If you aren’t familiar with Seka Hills oil it’s one of those small, food business stories that makes me smile and gives me hope for more good things to happen in the food world. It’s part of the very positive, environmentally focused, work of the Yocha Dehe Nation in northern California, near the town of Brooks, in the central valley of California, about an hour to the west of Sacramento. The Yocha Dehe are one of the Native Nations of in the area. While they once lived across the lands outside of what is now Sacramento they suffered—as did most every native people on the continent—enormously as Europeans took over their land. Through enslavement, disease, government forced relocations, confiscation of their traditional lands they were essentially decimated.
The good news—if one can frame the end of violent devastation over a four hundred year period in a positive light—is that the Yocha Dehe are still going and are actively doing some great things. As many other Native peoples have done, gaming legislation has helped them to turn their economic fortunes around in recent years by opening a casino. But where many have stopped there, the Yocha Dehe went further. They have taken most of the money their casino has created and turned it back into sustainable work.
One of the biggest pieces of this work has been to plow a great deal of effort and economic resource into local agriculture. Through return and repurchase the tribe now has many acres of farmland, much of it organic. As Tribal Council Secretary James Kinter, told me, "We are committed to this land, and our impact on the land is an important element in all of our agricultural decisions."
Growing Arbequina olives—originally from Spain—the Yocha Dehe Nation are making a very nice oil that we’re privileged to purvey. It’s got a mellow accessible flavor with the hint of green apple that’s characteristic of Arbequina oils. You can do anything you like with this olive oil—salads, toast, pasta, steak, fish.
I should mention that Seka is a reference in the Yocha Dehe’s Patwin language to the color blue, a comment on the beautiful shading that the mountains of the region take on in the afternoon sun.
The oil is golden green, the hills are blue, and the future is delicious.
The latest harvest, from fall 2015, smells like freshly cut grass and black olive, with fruity notes like green banana. The flavor is pleasantly bitter up front, then grassy, finishing with a sharp peppery tickle. It would be great to eat with salty foods, like focaccia or well-seasoned pasta.