Highlights of the Ninth Orinda Olive Festival at Nature Area

Dr. James Fiatarone and A.L.M.A. students (L-R) Annika Spah, Charlie Richtenburg, Bobby Silverman and Owen Bige entertained attendees.

    On October 14, over 500 families gathered to celebrate the Wagner Ranch Nature Area and its historic olive grove planted in the 1800s. The weather was perfect, and the Orinda Ukulele Band lured visitors into the grove with lively tunes. The Academy of Language and Music Arts (A.L.M.A.) once again provided inspiring music and songs from their students throughout the festival.
    The opportunities to sample California’s superb extra virgin olive oils (EVOO), were the best ever this year, with five local vendors sharing their expertise and award-winning products. Nate Bradley from Amphora Nueva in Lafayette returned for the fifth year providing visitors with a wonderful variety of EVOO and balsamic vinegars. Gina Sans from Calivirgin was back for a third year with her signature varieties of EVOO and balsamic vinegars. Calolea, from Choctaw Trail, Loma Rica, shared its award-winning products. First-time vendors included: Grumpy Goats from Capay Valley and Scopus from Glen Ellen. The Chef’s Demonstration Tent featured Brad McCullough’s olive tapenade and olive pesto creations. Audience members received complementary Lindsay “Naturals” olives to take home.
    The Friends of the Nature Area hosted the “All about Olives” table in the grove so visitors could enjoy eating Kalamata olives and Bell Carter Lindsay’s Naturals’ line of olives. Once again, the Pit Spit Challenge was very popular as a source of delicious olives whose pits were then used to hit targets. Diablo Foods generously provided gift card prizes and a variety of deli olives for contestants to nibble and reveal the pits for use in target practice! There were also opportunities for visitors to win or bid on olive products in the raffle and silent auction. Embracing the theme of olives and peace, children and adults wore leafy olive crowns, which they crafted from fresh boughs. It was a grand day for promoting olives and healthful olive oils!
    The Contra Costa Avian Society dazzled children and adults with their variety of friendly parrots. The gorgeous birds traveled on shoulders around the festival. Other popular activities included: Nature Tattoos by Coyote Brush Studio, Decorating Tiles, Friends of the Orinda Creeks, and exploring the pond. Retired professor John Helms guided parties of children and adults along the Nature Area trails to the old homestead, site of the blacksmith’s shop, and olive grove. The Orinda Historical Society, staffed by Terry Murphy, Kay Norman and Betty Karplus, showcased the artifacts that children have unearthed from the Wagner Ranch ruins. Architect James Wright shared the history and eco-friendly architecture of the Old Yellow House he restored and shares as an educational gem.
    Jim Strickler wowed youngsters with popular Science and Art activities. Children were rewarded at Steve Gentry’s Honey Bee station with honey sticks for having their Olive Passports stamped at the activity stations. Children were fascinated by Steve’s demonstration hive, where the workers and queen go about their business unaware of the children’s wide eyes. Professor Dan Phillips delighted youngsters with hands-on chemistry activities, and children used magnifiers to compare garden insects and plants at the Ask a Master Gardener station, which provided fascinating information about the practices and art of gardening.
    At 2 p.m., naturalist Toris Jaeger announced this year’s Nature Area Champions. Mary McCauley, of McCauley’s Olive Grove in Brentwood, was honored for her role in the first Olive Festival in 2010 and for continuing to provide olive oil tastings for seven years. Local educator Ann Alton was honored for her Native American storytelling and the years of organizing summer camps for local Native American children. The following Eagle Scouts were thanked for their projects to improve wildlife habitat and wheel chair access in the Nature Area: Kendall Law – crushed granite entrance way to the garden; Daniel Lucas – two crushed granite walks by raised beds in garden; Alex Meckes – crushed granite pathway to the new bridge; and Kobi Martin – relining and restoring the Sue Graf Pond.
    Contra Costa County’s only Olive Festival, which is conducted by the Friends of the Wagner Ranch Nature Area (FWRNA), raised funds to support the outdoor environmental education programs for children and youth. Educational activities at the site, which is owned by the Orinda Union School District, provide a tangible link to the history of olive culture in California.
    More than 150 volunteers and presenters joined forces, including: teens and youth from Scout programs, Others First at Orinda Intermediate School; Miramonte High School; A.L.M.A.; National Charity League; Boys Team Charity; Troop 237 and many community volunteers. For more details about the Friends, visit the website www.fwrna.org.
    The FWRNA thanks the following generous sponsors: Bell Carter – Lindsay Olives, Mechanics Bank of Orinda, Orinda Chamber of Commerce, Orinda Optometry Group, Diablo Foods, Orinda True Value, and olive vendors – Amphora Lafayette, Calivirgin of Lodi, Calolea of Loma Rica, Scopus of Glen Ellen, and Grumpy Goats of Capay.

A favorite activity at the Olive Festival is always discovering the various fish, insects and turtles that live in and around the Ann Morton Pond.
The Contra Costa Avian Society brought a number of friendly parrots to the event.

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