Sacred Heart Schools unique urban olive orchard yields vintage oil that’s sold at holiday boutique
Since 1898, more than 50 heirloom olive trees have lined the western edge of Sacred Heart Schools’ campus along Elena Avenue in Atherton. In the early part of the 20th century nuns tended the trees and harvested the olives, but as time went on, the trees became less of an agricultural crop and more of a just another part of the campus landscape.
The result: Every November the plump olives ended up on the ground, got smashed and were tracked into the classrooms, often leaving behind a mess. But thanks to a group of parents, that’s no longer the case. “I remember driving on campus to pick up my son and wondering why we weren’t using the olives,” said Nancy Sallaberry, a former SHS parent.
Nancy and husband Paul (pictured below) just happened to know something about olive harvesting and producing. Realizing that there was much to be learned and gained from the olive trees on campus, Paul teamed up with another parent, Stewart Slafter. Since 2008, they’ve helped spearhead a weekend of olive picking and crushing in mid-November. The resulting oil is then bottled on campus and sold as a fundraiser for the high school’s athletic Boosters’ Club at the SHS holiday boutique, which will be held this year Dec. 5-7. [Note: there was no harvest last year due to weather.]
“The trees on campus produce about 2,000 pounds of olives a year, which translates into about 400 bottles,” explained Paul. “This year we may be closer to 2,400 pounds and 500 bottles.
“The quality of the oil is excellent, and the demand has always been high. But what’s really great about the event is that it evolves the entire school community — students, parents and alums are get involved, and not just with the harvesting. Art students design the label. It’s a unique program, particularly for an urban school.”
This year’s harvest featured a mobile olive press — Olive to Bottle — (pictured right) and the participation of Dan Flynn, Executive Director of the UC Davis Olive Center, who talked about the important characteristics of quality olive oil and what impacts the taste. SHS chef Michael Schley was also on hand to do some cooking demonstrations.
Photos by Frances Freyberg