Former female attorney is now an expert olive boutique owner.
1. What brought you to where you are today – a woman in agriculture?
In my mid-fifties, I started to think about the next phase of my life and decided I wanted to do something completely different. My problem, though, was that I did not have any other experience other than being an attorney. However, the opportunity for my partner and I to buy the Olive Boutique in Riebeek Kasteel presented itself, and the prospect of milling our own olive oil and seasoning, and creating our own cured olives really piqued our curiosity. Ten years later, we’re still going strong.
2. Are there unique challenges as a woman in the olive growing and olive oil making business?
At the Olive Boutique, we are involved in olive oil milling not olive growing. There are lots of challenges – most of them relate to the fact that this is a skilled and physically demanding process. I don’t believe there are any additional challenges, only because you just embrace them as a woman.
3. What are the hard skills you need to make it work?
Willingness to do the work, patience and determination to press through when the going gets rough.
4. What are the soft skills you need to make it work?
Delight in the process and ability to discern when to intervene to achieve the best possible result.
A discerning palate is also a great asset, and I am always envious of those who are gifted with highly discerning palates.
5. What has been a highlight in your career in the olive industry thus far?
We have been delighted to receive a number of awards from the SA Olive Industry Association in the past 10 years. One highlight was being acknowledged as a producer of one of the top 10 oils for 2021.
6. Why do you love what you do?
There is nothing more magical than the smell and taste of fresh olive oil. Next best thing would be watching the delight of our customers as they come to taste and enjoy our oils and to appreciate the difference between oils of varying intensity. Another plus would be the very early starts to the day in the milling season, and that simply means that we get to enjoy the most spectacular sunrises.
7. What does the future hold – for you, your business, and the country?
We trust more years of pressing and producing good oils.
8. Do you have a funny story about your time in the olive business?
Our funny, and not so funny, story relates to our very first pressing season. We had absolutely no experience in milling and started our business with two 50kg per hour presses. Incoming olives needed to be weighed, de-leafed, hand lifted into the presses by crate, and oil and waste moved away by the bucket. We processed about 30 tons of olives that year. We worked with one support person. Effectively, this meant that we moved every kilo of olives 3 times, turning 30 tons into 90 tons. Nothing had prepared us for this workload. We have since invested in a number of improvements to the mill, but the workload has not minimized.
9. What does your support structure look like?
At the Olive Boutique, we are supported by three staff members, two of whom have worked with us for many years. Professionally, we have enjoyed the support of the SA Olive Industry Association and benefitted enormously from the courses offered by it. On a personal level, we have enjoyed the generosity that prevails within the olive producing and olive oil milling community. Linda Costa and Benedetta Lami have been endlessly patient and willing teachers when it came to the finer points of milling and appreciating good olive oil.