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Friday, January 25, 2008


Historic Olive Oil Production in the San Fernando Valley
This morning, while I was visiting my allergy doctor Glenn Lawlor, we discussed the historical black walnut and olive orchards of the San Fernando Valley. Descendants of orchards planted in the 1880s-90s, still impact lives throughout the Valley especially where allergies are concerned. Dr. Lawlor mentioned that the world's largest olive mill once existed in Sylmar. Here's what I discovered about it.

The first Roman Catholic missionaries to settle in the San Fernando Valley were members of the Order of Friars Minor (OFM), better known as Franciscans. They had a strong tradition of planting gardens and orchards. Typically they carried bags of seeds, scattering them as they traveled. The beautiful European mustard flowers throughout California are an example of this practice.

Shortly after establishing the Mission San Fernando Rey, the Franciscan padres arranged for olive trees to be shipped north from Mexico. The Valley proved to be ideal for olive cultivation and the groundwork for an industry was born.
By the end of the next century American entrepreneurs began exploring the agricultural potential of the San Fernando Valley. Olive trees still thriving after a 100 years, convinced a group of Illinois businessmen that they could make a fortune raising olives. In 1890, they purchased 2,000 acres and went to work.

In 1910, an olive farmers agricultural cooperative, called the Los Angeles Olive Growers Association, was established. Chinese workers were brought in for cheap labor. The Association built the largest olive-processing mill in the world. At its peak, the mill produced 800 gallons of oil a day. The mill was located at the corner of San Fernando Road and Roxford Street. Two buildings from this industry made it into the 21st century.

Olive trees are today scattered around the San Fernando Valley. Since few of our residents take on the picking and curing of the fruit, they are chiefly recognized as the messy nemesis of gardeners. And, they send patients to Dr. Lawlor and his colleagues.

The San Fernando Valley deserves a great Museum of history and culture.

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