A blend of knowledge, passion and heart

They say dynamite comes in small packages, and in the case of Linda Costa, never a truer word was spoken. Linda also has a warm twinkle in the eye that immediately draws you in. She grew up on an olive farm and you would have to look far and wide to find someone with more knowledge about the industry. We caught up with Linda a little while ago to chat about her personal and professional journeys with the beautiful olive fruit.

1. What brought you to where you are today – a woman in agriculture?

Although I grew up on an olive farm, I never had an inkling that all things olive would become the axis of my life later on. My life meandered through universities, in and out of a very happy marriage, and I was blessed to have three wonderful sons. While doing doctoral research in Microbiology at Stellenbosch, my father invited me to join him in his burgeoning table olive fermentation plant. Somewhat surprised at this strange turn in the flow, I gave it a 2-week trial, and that was it! Like a jigsaw puzzle, things just fitted into place. I was in a happy place. That is when the olive oil journey started flowing too. This was the time of dramatic changes in the methodology of olive oil making – and getting a taste of this glorious extra virgin olive oil was a game-changing experience. So I started learning everything I could about tasting and appreciating the liquid gold, and my travels abroad made me appreciate what a great product we were crafting right here at home.

2. Are there unique challenges as a woman in the olive growing and olive oil making business?

The challenges experienced by women in the olive industry are surely similar in all agricultural sectors. I believe it is a transient phenomenon – predicated by the traditional and supportive roles women played in agriculture in the past. This is changing rapidly. As is the acceptance in the sector of female authority – a hard-earned position indeed. Challenges bring out the best in us!

3. What are the hard skills you need to make it work?

I do not personally make olive oil, but I do grow trees and process a couple of tonnes of table olives every year. I think the hardest skills to master are ingrained radical self-love and self-confidence.

4. What are the soft skills you need to make it work?

There is so much that we can contribute to the industry in the form of soft skills – especially when it comes to adding compassion and gratitude to the mix. To demonstrate that compassion does not imply weakness, but rather adds another dimension to the fullness of the experience of everyone involved.

5. What has been a highlight in your career in the olive industry thus far?

A highlight in 2019 was having the privilege of leading two EVOO Tasting Teams to Spain to participate in a World Team Tasting Challenge – what amazing teams! And they achieved remarkable results – and definitely put SA on the global tasting radar. The timing of the trip was so fortunate, even though we entertained the idea that we were being too optimistic many times. This was another reminder that despite headwind, procrastination does not always serve.

A highlight this year was being invited to Australia to present table olive workshops all around the country in February. I offered some workshops there about 16 years ago and was therefore very surprised that the message is so appreciated now.  Times change, and people change, but the right principles remain steadfast! It was my father who taught me everything I know about table olive production, and I am so very grateful for the opportunity he afforded me to work with him.

6. Why do you love what you do?

I just love being part of an industry that has a global history and tradition – the products of which are inherently natural and an integral part of our daily health and well-being. Years ago when I was completing a Masters degree in the UK in Experimental Pharmacology, my dream was to design a drug that would ’save the world!’ Those were the heady days of the emergence of ‘designer drugs’ to eradicate any ailment. Today I cringe at the thought! And am so happy and blessed to have my own little natural Olive Farmacy! The table olive, EVOO, olive leaf extract, and the beautiful olive wood – they all make up the most complete Gift of the Universe. This is why I love what I do. And my appreciation is deepened every day since becoming a certified health coach and meandering through every facet of human health and how each one benefits from………. you guessed it ….. all things olive!

7. What does the future hold – for you, your business and the country?

My aim is to continue producing the best Kalamata table olives for consumers to appreciate and to propagate different cultivars that are not commonly grown here – to broaden the spectrum of flavours in our olive oils. Another passion of mine is blending olive oils – especially when one can experience that surprising synergy and alchemy when the blend results in something much more exciting than the sum of the parts.

These unexpected, upside-down days we are experiencing are extremely hard, to say the least. And indeed devastating for many of us. Despite this, it has provided pause for thought, and forced us to take stock and re-evaluate our headlong race to nowhere. My hope is that this time is teaching us to value the basics again – the values of integrity, honesty and caring. And to re-evaluate the way we eat and stay healthy, especially while having so little contact with outside family and friends. All the more reason to boost our immunity. Community is immunity, but at present we need to find new paths.

8. What does your support structure look like?

My support structure consists of my family, my team here on Awakening and each and every friend and acquaintance, even if it is metered out! I need to express gratitude far more often.