` Accidental Olive Farmers - Olive Oil Times

Accidental Olive Farmers

Aug. 9, 2010
John Dunn

Recent News

In 1978, a skinny leather-clad biker was prowl­ing the floor of the can­teen at Havelock House, a Newcastle University res­i­dence hall. Marcus Milton had tem­porar­ily sev­ered his rela­tion­ship with the University (code for cocked up his exams) and was dis­play­ing his early entre­pre­neur­ial ten­den­cies by talk­ing his way into free meal and board from a naive, unsus­pect­ing first year stu­dent (code for me).

From these inaus­pi­cious begin­nings via dis­patch rid­ing, author­ing com­puter books and writ­ing adverts for Triumph Motorcycles (Marcus), and coal min­ing, round the world cycling and plun­der­ing exotic mar­kets in the Far East (me), a life­time of friend­ship found us 30 years later in shorts and T‑shirts in a bak­ing hot mid-November, quaffing Retsina and pick­ing olives from boun­ti­ful trees in our very own olive groves in Western Crete. The rea­son? We are now Accidental Olive Farmers’.

I have to give credit to Marcus and his wife Kirsty for the envi­able posi­tion we found our­selves in. If not for their deci­sion some 10 years ago to ditch the pres­sure-cooker exis­tence of run­ning their suc­cess­ful adver­tis­ing agency for the com­par­a­tive leisure of own­ing half of the Peak District (well, a cou­ple of large hol­i­day homes any­way), I would still be flog­ging my way around Asia sell­ing semi­con­duc­tor equip­ment instead of tak­ing a relax­ing lunch of fresh bread and feta sur­rounded by the afore­men­tioned trees in the shad­ows of the beau­ti­ful White Mountains of Crete.

In 2004, Marcus and Kirsty had decided to expand their UK hol­i­day homes busi­ness over­seas and Crete was their choice of loca­tion. I am not sure why they asked me and my wife Tina to join the ven­ture, I like to think it was my renowned busi­ness skill and entre­pre­neur­ial flair and Tina’s cook­ing but it was prob­a­bly that they were short a few quid. After suck­er­ing me out of a plate of chips in 1978, Marcus thought he would have no prob­lem suck­er­ing me out of a few grand in 2004.

In the begin­ning, olive oil was the fur­thest thing from our minds: we find a nice par­cel of land, we buy the land, we build some lovely vil­las and Babis is your Uncle.


We now had four beau­ti­ful rental vil­las plus a fifth we kept pri­vate for our­selves. Each with their own swim­ming pool, nes­tled in an olive grove with spec­tac­u­lar moun­tains sur­round­ing them and the Mediterranean sea just a short stag­ger down the road. A hol­i­day haven now pop­u­lated with relaxed, con­tented guests, enjoy­ing a lit­tle bit of par­adise we had cre­ated for them.

Things were work­ing out but with the suc­cess of the vil­las and the plea­sure of fre­quent trips to Crete for main­te­nance work and fam­ily hol­i­days, we were not see­ing the wood for the olive trees. The 200 odd trees on our land were for us a mar­ket­ing bonus. How much eas­ier to attract peo­ple for a hol­i­day to the vil­las if we could encour­age them with images of ver­dant olive trees pro­vid­ing shade on beau­ti­ful sum­mer days. We had some­thing to stick a table and chairs under for a nice lunch in the sun, a sell­ing point and we left it at that.

At the end of our first rent­ing sea­son the heav­ily laden trees had to be har­vested. Our good friend Christos, son of a local sheep farmer and waiter in our favourite restau­rant, was more than happy to do the job in return for 50% of the result­ing oil. As for the other 50%? Bung a few litres to friends and fam­ily as a Christmas gift and use the remain­der our­selves. The remain­der’ turned out to be about 300 litres! I pour a lot on my sal­ads, but that is going some!

Still the light didn’t go on. But then we tasted the oil. Wow! I have tasted a lot of olive oil in my trav­els around the world — from plas­tic sachets in American fast food joints to the finest oil at upmar­ket restau­rants in Rome — but this was some­thing spe­cial. The look, the taste, the glo­ri­ous pep­per kick. This oil was fan­tas­tic and not to be wasted. I was rec­on­ciled to eat­ing about 50 bowls of salad a day and force feed­ing the neighbour’s dog when some­one put their hand up with an idea. Whether it was Marcus, Kirsty or Tina is still dis­puted but it was cer­tainly not me (I was on my 9th bowl of salad at the time). We could start an olive oil busi­ness,” some­one said.

An olive oil busi­ness! The other 3 of us jumped at the idea. We had the trees so we had the prod­uct and we had the team. Marcus (an expert adver­tis­ing writer to pro­mote the busi­ness and build the web­sites), Kirsty (a top-notch graphic designer to cre­ate the labels and the look of the bot­tle), Tina (with a great net­work of con­tacts in our tar­get mar­ket area) and … some­one to make the tea. I put the ket­tle on and we started to plan.

Continue to Next Page

Related News

Feedback / Suggestions