Josip Živković turns on the machine. On the tip of the long stick, which is connected to a car battery, three spikes start to rotate. He is wearing his orange overall, sweating from the heat. The machine is heavy. He lifts it up and shoves the spikes between the branches of the tree. The spikes rotate and olives begin to rain down onto the blanket on the floor.
If you were to draw the family tree of the Živkovićs it would probably be an olive tree. For generations the life of the family has been all about the fruit and the groves on the stony coast near Zečevo in Croatia. The oldest trees there are 500 years old. To make room for them the people had to clear the area from stones, carrying them away with their bare hands. During the Second World War Josip and his brother Domagoj’s grandfather hid in a bunja, a small shelter made of stacked up stones, in the groves from German and Italian soldiers. Today, Josip, Domagoj and their father Šimun harvest about 5000 kg of olives in a year. They take their olives to a mill where they are made into olive oil. With the sale of the oil they can make a profit of around 50000 Kuna or 6500 Euros.
That is not enough to get by on. Josip and Domagoj have other jobs. For the olive harvest in late summer they are sacrificing their weekends and take vacation time off work. Then they are working from 9am until 6pm and are harvesting about 300 kg of olives per day, one of them using the machine, the others picking the olives by hand. Then they carry loads of up to 40kg in their backpacks to the car. Sometimes Josip and Domagoj’s mother or girlfriends help out, but mostly it is the three of them.
The only time they’re not working is when it rains. “Then you can easily damage the fruit”, Domagoj explains. “With the trees, older is better.” The deeper roots make the old trees stronger and more resistant. Among the 700 trees in the grove there are two or three wild trees, the rest was planted. The wild trees have smaller fruit that produce higher quality oil than the planted ones. “My grandmother used to only harvest the wild olives”, he says. “Then she used a small homemade handmill to grind them to oil at home.” Unfortunately, the homemade mill has gone missing.
However, small handmills are not the plan for the future anyway. “In three years we would like to start growing grapes”, Domagoj says. They have already picked an area of land to do that. And then they hope to be able to live off what they produce on the land. Domagoj is optimistic. “If all goes well we might be able to achieve that in four or five years.”
Then he can give up his job and work in the groves full time. When he was young he never would have imagined that he would want to do that some day. Already as a boy he did some small tasks and as a 13 year old he thought the work was too hard for him to do it later in life full time. But no he loves it. “Working in nature, nothing can replace that. If I could I would start working only here immediately.”