by Michael H. Imwalle
In 1996 the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) purchased the Santa Inés Mission Mills property in Solvang, California. Former owners Harry and Ellen Knill painstakingly researched and restored the roofs of two early 19th century mill buildings as well as the associated reservoirs. While the Knills lived on the property during the early 1990s they planted seventy-eight Manzanillo variety olive trees along the perimeter of the property. Those mature trees were largely responsible for SBTHP’s first successful olive oil pressing on December 10, 2012.
In 2007 the Santa Inés Mission Mill Committee and the SBTHP Board of Directors endorsed the idea of planting olive trees on the property to interpret the mission period agricultural history of the property as well as provide an income stream to help manage the existing cultural and natural resources as well as development of a state historic park in the future. In July and August of 2007 crews and volunteers planted more than 2400 olive trees on the SBTHP property including Mission, Manzanillo, Grappolo, Lucca, and Arbequina varieties.
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After five years of irrigation challenges, several bouts of bug infestations, gophers, ground squirrels, verticillium wilt, and crop freezes we have finally produced some quality olive oil. Between December 5 and 7, 2012 SBTHP staff, board members, a crew of five pickers, and volunteers picked 3,200 pounds of olives for crushing into oil. On Saturday December 8, 2012 another 576 pounds of olives were picked by volunteers from the Elverhoj Museum’s Pick and Paint event. Santa Inés Mission Mill Park Steward Wayne Sherman is to be congratulated for coordinating the maintenance, picking, and transportation of what we hope is the first of many cash crops.
On Monday December 5, 2012 four large orchard bins weighing almost 2 tons were delivered to Figueroa Farms in Santa Ynez for crushing. Wayne watched as our olives were dumped into a hopper then up a conveyor to the processing plant. First the fruit is run through a powerful blower that removes twigs and leaves from the fruit. Next it is run through the crusher, which grinds the olives and the pits into paste. A machine called a malaxer separates the liquid (water and oil) from the olive paste then the oil is separated from the water in a centrifuge. The solid waste is returned to the olive groves for fertilizer and the oil is pumped into barrels for transportation and storage.
Wayne and I returned to Figueroa Farms the following day to pick up our oil. We were ecstatic to find out that our 3,776 pounds of olives yielded 67.1 gallons of olive oil. I delivered the oil to the Olivos del Mar packing facility where SBTHP Director Craig Makela will be bottling the oil. I am happy to announce that SBTHP will be selling .375 liter bottles of Santa Inés Mission Mill olive oil very soon. As soon as the oil has had a few weeks to settle, the oil will be available for purchase the El Presidio de Santa Barbara SHP gift shop, the SBTHP website, and on the California State Parks Foundation website. Stay tuned for the announcement about the sale and thanks to all the staff and volunteers that made this possible! For more photos from all stages of picking and procession the lives, visit our Flickr page.
Michael Imwalle is the archaeologist at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. Mike generously shared the first bottle of oil at the SBTHP docent potluck on December 12, 2012.