15 Sep

Amador City entrepreneur is earliest olive oil producer in county

By Marcia Oxford,

For the first year since she brought her first bottles of her extra virgin Amador Olive Oil to the Amador Farmers’ Market in 1995, Susan Bragstad was able to use her own olives, solely, to produce three sizes of bottles of the rich, golden olive oil. Normal production from her 4 acres of olive trees has been a 1.5 tons; this year, Bragstad was exuberant to realize 3.5 tons, from which 40 gallons per ton was produced. She sells the oil each Saturday at the market in Sutter Creek and Wednesdays in Pine Grove, offering five-ounce bambinos as well as bottles of 12.7 ounces and 25.4 ounces.

“I was elated,” Bragstad said. “I think weather conditions were perfect and I think the late June rain might have had something to do with it. It was a surprise to have that kind of production. I usually pick around the county to get 3.5 tons. This year, I didn’t have to go anywhere but my own farm.”

Bragstad hires crews to join her in picking the olives, and relies on market vendor Greg Motch as “my right hand man.” Accessing the fruit with bamboo or Fiberglass poles, pickers knock olives into tarps, then pour the content of the tarps into burlap bags. Bragstad hauls the bags to Sciabica in Modesto, where three generations of the Sciabica family have been making olive oil and pressing for small-sized farmers such as Bragstad. Once crushed, the resulting oil is retained in plastic drums, and Bragstad joins the Sciabicas in making a joint decision when to bottle. “I like it to have a tiny bite, so it generally ages about two months before it’s bottled,” she said.

Confronted with escalating costs for automatic bottling, this year Bragstad is applying the labels herself.The self-adhesive labels she designed were produced by Barry Duncan at Mother Lode Printing. “I finally used my art degree to design my labels,” she jested. For almost 25 years, she had an architectural practice in Marin and San Francisco before retiring in 2000; since relocating here, she has designed several residences including that of retired county counsel John Hahn.

While the farmers’ market is her main retail location, Amador Olive Oil is also available at Andrae’s Bakery in Amador City, where Bragstad has lived since 1985; at Montevina and Terre Rouge wineries in Shenandoah Valley; Back Roads Coffee Shop in Sutter Creek and at Parla’s Produce, Sutter Hill.

Bragstad recalled the impetus that launched her on her way to being an olive farmer. She helped organize a round table discussion arranged by Foothill Conservancy and the Amador Farm Bureau to discuss agriculture and how to preserve it in the county. Grape growers, wine makers and cattlemen among others were there, Bragstad remembered.

“We tried to think of new crops and how to keep our beautiful ranch land. We came up with a draft ag element, which we have since revived. I thought I could talk some farmer into growing some olives, but ended up thinking, ‘heck, I’ll do it myself.’ Bob Long, US Soil Conservation, and Donna Hirschfelt, farm advisor, helped a lot. Donna found Sciabica in Modesto and arranged for a crew to pick up the olives. We picked on the farm I now own and picked three-quarters of a ton that first year. I bought the farm in 1998. The oil sold out so fast, I had to line up places to pick.”

A founding member of the farmers market, she was gratified to highlight her new product in 1995. This year, gratification and relief exemplify Bragstad’s reaction to finally deriving her entire 2006 production from her own ranch. A number of 100-year-old trees there provide the bulk of her production.

“My biggest draw is that it’s local, it promotes local agriculture and we’re saving a rural quality of life,” Bragstad said. “Every retired person should buy a farm. It doesn’t make any money, but it’s a great thing to do and it saves our ag land.” Bragstad’s statement is backed by her personal commitment: She is a founding member of the non-profit Amador Land Trust, which holds approximately 3,000 acres in conservation easements in Amador, Alpine, El Dorado and Calaveras counties. She locked in a a conservation easement on her own farm, which assures it will never be developed.

“This has been a great year,” she said. There’s little time to relax, though. The farmer’s market continues to October. And in November, she starts picking again.

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2 Responses to “Amador City entrepreneur is earliest olive oil producer in county”

  1. rciard calhoun Says:

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  2. Olives101 Says:

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