Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: Fruit fly deals blow to some Sacramento area olive-oil producers

Cathie Anderson
Cathie Anderson

Some artisanal olive-oil producers in the Sacramento region and beyond report that the tiny olive fruit fly is sabotaging their fruit yields. If you own fruit-bearing olive trees at home, they say, there’s something you can do to help them.

“A lot of people have been growing the trees as ornamental landscaping or because they think they can sell their fruit to a grower for oil,” said Annette Schoonover, co-owner of Winterhill Farms, the award-winning olive-oil producer based in Placerville. If homeowners don’t harvest the fruit, it becomes a breeding ground for olive fruit flies. The female fruit flies lay one or more eggs in the fruit.

Winterhill lost 40 percent of its fruit last year because of the olive fruit fly, Schoonover said, and it troubles her that some government organizations are giving homeowners discounts on their water bills if they plant olive trees. The trees are seen as both drought-tolerant and ornamental. At the UC Davis Olive Center, executive director Dan Flynn suggested that policymakers specify that the discount applies to olive tree varieties that do not bear fruit.

Flynn and his associates fielded an increase volume of calls last year from distressed owners of small olive groves in Napa, Sonoma and Yolo counties.

“I heard one or two cases where the grower felt they had essentially a total loss, where it wasn’t worth them sending out a crew to sort out which were damaged and which weren’t,” he said. “Some were wondering whether they even ought to be taking out their groves as a result.”

That idea seemed too drastic to UC Davis researchers. Instead, they coached growers on the variety of treatments and tools available to manage the pests. They have posted information online at

Tidal wave on Capitol Mall

The momentum is surging for Sacramento-based Webconnex as nonprofits, race organizers and others look for an easy, affordable alternative to giants such as and

Longtime readers of this column will recall that Webconnex partners Eric Knopf and John Russell started out by building a registration platform for organizers of 5K runs, bike rides and the like. In 2008, though, nonprofits asked them to create a tool to process online donations. Instead, Knopf suggested they use products already in the marketplace.

The nonprofits didn’t like the cost or requirements of those apps, however, and after several more appeals, they brought Knopf and Russell around. Webconnex now offers a suite of registration, giving and ticketing platforms to for-profit and nonprofit entities: RedPodium, which registers participants in sporting events; RegFox for conferences, retreats and other events; GivingFuel for charitable giving; and ticketspice for general-admission concerts or events.

“We last met you (in December 2012) when we’d just passed the $100 million threshold for our customer volume,” Knopf said, “but we are on track to probably reach $400 million this year in total volume. Our growth doubles every 10 to 12 months.”

While EventBrite and sought venture capital money to expand rapidly, Knopf and Russell have chosen to grow organically. Their offices remain on Capitol Mall, but they have expanded their space and amenities. They now have roughly 6,000 customers, up from 2,000 at the end of 2012. Their client list includes such blue-chip names as Google, the American Red Cross and Stanford University, but because the solutions are affordable, they also appeal to smaller entities such as Fleet Feet, county fairs and others.

“We’re at a point now where we’re really gaining momentum,” Russell said. “What’s fun to see is when I go to register for an event, and it’s our software, or I go to make a donation and it’s our software.”

Winning isn’t everything

You won’t find Elizabeth McCleary crying in her gelato, though she didn’t finish among the top three contestants in the North American leg of the Gelato World Tour.

McCleary, owner of Sacramento’s Devine Gelateria & Cafe, told me that the grueling competition created a bond among the 16 competitors that is already paying off for her and gelato chefs around the world. They consult each other online when they have business issues, and they share recipes. In fact, McCleary sent the recipe for the bananas Foster gelato she made in the competition to Silvia Bertolazzi of Carpe Diem Gelato-Expresso Bar, a competitor from Lafayette, La.

Although McCleary’s recipe didn’t win the crowd vote in the Austin leg of the tour, it did rank as the No. 2 gelato in a vote by the 16 gelato chefs. After Bertolazzi gave McCleary a Facebook shout-out, several of Bertolazzi’s old pals in Italy asked if they could get the recipe to make in their gelato shops.

“That was the purpose of the Gelato World Tour,” McCleary said, “to bring gelato excellence to more places and to make more people aware of what good gelato is.”

Three gelatos will represent the North American region in the grand final in Rimini, Italy, in September. They are salted pecan with Montmorency tart cherries & Tahitian vanilla by James Coleridge and Salvatore Boccarossa of Bella Gelateria in Vancouver, B.C.; Profumi di Sicilia by Stefano Versace and Francisco Blanco of Versace Gelateria Italiana & Gourmet in Doral, Fla.; and Nuts by Matthew Lee of TEO in Austin.