A few light purple olives handing from a branch in an olive grove

Why have professionals such as teachers, lawyers, translators, political scientists, and medical students turned to olive oil production and exports in the last decade? Questioning a number of Greeks who are now working with olive oil, Greek Liquid Gold received a wide variety of responses that sparked a series of articles. This is the first in the series.

Various reasons for this career transition are summarized below, but the most commonly mentioned motive was a desire for more contact with nature. For example, Evgenia Andriopoulou of Makaria Terra pointed out that “olive cultivation is a way to be closer to Mother Nature and therefore decrease the stress intensive way of life.” Ioanna Damianaki of Nature Blessed seemed to agree: “the relationship between the producer and the olive trees is a ‘romance’ that fulfills the person engaged in it, giving him/her pleasure.”

Giovanni Bianchi of Argali, a computer programmer in Rome who also produces olive oil in Peloponnese, Greece, expanded on this theme: “I believe that many people are realizing that in the world we have built and in which we try to insert ourselves as children, something fundamental is missing. Contact with nature. Only this can give us back serenity and deep energy. I think that the olive oil world expresses these values to the full, with the addition of a wealth of social interactions.”

Bianchi added that working with olive oil, “I have known and deepened more relationships in four years than in the rest of my professional life. It is wonderful to share opinions and experiences, exchange ideas and cultivate projects. The oil world, with its rhythms and rituals punctuated by time and seasons, allows you to do all that wonderfully.”

On the other hand, many other professions strike some Greeks as less promising today. Lawyer turned olive oil producer Stratis Camatsos of evo3 believes there are more professionals than the market demands in many popular fields, contributing to lower wages and less opportunity for advancement for those who find jobs in those areas. Camatsos suggested that this makes the idea of starting one’s own business more attractive. An agricultural business appeals to those with “the longing for a more rural life.”

Why olive oil? As Camatsos added, “it has a long history in Greece and is a relevant and healthy agricultural staple even after so many centuries. It's on our doorstep, and we have allowed it to wither away, not taking full advantage of its full potential.  Thus, I want consumers to get acquainted with this invaluable staple, and the way to do that is by perfecting our production and exporting it throughout the world in order to change people's perception of why it should be an everyday product.”

Giorgos Karitsiotis of Kasell told Greek Liquid Gold that his company has seen an increasing number of Greeks with small family olive orchards who “want to create their own brand” and export the small quantities of excellent olive oil they produce. He believes this is because during “the economic crisis in Greece domestic commerce has been downgraded, and exports seem to be the only solution.”

Panos Kloutsiniotis of Ladolea suggested “many people thought that olive oil would be the easy way” out of financial and professional problems, since nearly “everyone in Greece has an olive grove.” However, he cautioned, it “is not easy to work in the olive oil sector” and export olive oil in a competitive world market dominated by better known Italian and Spanish olive oils.

“A strong commitment to quality in all aspects (from the product inside the bottles up to the email that you send)” is required, according to Kloutsiniotis. So is a lot of time, “because you need to gain the trust of the delicatessen store manager as well as the final consumer.” Therefore, “the most realistic scenario is that you need to struggle for at least 5 years” before you “start having a healthy business.” This career change is no quick and easy solution.

Nikos Sakellaropoulos of Sakellaropoulos Organic Farming agreed that “olive oil production is not something you learn quickly and easily. There are a number of factors and conditions that have to be met in order for someone to be able to produce a good quality olive oil.” On the other hand, “that means that in order to understand olive oil production, you need groups of people with different professions.”

Sakellaropoulos implied that the current convergence of professionals from different backgrounds brings useful new perspectives into the olive oil sector. He continued, “as science advances, every day new data and research on olive oil and olives emerges. Chemical engineers, food technologists, agronomists, and chemists are the main experts needed for this. Beyond production, marketing and communication are also really important factors in an olive oil business's growth and success. That, combined with the technical knowledge and effort needed for olive oil export, make many different occupations, views, and opinions necessary for an olive oil company to succeed.”

As this series continues, Greek Liquid Gold will look more closely at professionals from a variety of backgrounds who have diverted their energies to the olive oil world. Some refocused on the land in order to contribute to sustainable agriculture and organic production. Others were drawn to a family business or attracted by family tradition, determined that their family’s olive oil should rise above the all too common bulk export for amalgamation in an anonymous international blend.

Often inspired by fond memories of childhood experiences with olive oil or in the olive groves, these professionals are not afraid to get their hands dirty. They are determined to work hard to create a high quality, healthy, flavorful product that will travel the world.
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Thanks to ancient languages teacher and olive oil exporter Ioannis Kampouris of E-la-won for the small introductory photo of fresh olive oil in the mill.

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