April 2020: The story of a grove
Greetings from Fat Gold!
If you subscribe to our olive oil, you learned some big news from your latest shipment. Now, we'd like to share that news with everyone, because it's important to the future of Fat Gold, and because we think it might say some things about farming and business, too.
As an added bonus, this news is NOT pandemic related.
First, though, we want to tell you it’s now possible to buy individual tins of Fat Gold directly from us, shipped anywhere in the U.S. We always thought we’d get around to offering this, and now that so many of us are stuck at home—and cooking more?—we decided to get organized.
Here’s a link to our shop:
This is NOT the same olive oil our subscribers receive, which is unique to every shipment and not available any other way. Rather, these oils are Kathryn's special blends for restaurant chefs and store shelves. Behold:
There’s our bold Gold Label and our fruity Blue Label, the latter only available in… let’s see… two retail stores in the whole world? So, this is a pretty special offering.
In case it’s not clear: we are still operating over here! We’re sending cases of oil to grocery stores and corner markets—the places keeping us all going right now—and preparing for our next shipment to subscribers in June.
Now, for the news, which is really: the story of a grove.
This is a story that has a beginning, a middle, and now, an end.
The story began when Kathryn visited the olive grove established by D’Aun Goble in Sunol, California, which is about halfway between Oakland and San Jose. Three acres, 327 trees, spaced wide; it was one of the most beautiful groves Kathryn had ever seen, and shortly after that visit, she learned that D’Aun was interested in leasing it to someone who could manage the trees and make use of the fruit.
That unexpected opportunity led directly to Fat Gold. Kathryn had, at that point, been an olive miller for several years, and she was interested in learning more about the farming side of the equation, but neither of us imagined establishing a grove; we couldn’t (and certainly still can’t!) afford to buy land in California. So, this was a unique opportunity. The grove was healthy and beautiful; it was available to lease, not buy; and it was a 40-minute drive from our front door in Oakland.
Here’s how the grove looks to a visitor:
And here’s how it looks to a farmer 😉
Now, after three growing seasons, hundreds of 40-minute drives, and about a dozen tons of olives, we’re giving up our lease.
The reason is simple: it’s too expensive. After our most recent harvest, Kathryn ran the numbers and discovered that, of all the olives we milled, the cost per ton was highest for the olives from Sunol. Keep in mind: these are the olives we farm ourselves. They ought to be the cheapest! But the fixed cost of the lease, on top of all the other inputs, not to mention the price we pay for harvest and transportation, made them our most premium purchase.
We were heartbroken to give up the lease, most of all because we truly loved that grove. It took a lot of our time, and we didn’t “pay ourselves” for any of it, but it was time we enjoyed, out there in the sunshine (sometimes, the mud), pruning and mulching and watering. Eyeing ground squirrels suspiciously. Watching blossoms yield to buds and then tiny olives.
Also: we really, really wanted to prove you can grow and produce olive oil without being independently wealthy. Should olive groves really be the exclusive domain of California’s "landed gentry"?
A leaner approach has become more possible in the world of wine—many of the most exciting winemakers in California right now are doing the work without owning the vines—and it seemed like the same might be true for olive farming. But, the economics beat us… for now.
However, there’s good news in all of this.
As we’ve mentioned before, the Fat Gold grove did not produce any olives in 2018. As a result, we had to hit the road, sourcing olives from other growers across California and milling them to Kathryn’s exacting standard.
That ended up being an amazing experience. We drove from Bakersfield to Capay Valley, meeting new friends, making oil from new varieties of olives. Some of those oils became our favorites—and yours, too! (We’ve heard from many Fat Gold subscribers who have discovered they love picual and hojiblanca olive oil.)
So, we’re going all-in on sourcing great olives. In the world of wine, this is the role of the négociant: the winemaker who finds great grapes and uses them to make wine under their own label. We’ll now be able to take all the resources were were plowing into the grove—not inconsiderable—and use them to pay olive farmers generously for their fruit and picking crews fairly for their labor. That feels good.
We don’t know what the 2020 harvest will look like; no one does, yet! But we are ready to tackle the challenge and produce another big batch of extra virgin olive oil, more diverse and delicious than ever before.
In the meantime, your Fat Gold is waiting. Our subscriptions are open, and so, for the first time, is our online shop.
Thanks for following along,
–Robin and Kathryn