The good oil: how Melburnians can turn their backyard olives into liquid gold

From left, Nina Collins, Meg Montague and Merrin Layden from 3000Acres harvesting and pressing olives for oil.
From left, Nina Collins, Meg Montague and Merrin Layden from 3000Acres harvesting and pressing olives for oil. Photo: Richard Cornish

As part of a community-building exercise in May, not-for-profit organisation 3000Acres is offering Melburnians the chance to turn their backyard olive harvest into extra virgin oil. 

"There are thousands of olive trees across Melbourne," says Merrin Layden, project manager for 3000Acres Olives to Oil Harvest Festival, held across the weekend of May 29.

"There are old, gnarled trees in people's front yards, planted by immigrants from the Mediterranean. There are trees planted for privacy that are now producing fruit. There are olive trees planted for pickling, trees in public parks, and growing wild along the waterways." 

Liquid gold: fresh extra virgin olive oil pressed by the 3000Acres team.
Liquid gold: fresh extra virgin olive oil pressed by the 3000Acres team. Photo: Richard Cornish

Layden is inviting people to harvest a few buckets of olives and bring them to collection points in the City of Monash and City of Moreland.  

"We will take the fruit away, crush it and turn it into olive oil," she says.  

3000Acres was founded in 2014 with the aim to help people across Melbourne grow fresh, healthy food and transform underutilised land into productive gardens. 

Roadside olive foraging in Alphington.
Roadside olive foraging in Alphington. Photo: Richard Cornish

The first Olives to Oil Harvest Festival in 2018 saw residents of Hobsons Bay bring 200 kilograms to 3000Acres. 

"The following year we had 2500 kilograms of olives to process," says Layden while crushing the fruit in a small mill outside 3000Acres Alphington headquarters. Fresh oil fills the air with aromas of cut grass, saffron, apple and honey.

"We see picking olives as an opportunity for people to get together with their family, friends, and neighbours," she says.

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Northcote resident Nina Collins is a festival volunteer. "My grandfather was Greek and in the village where he grew up, there was one olive press that everyone shared," she says. "Olives to Oil is a bit like this. It's a natural way to make oil for the community." 

For people wanting to reach out to neighbours with olive trees, 3000Acres has created postcards in eight different languages asking people if they would be interested in taking part in the community harvest. The cards can be downloaded and printed from the organisation's website.

Olives to Oil is sponsored by the councils of Monash and Moreland. Olive drop-off points on May 29 are at Mulgrave Farmers' Market, Home Make It specialist food equipment store in Clayton, and Oakleigh's Corner Store Network. 

3000Acres recommends picking olives no earlier than May 28 or the oil may be spoiled.

The Corner Store Network is also hosting an olive pickling workshop. On May 30, a similar event will be held at CERES Community Environment Park in Brunswick East, where all the fruit will be collected and sent to Barfold OIives in Central Victoria to be crushed and pressed into oil.

"A shopping bag holds around 10 kilograms of fresh olives which will yield around one litre of extra virgin olive oil, " says Layden.

Once pressed, the olive oil will settle for a few weeks before being returned to CERES and the Corner Store Network, where participants can fill their bottle with their share of the community oil.  

"This is a chance to be part of something much bigger," says Layden. "And to create an oil that is fresh, fruity, and uniquely Melbourne."