Tasos Anestis teaching students outdoors

Two teachers from Greek olive oil producing families decided to turn their interest in the sustainable production of olives and olive oil into new business ventures. Growing olives in two areas in the eastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula in Greece, they have found different ways to combine olive oil production with their dedication to teaching.

Dr. Tasos Anestis taught marine biology for twelve years in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program at a large private school in Athens. During that time, he continued to return to his family’s olive groves as “part of the harvesting team almost every season.” He knew “the effort is immense,” and the resulting extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) “really high quality.” Yet that effort and quality were not being recognized or rewarded by selling the family’s extra virgin olive oil in bulk, as so many Greek producers do, and his family did for generations.

So Anestis turned back to the land to focus on making “our orchard a balanced ecosystem” free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and on bottling their own brand of organic EVOO, Rhizoma. As Anestis says, his team’s way of life is summarized in their motto: "tradition meets science." Anestis explains that “studying biology helped me a lot to respond in a more sustainable way to the needs of our farm.”

After a few transitional years to establish his olive oil business, Anestis stopped teaching in a classroom to focus on his olives, “but I have transported my class out into the olive orchard for people interested in the production of high quality organic olive oil.” Visitors can arrange a free “visit to our orchard and get to know all the different details of real production of EVOO” in Kranidi, Argolidos, a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) in the eastern Peloponnese.

Moreover, Anestis reports, now “I am honored to be invited by groups of farmers all over Greece to share our knowledge and empirical data on our approach to cultivating, promoting, and selling our product. These attributes have made Rhizoma a well known brand of real EVOO.”

Anestis strongly believes “that Greece is capable of becoming the boutique market for organic products in Europe” by focusing on “more sustainable production” and high quality products. Although “we do not have the volume and the space to become Spain, nor the brand name ‘made in Italy’ to be in all markets, Greece has a unique opportunity to start being a serious producer country again,” after being “mainly a consumer country in recent years. Relying to a great extend on the uniqueness of our land and the added value of our products, we are very optimistic.”

Ioannis Kampouris writing

Another optimistic teacher turned olive oil producer, Ioannis Kampouris, has been interested in Greek philology “since my school years in Constantinople.” At the same time, he tells Greek Liquid Gold, “my concern with nature and the cultivation of olive oil has been in my life since my childhood on the island of Imvros, where a family tradition of olive growing” dates back to 1858. In Imvros, he grew up in the midst of olive groves and orchards, helped with the olive harvest, and savored the fresh olive oil.

After studying literature in Athens, Kampouris taught ancient Greek and Latin, establishing a series of private language tutoring schools in Athens called Synchrono and publishing books about the Latin language. After 37 years instructing thousands of students, he still teaches, “because the love for children and the encouragement of young entrepreneurship are linked to my character.”

However, “memories of my hometown, my teenage experiences working in the olive groves, and a love for Mother Nature” also led him back to olive oil production. So he planted olive trees near ancient Mycenae in northeastern Peloponnese. Initially, he made olive oil just for friends and family, like most Greeks. Then in 2013, in the midst of the Greek version of the Great Depression, he and his wife, philologist Olga Bountala, joined close friends to start a company, E-la-won, that would share the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and promote Greek products throughout Europe and the Middle East.

Kampouris has managed to successfully combine his two passions, continuing to teach while maintaining a hands-on approach to every stage of the olive oil production process. In addition to an environmental award for supporting the circular economy and sustainable development, E-la-won has received 47 prizes for the flavor and packaging of the company’s olive oil. “We are also proud because our olive oil,” due to its especially high polyphenol content, which provides exceptional health benefits, “is used in scientific research on multiple sclerosis.”

Now Kampouris shares with students his knowledge about olive oil and business, as well as his expertise in ancient languages. “I am delighted to be part of the olive oil industry, because with our educational background and experience we transfer knowledge and culture to schools and young people, and we advise them on the quality and safety of food. The example of our company is spreading through training sessions and tastings that we hold in schools. The activity of our company has been studied both by the Athens University of Economics and Business and by the University of Western Attica.”

Expanding their focus beyond the classroom to the olive grove and mill, Anestis and Kampouris also found new ways to share their knowledge about Greek olive oil and healthy foods with more students, as well as others of varying ages and backgrounds.  
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This is the third in a series of articles about Greek professionals from various fields who have changed or added to their careers, diverting some or all of their energy to the olive oil world. The first in the series is Turning to Olive Oil: Why Greek Professionals Shift Gears; the second is Turning to Olive Oil: Two Women Head Back to Cretan Groves. Thanks to Tasos Anestis (top) and Ioannis Kampouris (center, introduction) for the photos used with this article.

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