The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Sustainability Series: California Olive Ranch

Sustainability Series: California Olive Ranch


June 26, 2011

Located in the Central Valley of Northern California, California Olive Ranch grows several varieties of Spanish and Greek olives for olive oil production. Ranch olives are raised using sustainable and innovative growing methods, including planting olives on trellis systems much like wine grapes – a method that makes harvesting easier and reduces the amount of water needed. Their olive oil is widely available in the U.S. We talked to Adam Englehardt, Vice President of Orchard Operations, about the challenges of meeting consumer demands for a sustainable product that also tastes great.

How does your business define sustainability?

Fundamentally, we believe that taking care of our ranches creates better olives and, therefore, makes for better olive oil. So we go to great lengths to eliminate chemicals, excessive water, and non-recyclable materials from our farming practices, while staying true to our commitment to make great olive oil for a reasonable price.

How are you incorporating sustainable practices into your business?

We are very attuned to farming with minimum inputs and minimum waste. The fundamental consideration is choice of crop for a particular landscape. Olives are a very sustainable crop for our ranches in that their growing needs mesh perfectly with our soil and climate. We mulch all trimmings back into the soil to help retain moisture as well as provide natural nutrients. Our mill is situated on-site at one of our ranches so there is minimum driving involved in getting the olives to the presses. Finally, all of the pomace that is left over after pressing the olive oil is fed to cattle in our area.

Some of our additional practices include the following:
•    We have owl boxes up along creek banks at the Artois ranch to encourage nesting and control of rodents.
•    We have buffer strips/transition zones to create habitat for beneficial insects.

What are your short term and long term goals?

Our short term goal is to reduce the amount of water and fertilizer we use to a bare minimum. Long term, we will explore new varietals and more organic farming practices to meet consumer demands.

Where do you think you’ll have the biggest impact?

Water consumption. California is facing significant water supply issues, as we grow a lot of water-intensive crops in this state. And 37,000,000 people live here too! Olives use 50-75% less water than other crops, and we can decrease water usage even further.

How do you measure your progress?

One thing people don’t realize is that farming is actually a math-intensive exercise. We’re very careful to measure everything we do – the amount of water we use, fertilizer, etc. And we are always running tests to see if we can reduce our inputs. Often times, reducing our inputs leads to even BETTER olives in terms of quality and quantity.

How do retailers factor into your efforts?

I’ve always said that if you can’t sell something you shouldn’t grow it. We work closely with our retailers to figure out what retailers are looking for, and we factor that into our growth plans and what varieties of olive we plant.

Why are sustainable business practices important to the food industry?

I think sustainable business practices are important because we live in a land with finite resources. And the number of mouths we have to feed is increasing. Finding ways to do more with less not only will help us feed more people at reasonable prices, but will actually make food that tastes better.

Why are sustainable business practices important to the consumer?

Consumers are increasingly seeking connections and security. For food, this means they want to know where their food is from, and they want to know that it was crafted with care. This helps them feel good about what they’re eating, and it often leads to people making better, healthier food choices.

In upcoming issues, we will feature interviews with food companies that are making strides in their sustainability efforts. If you are interested in telling us more about what your company is doing to get involved please contact Allison Bloom