Reedley College Agriculture Business Students Thrive in Olive Oil Enterprise

Nov 11, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Education, Food Fun, Jim Mulligan, Reedley News

by Jim Mulligan

Nestled in the picturesque landscapes of the eastern Central Valley of California, Reedley College is home to a unique and thriving agricultural endeavor that is allowing students to gain hands-on experience in the world of business and marketing. Agriculture Business students at the college are taking the olives grown on campus and turning them into bottled, marketable olive oil, offering a taste of entrepreneurship and marketing prowess.

About a decade ago, Reedley College planted olive trees on its campus, setting the stage for an innovative project that combines agriculture, business acumen, and marketing strategies. Kenneth Willet, Reedley College Farm Manager, shared, “There are two varieties of olives comprising the five acres that the college maintains: Arbequina and Koroneiki.” These olives, once harvested, are sent to a local olive oil company, Bari Oil, for processing.

It’s when the bulk olive oil returns that the students’ entrepreneurial spirit shines. The Agriculture Business students take the processed olive oil and skillfully package it into bottles for individual sales. To diversify their product range, they also purchase bulk balsamic vinegars, which they blend and package for sale. These products are available in both plain and flavored varieties, all uniquely labeled by the students themselves.

The bottling crew for the day (left to right): Jhett Kirk, Georgia Dill, Instructor Jennifer Sousa, Henry Ceja, and Anthony Mendoza.

But their journey doesn’t stop at bottling and labeling. Students enrolled in the Agriculture Sales and Communications class at Reedley College engage in a marketing plan that equips them with the skills to promote and sell their products. The course exposes students to the many facets of sales and marketing, offering a comprehensive understanding of the field.

Student Anthony Mendoza fills bottles.

One of the primary avenues for selling their products is the Reedley College Farmers Market, a vibrant hub for local produce and artisanal goods. Here, students set up their booth, interact with customers, and showcase their olive oils and vinegars. The positive response from the local community is a testament to the quality of their products and the skills they’ve honed.

In addition to the farmers market, the public can purchase these olive oil and vinegar products in person at the Agriculture Building on Reedley College’s campus, offering convenience to those who wish to savor the fruits of the students’ labor.

Instructor Jennifer Sousa prints the labels for the students to apply to the newly filled bottles.

Jennifer Sousa, an Agriculture Business Instructor at Reedley College, expressed the purpose of this project, saying, “We want to give our students the experience of taking a product and promoting it in different ways. Our next unit will be about promoting through social media, which is very big nowadays.”

This emphasis on adaptability and staying in tune with current marketing trends is crucial in today’s ever-evolving business landscape. Sousa and her colleagues recognize the importance of equipping their students with the skills they need to succeed, whether they choose to pursue a career in agriculture, marketing, or other fields.

Student Georgia Dill uses a heat gun to seal up the bottles of oil before labeling.

For students like Georgia Dill, the experience is invaluable. Dill aspires to be an agricultural appraiser and has enrolled in the Agriculture Business class to expand her knowledge in sales and marketing. “I want to learn more about sales and marketing because it’s an essential skill set,” she shared.

The hands-on experience gained through the olive oil project is a testament to Reedley College’s commitment to providing a holistic education that goes beyond the classroom. It’s about preparing students for real-world challenges and opportunities. The success of this venture underscores the potential for innovative and practical learning in a college environment.

In a world where experiential learning is becoming increasingly vital, Reedley College is setting an example of how academic institutions can bridge the gap between education and practical application. The olive oil project is not just about bottling a product, it’s about cultivating the entrepreneurs and marketers of tomorrow.

To purchase the oils and vinegars for your own home or for gifts, contact Jennifer Sousa at Reedley College by email or phone: jennifer.sousa@reedleycollege[dot]edu or 559-494-3681.

Photos by Jim Mulligan.

You can find more Reedley stories in our Reedley News section.

Jim Mulligan was born and raised in Selma. He has been employed in Reedley on and off for the last twenty-plus years. He married his college sweetheart, a Reedley-ite, Kristi. They now reside in Reedley amongst their children and grandchildren. Bonsai, traveling the world both near and far, and motorcycling take up most of his free time.

1 Comment

  1. I am so proud to see this growing department at Reedley College and have been very impressed with the presentations the RC Ag Business students have made when I have approached their booth at the local Farmers Market. My favorite is the Garlic Olive Oil and the Blackberry Vanilla Balsamic Vinegar. Kudos to Reedley College!


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