Caltech Harvest Festival Funding Proposal

Caltech Harvest Festival Olive Mill and Press
George W. Housner Student Discovery Fund Application
13 April 2007

Richard Jones[1]
MSC 557

Elah Bozorg-Grayeli
Mechanical Engineering
MSC 196

Dvin Adalian
MSC 114

[1] To whom checks should be made payable, also responsible for follow-up reports to the Dean's Office

History and Motivation

On Sunday October 22, 2006, Dvin Adalian and Richard Jones decided, by some means, to set out on Caltech and collect olives for the production of olive oil. Using a remedial set of tools:

  • PVC pipe for "collecting" olives by whacking the branches
  • Tarps on the ground to collect the fallen olives
  • Trash cans as receptacles for washing
  • Blenders for milling
  • Pots & pans for malaxation (a cooking process to enhance oil separation)
  • Cinderblocks and concrete for weights in a pressing apparatus
  • Screens for hand-pressing pulverized olive
  • A centrifuge in a biology lab and conical tubes for purification

and a set of instructions we devised ourselves, we managed to purify 550mL of olive oil. We distributed the oil throughout our house, the biology division, to Jean-Lou Chameau and Carol Carmichael, and to our friends and families. It was delicious.

Word of our success spread: the Caltech grounds department subsequently picked olives from a tree, and had it processed, pressed, and bottled by the Santa Barbara Olive Company (SBOC) in Goleta, CA, and by Figueroa Farms (FF) in Santa Ynez, CA. These bottles were passed on to the Trustees of Caltech and Richard Jones. Since then, Delmy Emerson, Tom Mannion, Carol Carmichael, Dean Currie, SBOC, and a financial consultant have pursued the idea of a campuswide harvest festival in Fall term, 2007.

We have planned a harvesting schedule and methodology, studied biology of our trees and their pests, implemented changes in olive tree pruning and pest control, and developed a processing scheme which sends a majority of the olives to FF and SBOC, where they will once again be washed, processed, pressed, bottled, and labeled. There will be a campus awareness initiative, as well as two training sessions for community members interested in picking olives. We expect hundreds of students, staff, and faculty to help with the harvest, and will encourage community participation with T-shirts, a dinner served by student waiters, the possibility of profit which can be directed towards student scholarships and staff incentives, increased visibility of Caltech, and genuine novelty.

We have attracted some attention from the external world as well. The Pasadena Star-News, the Los Angeles Times, and KABC have run stories on our initial press and the future festival, and KABC has promised to return in the fall. In our latest interviews, we've presented the festival as an opportunity to bring everyone together to do something unique to Caltech-pick and press our own olives. Caltech's size and enthusiasm make this project possible here and no where else in the country.

Since the scale of the project has expanded so dramatically in such a short period of time, we would like to preserve some aspect of the "backyard" feel we had last October. Last year we built our own press (see figure 1), which didn't end up working (we ended up pressing them, by hand, through window screens). Plans to build a better press have been supervised by two faculty members and two successful business owners. Since all the oil will be processed off-campus, it will be unavailable for consumption on the night of the harvest. To present the community with oil at the dinner on the day of the harvest, we propose to build both a mill and press in the Caltech ME Shop over summer 2007 that can produce 5–10 gallons on harvest day. This press will be run side-by-side with our original pressing setup during the harvest so that other members of the Caltech community will be able to participate in the smelly, dirty process of pressing, as well as the difficult work of harvesting. Oil produced in these manners will be compared on a chemical- and taste-testing basis with the professionally milled and pressed oil.

Project Description

The project will have a number of phases: design, fabrication, testing, production, and presentation. The following headings describe each phase of the process in greater detail.

April 2007–May 2007
Initial design ideas have recently been discussed with Visiting Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Kenneth Pickar, Rosen Professor of Biology and Professor of Bioengineering, Scott Fraser, and the operator of the student mechanical engineering shop, John Van Deusen.

To ground our theoretical designs in the real world of olive oil production, we visited the Santa Barbara Olive Company and met with its president, Craig Makela, to study brining, washing, bottling, and backing machines, orchard layout, pruning, and harvesting techniques. We also visited the owner of Figueroa Farms, Shawn Addison, to examine his Pieralisi Olive milling, malaxing, and oil extracting devices. A full stock of photographs from our trip can be found at Picasa, but will not be included in this report due to size constraints. Both businessmen approved of our plans, and provided useful practical advice on the design of our pressing plates and speed at which pressing should occur.

In designing the press we considered the following requirements:

  • scope: produce 5-10 gallons of purified oil in one afternoon
  • capabilities: will the press be able to wash, mill, press, filter, purify, dispense, bottle the olives?
  • involvement: maximize the number of participants
  • efficiency: produce the maximum amount of oil from supplied olives
  • durability: use it in following years
  • tractability: able to be build in the ME shop
  • appearance: should look nice
  • time: how long will it take to build?
  • maintenance/cleaning: how much will be required?

In general, the most important aspect of these machines was to design something that many community members could use at once. A more comprehensive schematic of our sets of design ideas is attached at the end of this proposal.

To decide which design was best, we analyzed each design and ranked them based on their efficiency, ease of fabrication, and on the number of operators required. Our final decision uses a linear roller to mill the olives into a paste (figure 2a/2b), followed by a screw-driven press to extract the liquid through a series of metal plates (figure 3a/3b). The liquid will be collected and purified by centrifugation in on-site laboratory centrifuges in Professor Fraser's laboratory. Although minor modifications will undoubtedly be made during fabrication, we will strive to preserve the original design.

May 2007–September 2007
We plan on building the press itself throughout the afternoons of the summer months, putting in a majority of the work after school finishes on June 8, 2007. We have attempted to incorporate all available building materials from Caltech sources, and many parts will repurposed from equipment in the Caltech machine shop. Parts unavailable on campus will be ordered directly from industrial manufacturers. The machine will be assembled by students in the Caltech machine shop, with guidance and welding training from John Van Deusen. Elah Bozorg-Grayeli has considerable experience in fabrication on this scale. The machines will be thoroughly cleaned prior to use.

September/October 2007
The machines will be assembled in the RF courtyard, probably with the assistance of a forklift. Olives will be supplied from local homeowners in Pasadena, two of which have already committed to providing olives. Though these olives will be somewhat immature, they should produce viable, yet spicy oil. We will submit this oil for chemical tests. These tests will ascertain any design or fabrication flaws and the quality of our final product. If fabrication goes as planned, we may attempt milling and pressing other oily plants (rose petals) as well.

October/November 2007
During the harvest, 6–10 students will be able to operate each piece of equipment. Given this visible and tangible resource, every harvester (student, staff, faculty, visiting olive and olive oil producers in California) will have a chance to participate in the final steps of olive oil production, the only element missing from the harvest itself. Olives will be taken from communal collection bins, washed, fed into the mill, transferred to the press, centrifuged, and bottled. We will display more advanced technical drawings than those presented in this application, and incorporate physical measurements of the performance of our mill and press. We will welcome criticism of our design's durability, speed, tractability, marketability, and performance, and hope that the academic side of this endeavor will be on the minds of the harvesters.

We feel that the George Housner Fund is the most appropriate sponsor of Caltech's first olive press, because will enhance our undergraduate academic experience because it be an opportunity to do something that we three students will never have the time or funding to do in our later lives. Building a community press is a genuine research question, and is made even more interesting because we have no records of a device with similar purpose and scope built with modern tools and materials. We also feel that it will have some didactic component: people will learn how to harvest and press their own olive oil. Given this opportunity, we are certain that our pair of machines will gain enough visibility and momentum to become Caltech's first official community tradition.