Though the Olive harvest for 2016 is over, it’s not too early to think about being a part of the Raccolta (harvest) in November 2017. Typically you will receive, among other things, free room and board from your host, in exchange for your help.
1.It is hard and repetitive work. You are not on the movie set of “Under the Tuscan Sun.” Boredom will be your worst enemy. Look at each tree and notice that they are all different. Learn their stories and their names: frantoio, leccino, morellino, pendolino. Sing these words out loud.
2. Protect your hands with gloves and wear eye protection. Olive leaves are toxic and a poke in the eye can land you in the hospital. (yes, it happened to me a few years ago)
3. Watch how the experienced pickers cast the nets, anticipating where the olives will fall. Also, observe how they get the olives into the storage bins without losing any olives!
4. Learn how to fold the nets; you make a different kind of bundle when you are simply moving them to a new place then when you are putting them away at the end of the day.
5. Appreciate lunch! Your host worked hard to provide this picnic so remember to thank them. Usually, there will be an array of Tuscan treats such as cheese, cured meats, salads and always olive oil. Everything tastes better in the fields, especially the water.
6.Anticipate the next job. You will be appreciated more if you are proactive and do not act like an oblivious picker. Know when it is time to gather and empty the nets and when to set up a new grouping. Again watch the experienced pickers. Learn from them.
7. At the end of the day, even if you are exhausted, help the team by moving the storage bins into a sheltered place and protect the nets overnight.
8. Learn to use the different tools, in addition to the “rastrello” AKA, rake. The is no law against using your hands, in fact, some people prefer it. At least try to operate the overhead electric powered “Frullino”. If it is too hard, work on your upper body strength in the gym all the next year. You will be the star when you come back!
9.Keep your sense of humour. Your coworkers will appreciate the fun you will add to the experience.
10.At the end of the day, give your host some space at home and don’t expect them to entertain you. And better yet, offer to help make dinner! Don’t forget to help clean up too.
11. If you have the opportunity to go to the Frantoio (the place where the olives are pressed) you will not be sorry. This is where the magic happens and you will see how the oil is extracted and if are very very lucky you will taste the green oil on a piece of toasted Tuscan bread, light rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with a tiny bit of salt. This is the Fettunta. Some people dream of this all year. Once you taste it you will understand.
Many people find placement through World Wide Organization of Organic Farms (WWOOF http://www.wwoof.it/en/)