Women in the olive industry: Nicole Koen

Women in the olive industry: Nicole Koen (right) – it’s all about being part of a strong team.

Nicole Koen, Production Manager at Darling Olives, grew up on a farm in the Stellenbosch region and has always had a strong attraction to the field of agriculture. In our interview with Nicole it became very apparent that she is a team-player with a deep love and appreciation for what she does and the people she works with. Coming into the industry as a rookie after her studying BSC Consumer Science, Nicole now has six years under the belt at an award-winning olive press and says ‘I have developed a great passion for the olive and olive oil industry.’

We asked Nicole to tell us more about her journey in the industry.

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

I grew up in Stellenbosch on a farm and always loved the farm life, food industry and agriculture. In 2014, I completed my honours degree at the University of Potchefstroom in BSC Consumer Science. During my last month as a student, I applied for the Production Manager position in Darling. This position combined all the things I love. I’ve been part of this awesome team for the past six years, and what a privilege it’s been! I didn’t know a lot about olives or olive products when I started here. The owner of the business took me under her wing and taught me everything about olives and olive products.

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

I think in any agricultural direction it is a challenge to stand out as a woman, especially when it comes to the mechanical or physical aspects of the job. I have a strong team that works with me, which mainly consists of women and two men. The men are our right hand when it comes to physical strength!

I don’t always know the correct terms of the machines or fittings, especially not at the press – but I just have to know it fits and how it works – of course it annoys some men, which I find hilarious. Women are capable of doing great things and make the best multi-taskers.

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

My degree contributes to my hard skills, including food safety, food quality, as well as production planning, solving problems and time management.

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

I believe the most important soft skills are people skills and a positive and joyful environment is the most efficient environment. Communication, motivation and willingness to learn are the keys to success. And of course there’s nothing like music or a great laugh to get things going.

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

Our first gold medal at the 2019 SA Olive awards.

6. Why do you love what you do?

There are always new challenges and challenges are my driving force!

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

I want to continue learning about the olive and olive oil industry. We set goals for improving production and creating more efficient systems every year. These goals are our guidelines for the future.

8. Do you have a funny story about your time in the olive business?

Our team finds something to laugh about on a daily basis. It is always funny to introduce someone new to an unfermented olive.

9. What does your support structure look like?

Roleen Basson, the owner of  the business, is incredibly supportive of everything I do – from new ideas to personal challenges. Our team stands together and we support each other in everything. My husband is always willing to help and is my most staunch supporter.

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