Tejeda Middle School Olive Harvest

 

Olives aren’t the only green things at Saundra Winokur’s Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard.  Vision, values and environmental awareness all make this unique Elmendorf, Texas enterprise an exemplary model of giving back to encourage learning in our youth.   Even a casual observer can’t help but notice  Sandy Oaks’ progress toward the achievements of sustainably farming olives, while also operating as a learning and agri-tourism center, and producing comestibles and spa products of the finest quality. 

Sandy and her top-quality staff ensure that all aspects of the orchard’s daily business practices reflect Sandy Oaks’ motto “Hecho a mano, con amor” (“Made by hand, with love”).    Every day her staff tend to the olive trees with tender, loving care; diligently maintain the chef’s meticulously planned and planted garden; and extend warm hospitality to each and every visitor.  These actions all serve as daily demonstrations that Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard truly lives the Green Tables message.

Executive Chef, Cathy Tarasovic’s much anticipated and always nutritionally conscious culinary delights shine at the orchard’s sought after cooking classes, numerous special events, and Friday staff lunches.  On Saturday’s, Sandy Oaks’s table at San Antonio’s burgeoning Pearl Farmer’s Market stays constantly abuzz with happy customers.  Back at Sandy Oaks, Sandy leads enlightening tours of the olive orchard, guiding the participants through the workings of the orchard from planting to press.

 

However, the flourishing educational partnerships that Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard continues to build may most exemplify Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard and owner Sandy’s business philosophy.  A recent Saturday at the orchard offers a noteworthy and heartwarming illustration: an event over nine years in the making. 

The story begins in 1999, when Debora Marzec, a parent from Tejeda Middle School of San Antonio, sent a donation request to Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard.  As a former teacher, Sandy clearly understood the special impact that learning first-hand has on children, and she felt certain the school had selected the most appropriate and thorough method to use for teaching the students about the food they eat.   Thus, the Tejeda Middle School Project began with a generous gift of twenty olive trees from Sandy’s young orchard in Elmendorf.

 

For almost a decade, the olive trees that the students planted in Tejeda Middle School’s History Hill served as a labor of love for so many. Debora and her daughter continue their involvement in the project today, although Elizabeth has long since graduated from Tejeda and gone on to high school, then college. Debora and Elizabeth easily garnered support for the “olive partnership” from parents of present-day students. Randy Guzman, the inspirational teacher whose belief that, “though books are filled with knowledge, sometimes people need to experience to learn,” still motivates his students. The boys and girls who have passed through Tejeda Middle School’s seventh grade for the last nine years have learned to grow and grown to learn. “This was just so interesting”, commented one boy. 

 

With wise advice and openhanded support from Sandy, Debora, Elizabeth, and Randy, Tejeda Middle School students tended, weeded, watered and mulched their small orchard over the years--often on their own time during vacations and holidays. When weather permitted, they learned about ancient cultures and customs in classes that took place under the shade of their olive trees. They delighted at the first sightings of fruit on their trees, worried when storms threatened their beloved crop, and handpicked their harvest when the time was right. This year produced their most bountiful crop indeed.

 

On Saturday, September 11, 2010, having prepared a plan for the harvest as well as a scrumptious and healthy lunch for all in attendance, Sandy and her staff eagerly awaited the more than fifty special guests, which included the students, their chaperones, Debora, Elizabeth, and Randy.   Upon arrival at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard, the large, excited group of Tejeda Middle School seventh graders gathered around for the weigh-in of the olives that represented the first stage of their payoff for the year.  All had hopes that the total year’s harvest would realize their goal of five hundred pounds.  Imagine their exhilaration upon discovering that these olives alone weighed in at five hundred, twelve pounds.  They happily accepted Sandy’s check for their olive crop and to be included in the Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard Olio Nuovo Ranch Blend Extra Virgin Olive Oil. 

 

Next came the highly anticipated pressing of the olives.  The children and all other participants watched with excitement as the precious olives poured into Sandy Oak’s state of the art olive press and transformed into the gorgeous, dark elixir, known as Olio.  Once the Olio filled the glass jars all could appreciate its natural beauty and amazing taste, everyone savored this truly magical moment “Patience is one thing you learn when you must wait for things to grow,” said another astutely observed student.
After the students tasted the oil made from their olives, Sandy addressed the gathering, congratulating the students and expressing her heartfelt pride in them.   As she spoke, the joy and satisfaction that accomplishment brings literally radiated from all those smiling, young faces. 

Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard continues to promote educational programs and partnerships.  Sandy gives workshops throughout the state extolling the health benefits of olive oil and helping other growers and backyard enthusiast plant and care for olive trees.  This fall, Sandy Oaks will donate 10 more trees to Tejeda Middle School as well as thirty trees for a new orchard to be planted at Poteet High School in Poteet, Texas.

Working hard, learning a lot and being rewarded for their labors of love and determination is what makes going green so rewarding. While Kermit the frog bemoans in song that “It’s not easy being green,” the students of Tejeda Middle School will gladly confirm that being green is definitely worth every effort.  Our goal at Sandy Oaks is to provide this experience for other children.