Miguel Lopez is our longest serving employee. He’s been in our olive orchards since 2000, not long after we planted our first trees in Oroville. The 60-year-old Miguel grew up 20 minutes south of there, in Marysville. He tells us he loves farming. And he tells us how he likes to prepare his favorite fish: salmon.
California Olive Ranch planted its first olives in September 1999, in Oroville. When did you begin your job with the company, and how did you happen to join us?
I began in April 2000. Before that I managed a prune ranch just down the road. I had begun working for the owner there when I was 10, coming after to school to the check fruit moth traps. I also did odd jobs in the shop. The owner, Fred Heringer, had a few ranches. And in my mid-twenties I began managing one of them until Fred Heringer died and the family sold the ranch. I needed a job. Mike Denny, who was California Olive Ranch’s chief executive at the time, was looking for a manager. The rest is history.
What was California Olive Ranch like when you started?
When I came to California Olive Ranch about 60 acres of olive trees had been planted the previous September. I was the only employee at the time. About a month later I hired another person. Between the two of us we worked in the olive orchard and started to prepare the soil for the next planting, in May. I hired around 20 employees in May for that planting.
Did you have a prior background with olives or olive oil?
The only previous experience I had with olives was when I was about 17. Things were slow around the Heringer Ranch, so I decided to give olive picking a try. I did that for 2 weekends. I was making only 25 cents for every gallon the olives produced. I returned to the Heringer Ranch.
Tell us about what do you do for California Olive Ranch, and what you like about your job?
I manage the company’s first ranch, in Oroville. What do I like about my job? All of my life I’ve been in farming, except two years when I was 20 and worked in the sawmills. I missed farming and came back. With farming, you’re always doing something different. It’s not boring. Then there are the people you work with. The people here make you feel like a friend, and that makes it enjoyable.
How has California Olive Ranch improved the quality of its olives over the years?
We’ve come a long way. We’ve probably reduced the amount of fertilizer we use by about half. We’ve also done a lot of research into how to get better oil from the olives on our own ranches and those of our contract growers. And we use better equipment in the field and in our mill; we can pick more olives from the trees and extract more oil from them at the mill.
Tell us about your favorite way to prepare salmon.
Salmon is my favorite fish. I like to marinade it with our oil, slices of sweet pepper, lemon, tomatoes, lots of sliced onions – I love onions – and mushrooms. I cover the fish in foil and put it on top of the BBQ grill for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.
Your friends at California Olive Ranch