Chloe Dimitriadis in front of Biolea's stone mill

What do a Greek-Canadian graduate of the political science department at McGill University in Montreal and a Greek translator who studied in Corfu and worked in Athens have in common? Olive oil. Both of these educated young women decided to return to the Greek island of Crete where they grew up and dedicate themselves to their family’s olive oil businesses.

Chloe Dimitriadis and Christina Chrisoula are both dedicated to sustainable agriculture and interested in connecting with visitors from around the world to tell them all about the production, flavor, health benefits, and quality of their extra virgin olive oil.

In 2015, Dimitriadis took over as director of Biolea, an unusual olive oil business and agrotourism destination that welcomes visitors to the village of Astrikas in northwestern Crete. Her father George had rejuvenated the family’s olive groves using organic cultivation methods and set up an updated, certified version of a traditional three-stone olive mill and hydraulic press.

Chloe Dimitriadis admitted that as she was growing up “and living with our family business, I did not feel attracted to the agricultural sector and had no intention of pursuing a career in it. I felt I could make something more out of myself and live in Canada, where financially and practically my life would be much easier. However, when I pursued my studies in political science in Montreal, I felt that even though I loved my classes and had a plan for how my career would develop, something was missing from the puzzle.”

Dimitriadis returned to Greece in 2011, during the economic crisis, bucking the trend of the brain drain that drew young, educated Greeks away from their homeland. She started following her father around, learning about the olive oil business he had established. Back from university “with a more open mind, I realized how unique and special my family business was and how hard my parents had worked to realize their project. I realized that the agricultural sector is very important and generates exciting new opportunities for anyone interested enough to work for it. I also realized that the missing piece of the puzzle was how dearly I love Crete and everything it stands for.”

So she “decided to switch directions,” leaving political science behind. Her mother, Christine Lacroix, told Greek Liquid Gold that within a few years, her daughter had “worn every hat there is around here,” from completing paperwork to being “up to her armpits in olive paste,” cleaning, working in the olive groves, bottling olive oil, and hiring laborers for the harvest and an assistant in the mill.

According to her mother, Dimitriadis was “not just interested in the glamorous marketing and promotion”; she was also “very excited” at harvest time, and she felt comfortable handling all aspects of the olive oil business. Villagers were astonished that her father asked a young woman to handle all that work, but Dimitriadis appreciated his willingness to both share his wealth of knowledge, and encourage her to practice what she learned, giving her the power to say “I can do it.”

Dimitriadis felt “lucky because I had a base to start from. Many younger people don’t have a base.” She understands why many have left Greece in recent years, but “my heart was here in Crete.” Ultimately, she became so interested in overcoming common mistakes in traditional Greek olive oil production that she decided to take over Biolea, allowing her parents to retire. Now she is finding new ways to draw visitors to their unique destination.

At another destination on the opposite end of the island of Crete, in Zakros, translator Christina Chrisoula and her brother Antonis, a therapist, are refocusing their energy on a new family olive oil business. They call their olive oil Taxidi—the Greek word for “journey.” This name both reflects Christina’s interest in traveling, and emphasizes that the siblings who returned from Athens to the family roots were embarking on another kind of “journey that starts in the land that nurtured us, the ancient land of Zakros,” as Antonis wrote on their website

As Christina Chrisoula told Greek Liquid Gold, after eight years working in “the highly demanding industry of translation, I felt it was about time for a shift to a more sustainable way of life. Being close to nature, working in nature, makes me happy. At the same time, I wanted to do something creative, something that would bring me into direct contact with people.” Moreover, she is “really interested in sustainable agriculture and agroecology.”

Much like Dimitriadis, Chrisoula believes “the olive oil sector in Greece is something that can bring together a whole spectrum of activities (sustainable agriculture, gastronomy, agrotourism/tourism, artisanal production, etc.). So the existing family olive groves and olive oil production (which I had been helping with since I was a kid) seemed to be the perfect starting point to build something that will incorporate all these different aspects I (and my brother) am interested in, with olive oil being at the center of it.”

Although Chrisoula and Antonis have not completed their career transition, she is enthusiastic about their beginning. “The olive oil world is a magical world if you delve deep into it. All this new knowledge to be acquired, the many new things and ideas to practice, the many great people I get to meet every day. And of course, the amazing feeling of producing something with your own labor and being rewarded by customers for the quality of your product is really fulfilling!”

Her fluency in English, French, and Spanish has proven an asset in several ways. Chrisoula believes “being involved with translation -- actually with foreign languages in general -- helps build a whole mindset of openness to the new, to the different. And this is something we need in Greece regarding our olive oil. We need to see it and work with it from a completely different perspective than we do today.”

She is more fortunate than many Greek olive oil producers since her language skills give her access to the “huge amounts of knowledge and experience generated in other countries” regarding such things as “production methods, ideas about connecting tourism with agriculture, and permaculture/regenerative agriculture. I feel that by bringing in and sharing this knowledge with others, we can take Greek extra virgin olive oil a step further.”

Chrisoula also uses her language skills to organize olive oil tasting sessions “where we educate tourists that visit our region about the characteristics and the quality of Cretan extra virgin olive oil. This is a very simple and cost-effective way to create ambassadors of our national product” who take their knowledge back to their countries and share it with others in various parts of the world.

Dimitriadis also offers tours and informative seminars to foreigners, sometimes in partnership with another innovative Cretan olive oil producer. Bringing wide-ranging knowledge, energy, and enthusiasm to the Cretan olive oil world, both of these young women use their education and experience to enrich the olive oil sector, while using olive oil to enrich their lives and the lives of their customers.

This is the second in a series of articles about Greek professionals from various fields who have changed careers, diverting their energies to the olive oil world. The first in the series is Turning to Olive Oil: Why Greek Professionals Shift Gears. The third and fourth are Turning to Olive Oil: From the Classroom to the Olive Grove and Turning to Olive Oil: From Medicine, Law, Jewelry to Olives. Thanks to Christina Chrisoula for the photo of her and her brother.

Laconiko wide banner

Links to Recent News Articles