Loaves and Fishes Tasmania is harvesting Forth Valley olives and will reap the profits from sales of the award-winning extra virgin oil.
Retired doctors John and Claire O’Sullivan (pictured above) have lovingly tended the grove they first planted since 1996, but realised they needed help with the 2021 harvest and approached Loaves and Fishes Tasmania CEO Andrew Hillier.
Slim profit margins would be increased and donated to Loaves and Fishes provided the organisation was willing to get the olives picked, processed, and on the shelves.
Warehouse and kitchen staff from Devonport had a crash course in harvesting, wielding powered rakes to shake the fruit free of 600 olive trees on the picturesque Forth property on Braddons Lookout Road.
The fruit collects on mats before being packed in crates and delivered to Cradle Coast Olives at Abbotsham, near Ulverstone, for pressing and bottling. It’s slow, hard work, but the finished product is extraordinary.
About 600 litres of the precious oil will be available for sale in bulk and in 500ml bottles from August, with profits being used to make ready-to-eat meals for Tasmanians doing it tough.
The medical doctors were among Tasmania’s olive pioneers and are proud of the multi award-winning extra virgin oil they produce.
The O’Sullivans, who came to Australia in 1976 from Ireland, started in Townsville before settling in Devonport a couple of years later. They planted the grove adjoining their home after John’s chance meeting with a patient who expressed an interest in growing olives.
The GPs, who had no experience in growing anything other than flowers in a modest garden, turned to olives after a short, unsuccessful stint in raising a few cattle they foolishly named, and which never made it to the dinner plate.
They researched olives, convinced the cool climate and rich soils would produce a fresh fruit with more complex flavours than their warm climate counterparts. They were right. They were also in good company on the impossibly beautiful hills around Forth, with neighbours including large vegetable producers such as Harvest Moon and Premium Fresh.
They bought their first trees from Olives Australia in Queensland, and went to work.
“We had a small crop of olives about five years later. We produced 30 litres, enough for friends who helped us pick for home use,” John said.
Spurred on by the encouragement and wisdom of Italian Atilio Minnucci, who was growing olives in Huonville and is regarded as the father of olive growing in Tasmania, they honed their craft.
“People said to me that you can’t grow olive trees in Tasmania, but it was only because it had never been done.’
“I really thought the climate and the soil were right, and I thought we had a perfect spot for an olive grove.
“I had no scientific basis for saying any of that, it was just a gut feeling that we could produce something good.
“It was never meant to be a business that would make us a lot of money. We never had that expectation, and thank goodness, because it doesn’t!
“It’s a very labour-intensive industry in Tasmania. We have a small grove inaccessible to any machine that would harvest economically for us.”
Over the years the O’Sullivans have won a swag of awards in a highly competitive market.
“These days, people are looking for high quality olive oil,” John said.
Olive oil is classified according to two components: oleic acid (the nutritious mono-unsaturated fat in olives, and free fatty acids (FFA). The higher the oleic acid content, the better the oil. To be classified as extra virgin, FFA must not exceed 0.8%.