At the Chrism Mass on Thursday, March 22, when Bishop Jaime Soto blesses the holy oils used throughout the year for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, holy orders, and anointing of the sick, Jim and Andrea Mayer, owners of Frate Sole Olive Oil Company, will witness how some of the olive oil from their most recent harvest becomes sacred. Once consecrated, Frate Sole will be used in the diocese’s 102 parishes, serving more than one million Catholics.
Jim and Andrea, members of St. James Parish in Davis, have built a small, prosperous, family olive oil company in Yolo County. Their Tuscan-style extra virgin olive oil, Frate Sole (Italian for “Brother Sun”), has received several awards over the years and is a combination of four primary olive varieties: Frantoio, Leccino, Pendalino and Coratina.
This is the seventh year they have donated 20 gallons of their oil to become chrism oil, scented with sweet perfume, often balsam (except for the oil that anoints the sick and the oil of catechumens).
“We do feel it’s an oil with a higher purpose,” Andrea says. “Any baby baptized in the diocese uses our oil, as does anyone who is sick and anointed, as well as those who are confirmed or ordained.”
Growing and producing holy oil was not Jim and Andrea’s goal when they planted their olive trees in 1999. They live and farm on 20 acres on County Road 27, about halfway between Davis and Woodland. They decided to plant the olive trees on a portion of their farm almost by default, due to the property’s heavy, clay soil, which was unsuitable for other crops.
“We wanted to do something that had a life span. We can grow olive trees organically and sustainably without a lot of equipment,” Jim explains. “Even before we planted the trees, we did a lot of research about olive oil and its rich history and its link to Christian ritual. It’s been used for about 6,000 years, not just consumed as food, but in healing, medicine and ritual.”
Initially they were not able to supply from their harvest enough olive oil needed for the Chrism Mass, but eventually they were able to fulfill all the diocese’s needs.
“The experience has become special for us because we attend the Chrism Mass, and it’s one of the most moving, spectacular and spiritual experiences we have ever had,” Jim says. “What’s motivating to us is to know that what we do in the orchard year-round, whether it’s pruning trees, weeding or fixing drip irrigation, some significant portion of our oil ends up on the altar the week before the Passion.”
Jim and Andrea are not farmers and land stewards by trade. Jim is president and CEO of California Forward, a bipartisan public interest group created to bolster democracy and improve the performance of government in California. He is a former journalist and senior writer at The Sacramento Bee. Andrea is an independent land planning design consultant.
When they moved from Sacramento to Yolo County in the 1990s, they knew they wanted to live in the country and put their land to good use. “Olive farming was something we learned by doing,” Andrea says. “The olive orchard was something we could teach ourselves and our children.” Their two adult children, Sam, 24, and Carly, 20, are both graduates of St. James School in Davis and Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento. Sam, a graduate of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, in agricultural engineering, is involved with the farm, and Carly, a nursing student at the University of Portland, assists when she is home from college.
Jim and Andrea see the olive orchard “as more than just an agricultural pursuit,” Jim notes. They view their land as wildlife habitat, with most of their trees adorned with bird nests. They have also donated their oil to support other local philanthropic organizations. They are also supporters of the Newman Catholic Center in Davis, with UC Davis students at times helping to harvest the volume of olives equal to the oil donation for chrism.
The name of their olive oil company was inspired by St. Francis of Assisi. Late in his ministry, St. Francis wrote a canticle praising creation, describing the attributes of nature with the affinity reserved for siblings, including Brother Sun and Sister Moon, or in Italian, Frate Sole and Sora Luna.
Full story at Diocese of Sacramento website.