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UA Olives Become Oil for All

UA students and community volunteers work together to harvest olives from the UA Campus Arboretum’s historic olive trees to press into olive oil at Queen Creek Olive Mill.

December 5, 2014

Written by Ryan Lee, Victoria Scaven, Haley Anderson, Alyssa Los, and Ashley Hodes. Photography by Ryan Lee, Ashley Hodes, and Michael Bernal. 

Linking Edible Arizona Forests on the UA campus (UA LEAF), a university Green Fund project that gets the community involved with planting, conserving, and using edible trees in Arizona. Last month, UA students and community volunteers came together to harvest olives from the UA Campus Arboretum’s historic olive trees to press into olive oil at Queen Creek Olive Mill.


Photography by Michael Bernal

Ryan Lee, the graduate coordinator for UA LEAF, instructs volunteers on how to harvest olives from UA’s historic olive trees. The harvest, funded by the UA Green Fund, is a partnership between UA LEAF, the Department of Soil, Water, Environmental Sciences, UA Facilities Management, the UA Campus Arboretum, and Iskashitaa Refugee Network.


Photography by Michael Bernal

The ideal ratio for milling olives into oil is 60 percent black and 40 percent green olives. Campus olive trees are monitored weekly in order to identify when to time the harvest. Veteran’s Day has proven to be a day well-timed with this ratio. Queen Creek Olive Mill balances out UA olives with their own olives in order to achieve the perfect blend.


Photography by Ashley Hodes

Young and old volunteer to assist with harvesting olives from UA’s historic olive trees. Robert H. Forbes, former director of the UA Agricultural Experiment Station and dean of the College of Agriculture, planted many of the trees in the 1890s. Pictured are Elijah Anderson and his mother, Tanya Anderson, a student in geology. For more information on the UA olive trees, visit:


Photography by Ashley Hodes

UA Students for Sustainability interns (L-R), Rachel Wehr, Sarah Posner, Jeanne Torres, Georgia Behrend, and Katie Marascio, rake the trees with extendable poles attached to rake heads designed for olive harvests. The colored poles were donated by Iskashitaa Refugee Network and can extend up to 15 feet. Sarah and Georgia assist by transferring the fallen olives into buckets. Students for Sustainability and Compost Cats are student-led partner organizations that assist with the olive harvest. Debris from all olive trees is collected and delivered for compost after the harvest.


Photography by Michael Bernal

After olives fall from the tree onto the tarps below, volunteers hand-sort the olives from other debris and collect the harvest in buckets. Food-grade buckets are donated by UA Dining Services.


Photography by Ryan Lee

As another beautiful Tucson sunset fades into the background, Lincoln Perino from ETHOS Rainwater Harvesting contemplates how best to secure the olive harvest for safe transport to the Queen Creek Olive Mill, roughly ninety miles away. Olives must be milled into oil within forty-eight hours of being harvested from the tree.


Photography by Ryan Lee

Get to know your producer: Chris Martin of Queen Creek Olive Mill examines the delivered UA olives. “They are so clean, no dust,” he says, and then proceeds to name each variety from the UA harvest by sight: Manzanilla, Mission, Chemlali, and Frantoio. Chris Martin is Queen Creek Olive Mill’s head of milling and production, supervised by Masterblender, Perry Rea.


Photography by Ryan Lee

Perry Rea and Chris Martin stand alongside the OliveMax 33 conveyor belt that delivers olives into the de-leafer and then to washer to wash the olives and prepare them for pressing. For more information on Queen Creek Olive Mill, visit:

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