to water to create the storage brine. The brine is adjusted periodically, based on chemical analysis, to ensure proper fermentation benchmarks are being met. The beauty of the Sicilian process is that the storage brine then becomes the processing brine, which in turn, becomes known as the “mother brine” and is shipped with the olives to our production facility in Pennsylvania. Of course, there is an excess amount of brine related to cushioning and headspace requirements, which amounts to about 25% of the total brine volume. This relatively small amount is captured and disposed of in a very unique way, when compared to historical norms in the industry.
As many people are aware, the state of California has become an extremely difficult place to do business, due to very restrictive and onerous environmental regulations. As a result of changes we have made to our handling and product preparation,we have successfully reduced our water usage by almost 90%. This reduction, along with significant investments in storage and infrastructure expansion and improvements, means we no longer require the services of the local public utilities or sewer commission for any waste-water discharge.
Major reductions have been realized in the pitter area by converting the ejection and clean-out functions from water to air. Virtually all of our sanitation is accomplished using high-pressure/low-volume cleaning wands. Water conservation is stressed to every employee on a regular basis, making our facility a worthy philosophical counterpart to the planet Dune, of science fiction fame, for its treatment of water as liquid gold.
Our normal water usage is typically in the 1,000 to 3,000 gallon per day range (next to nothing compared to old processing). As opposed to discharging any of this through conventional methods, we have saved many of our old, out-of-use, processing and storage tanks for the purpose of ambient evaporation on our existing plant site. When we purchased new storage tanks, instead of having to dispose of the old, black, “poly” construction containers, we simply increased our containment areas to allow for their repurpose as evaporation tanks. We have sufficient capacity for our current needs and have identified additional tanks for the same purpose, following our next storage yard expansion, for future growth. This ambient evaporation process makes us unique in the entire industry.
Additional “green” objectives are met by accumulating the leaves and trash during the harvest season for use as composting material. Our pits and cull fruit are accumulated and saved for transporting to co-generation plants for fuel in generating electricity. All of the by-products that may accumulate after evaporation is suitable and approved for use as an additive for livestock feed—although the solids in question take years to build up. This makes our operation as close to non-polluting in every sense of the word, as any olive manufacturing company in the world.
To put the frosting on the cake, we have hillsides of wildflowers and natural grasses growing in our loading dock and waste-water evaporation areas. There is also a “mini-park” just outside our office and employee break area, as well as a variety of flowers and plants growing in planters (repurposed 55 gallon drums) scattered throughout and around our entire facility. In short, it doesn’t get any better than this if you are looking for responsible stewards of the environment to meet your specialty olive needs.
By: George Hoag Director Operations California Olive Plant