By Rachel Levin, Sunset associate travel editor
“Have you been sprayed for the olive fly?” asks Chris Banthien of Valencia Creek Farms, the Santa Cruz-based olive grower we’ve asked to help guide inexperienced-us through the olive oil making process.
“Mm, dunno,” I reply. “The olive fly?”
Here we are, happily surrounded by Sunset’s 21 olive trees, thinking all we have to do is wait patiently for just the right time to start picking… But two minutes into my first conversation with our new mentor and I realize there’s a lot we don’t know.
“Yep, the olive fly,” replies the veteran farmer who’s awaiting her seventh harvest from the 2,000 Northern Italian olive trees she planted a decade ago on her own 20-acre property. “They deposit their eggs into the fruit; turns into larvae. They eat their way out; they’re maggots.”
“Yeah, it can be a real problem at pressing time. Especially here in California,” says Banthien, who along with business partner, Bruce Golino, sells Valencia Creek’s extra-virgin olive oil, Olio delle Colline di Santa Cruz (pictured), at farmers markets around Santa Cruz County.
I highly doubt our olive trees have ever been sprayed. Why would they have? As far as I know, no one at Sunset has ever plucked an olive from our trees before! The evil olive fly. Our trees, although pretty, are no good? It can’t be!
First, though, I put a frantic call into Rick LaFrentz, Sunset’s head gardener. “Nope, we don’t spray anything on anything,” he says laughing. “It’s okay, a little organic stuff never hurt anybody.”
Well, if Rick’s not worried, then, umm, neither are we… Onward Team Olive!