UC Davis began producing olive oil in 2005. Heritage olive trees dropped an oily hazard on campus bike paths, leading to accidents and an estimated $60,000 in legal costs in 2004.

Sal Genito, the director of the Grounds Division, suggested that the campus harvest the trees and make olive oil. Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center, wrote a feasibility study, finding that the harvest could reduce legal costs and provide a unique campus product. Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef agreed to pursue the project, and the first bottling of UC Davis Olive Oil sold out at Picnic Day in 2005. Sal appointed Dan to run the olive oil program through the Grounds Division.

In 2007, Dan proposed that the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science establish a research and education center so that UC Davis could do for olives what it did for wine. Clare Hasler-Lewis, the executive director of the institute, pushed the idea, and with support from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, several faculty members and many industry representatives, the UC Davis Olive Center was born in January 2008. The olive oil program, which began as a response to a costly landscape hazard, now helps support the self-funded center.

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The UC Davis Olive Center is a self-funded university/industry coalition that seeks to do for olives what UC Davis did for wine.