Collaboration offers real world experience

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An olive tree grove and grape vines share land on the Winters FFA working farm. The FFA and Ciarlo Fruit & Nut are collaborating to bottle the olive oil. (Aaron Geerts/Winters Express)

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A collaboration between the Winters FFA and Ciarlo Fruit and Nut has sprouted alongside the ag site working farm’s olive crop this year. Through it, not only was the resulting olive oil — generously milled by Capay Valley Ranches — bottled, but the Winters FFA is now a step closer towards its retail goals.

The collaboration itself occurred — like many good things — completely by chance. One day in November, Chris Calvert, co-owner of Ciarlo Fruit and Nut, received a text from his friend Jiley Romney asking if he had any spare barrels to store olive oil. Although Calvert didn’t know who they were for, he agreed, and none other than Winters High School ag teacher Donnie Whitworth came out to pick them up.

“Donnie said they had about 2,800 pounds of olives and I told him he’s got about 60 gallons of oil coming his way. We got to talking and he said he didn’t really know what to do with all the oil, thinking they’d just put it in mason jars and give it away,” Calvert said, talking about endowing some entrepreneurial influence. “I said ‘no, you got to round up all those students that harvested the olives and figure out how to put together a company so that in the long term every year you can harvest olives and sell olive oil with an FFA label on it.’”

Calvert also helped get the olive oil sent into an ag bio-lab to pass chemical standards. Subsequently, the olive oil went to an applied sensory tasting panel and came back as ‘extra virgin.’ Calvert took part helping the WHS students bottle their olive oil in a field trip to the Bullfrog Bee’s & Pure Honey facility — the facility where Ciarlo Fruit & Nut is able to legally bottle their own olive oil.

“The kids went out there and had a great time learning how to use the bottler. This last Friday, we bottled 65 cases of 250 milliliter bottles,” said Calvert. “The FFA won’t sell it all, they’ll give some away in various events and fundraisers, but retail that’s over $10,000 worth of olive oil.”

For Whitworth, the payoff wasn’t so much the finished product in the bottle, but the effort and time the students put into the process and the lessons they learned from it.

“The students were a little skeptical when I was talking to them about going out and harvesting olives by hand in November, but for them to see their finished product that they had a hand in producing is really rewarding,” said Whitworth. “They really enjoyed the bottling experience too. There were lots of smiles, laughing but they stayed on task.”

To Calvert and his wife — both career educators — this is a big opportunity for students to learn how to run and maintain a business. Calvert was also keen on continuing the collaboration so new students can be afforded the same opportunity every school year.

“We’re going to continue working with them (Winters FFA). We’ll do the bottling, provide advice and keep them going,” said Calvert. “It’s going to change every year because they’ll have a new crop of students in there and will need continuity. I’m also very impressed with Donnie Whitworth getting this set up for the students.”

While students have their own goals in mind for their farm’s success, Calvert has his eye on submitting the high school’s olive oil in the state fair and winning a Golden Bear.

Prize or no prize, this olive oil collaboration with the Winters FFA and Ciarlo Fruit & Nut is already yielding knowledge, know-how and fun for students partaking in it.

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