Finding Our Farm
Our family started taking mini vacations to the Central Coast of California in the late 1990s. During these sojourns, we explored towns like Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Solvang. We eventually made our way to what was at the time the sleepy town of Paso Robles. At the time it was little more than a movie theater in a small square of shops. But it was gaining renown as a home to world class wineries.
We saw the potential in Paso and started looking for properties. This began what seemed like a never ending cavalcade of fixer uppers, sprawling estates and everything in between. Eventually we found what we thought was something we liked. It was a small ranch style house on 11 acres of land. The land was far from a fertile planting ground. The front of the property was taken up mainly by the remnants of a long dead apple orchard with their gnarled, sterile branches serving as a somewhat unwelcoming sight. The back of the property wasn’t much better, a barren, crusty landscape. Despite this less than inviting canvas, we saw a lot of potential and beauty in the property and decided to take the plunge.
Planting and Care
With our farm land secured, we just had to decide what to do with it. As noted previously, you couldn’t throw a bag of fertilizer without hitting a vineyard so we knew we didn’t want to plant grapes. However, those vineyards were so prevalent for good reasons; namely Paso Robles’ idea Mediterranean climate and soil. So we turned our attention to that other Mediterranean fruit- olives. From my parent’s perspective, this was a particularly magnanimous gesture. There is a saying that you grow grapes for your children and olives for your grandchildren.
So we decided to play the long game with olives. After a soil analysis and a fair bit of research, we settled on three Tuscan varietals- Frantoio, Leccino, and Pendolino. But before we could break ground, we had to clear it. With help from a family friend, we did chainsaw battle with what remained of the apple orchard. There was no rest for the weary as the next step was tilling the earth in preparation for our saplings. The bumpy goings aboard our tractor were worth it because we ended with land that was finally ready for our dream.
The first batch of olive saplings numbered around 100 and were planted in 2003. After all our hard work getting things ready, it was an exhilarating and terrifying feeling to shepherd our trees into the ground. They were little more than twigs with slender branches that barely looked capable of holding up the tiny leaves that dotted them. But that’s part of the process so we just had to trust that we could nurture these fragile looking shoots into mature olive trees.
Over the next year we spent our time in the field protecting our dream. Bamboo stakes stood sentinel next to each sapling to encourage them to grow straight and true and were replaced regularly. Irrigation lines were checked and gophers were fended off. At the end of the growing season, our trees still stood proudly (though not tall yet!). We decided to jump right in and plant the back grove. We added another 200 trees over a chilly 2004 Thanksgiving weekend, fueled by turkey and trimmings.
And that’s how we ended up with 2 groves of 300 Tuscan olive trees planted just outside of a small town on the Central Coast of California. Our first press of olive oil came in 2009. We look forward to future harvests and hopefully including you in our story!