In che modo questa intraprendente coppia greca ha trasformato la propria attività in un uliveto in difficoltà in un premiato produttore di olio d'oliva in prima linea nella ricerca d'avanguardia nella battaglia contro l'Alzheimer.
In the last five years, the husband-and-wife team of Yannis Prodromou and Evi Psounou Prodromou have weathered the Greek economic crisis by rebranding their olive tree and olive fruit company, Yanni’s Olive Grove, into an award-winning producer of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO).
Non smettere di credere in te stesso e nei tuoi prodotti. Continua sempre a provare, indipendentemente dagli ostacoli.
Located in northern Greece and specializing in early harvest extra virgin olive oil, they are now working in collaboration with Thessaloniki University and Alzheimer Hellas on the first clinical trial in humans to evaluate the effects of high-phenolic olive oil in preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
I had the pleasure to visit Yanni’s Olive Grove in Nea Potidaia, Chalkidiki (northern Greece), where I toured their beautiful waterfront estate and spent the afternoon with the Prodromous and their family. We were joined by Athanasios Gertsis and his colleague Kostas Zoukidis, who were conducting research in the groves. Gertsis is the director of the Krinos Olive Center of the American Farm School, Thessaloniki.
The story of Yanni’s Olive Grove began in 2012, at the height of the Greek economic crisis. "We were olive tree farmers all our lives and we were selling our olives as fresh fruits to the big companies,” Yannis informed me. "Because of the economic crisis, we were forced to innovate. There is something that we say in Greece: Everything that makes me ache makes me stronger.”
"The crisis was, in this case, a motivation to move forward,” explained Gertsis. "There’s only one way to survive: Innovation. Some people confuse innovation with 'tecnologia allo stato dell'arte, ma l'innovazione può essere qualcosa di molto semplice. Come dicevano gli antichi greci, la saggezza viene dalla semplicità. "
Mentre attraversavamo i rigogliosi uliveti, Evi mi raccontò la genesi della loro avventura. "Yannis had a simple idea. The olive trees are producing not only olives, but many different other products such as olive oil. But there was an immediate difficulty. The Chalkidiki region is known worldwide for its famous green table olives and we knew nothing about the production of quality EVOO. So we decided to go to school and to learn as much as we could. Our unstoppable thirst for knowledge and progress drove us to a unique institution — the American Farm School.”
Il American Farm School (AFS) is a non-profit agricultural school in Thessaloniki founded in 1904 by American missionary John Henry House to serve the rural population of Greece.
The Krinos Olive Center of the AFS conducts a rigorous scientific analysis of the more than 6,000 olive trees that make up the estate. Evi pointed to a metered device installed at the foot of an olive tree. "Misurano tutto. Ogni boschetto ha bisogno di cose diverse. "
"Ci stanno anche aiutando con fertilizzanti sperimentali che rispettano l'ambiente. È come un bambino. Se dai da mangiare al bambino cibo sano, diventerà un bambino sano. È lo stesso con gli ulivi. Se ci preoccupiamo degli ulivi, ci daranno delle buone olive ”.
A pioneer in Intelligent Agriculture and Integrated Systems Management, Yanni’s green innovations have helped them minimize their costs in numerous areas, from irrigation to fertilizer to packaging. They are even implementing the use of a large, low-flying drone to spray fertilizer on their trees. With a rechargeable electric battery, the drone will replace a gas-operated tractor, saving on their fuel costs as well as their carbon footprint. "And Yannis will now have a pilot’s license!” Evi told me with glee.
Yanni’s also recently launched a unique product for the North American market — Yanni’s Sun Dried Olive Snacks. Based on the dieta mediterranea, the healthy snacks are vegan, gluten-free, all natural and low in salt content with no added sugar. Combining sun-dried green and black caramelized Chalkidiki olives with Kalamata raisins and sun dried cranberries, pouches of these sweet and savory treats are already on the shelves in select locations in California and Texas, and will be available for purchase across the U.S. and Canada in October.
In the remarkable time frame of just of five years producing olive oil, Yanni’s has now won 35 awards for their high-quality EVOOS, including a Gold Award at the 2016 Concorso internazionale di olio d'oliva di New York for Yanni’s Finest Chalkidiki and a Silver Award for Yanni’s Limited Chontroelia Chalkidikis.
"Quality is our only weapon,” Evi emphasized, regarding the pressures of their small, family-owned business to compete against the big industrial companies. "It was not an easy path. And the road was not full of flowers.” But the Prodroumous persisted, and Yanni’s recently signed a distribution deal with Krinos Foods (the largest importer of Greek and Mediterranean specialty foods in North America). "Abbiamo fatto un passo alla volta, iniziando inizialmente ad esportare solo un cartone di prodotti. Ora stiamo esportando pallet dei nostri prodotti. "
"Quando abbiamo iniziato questa attività, entrambi abbiamo deciso che questa attività era per i nostri figli, non per noi. Nostra figlia Sophia sta studiando per diventare un chimico agricolo. Nostro figlio Nikos sogna di diventare un economista agricolo. Il nostro nipote Demetrios è un ingegnere ambientale e si occuperà della gestione dei rifiuti. "
At this point, Dr. Gertsis chimed in, "Il problema principale della crisi greca (secondo me come educatore) è il cosiddetto 'brain drain.’ There are more than 600,000 of the best Greek students and graduates who are going abroad. I don’t know how many of them will ever come back, and I doubt they will. But another side effect of what Yannis and Evi are doing is that they will keep their sons, their daughters, in Greece.”
Another contribution that Yanni’s is making to the future is their collaboration with the Greek Association of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders (Alzheimer Hellas). Under the direction of Magda Tsolaki, who is also a professor of neurology at the Medical School at Thessaloniki University, Alzheimer Hellas is conducting the first clinical trial in humans to evaluate the effects of different kinds of olive oil on amnesic patients diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, which leads to Il morbo di Alzheimer.
Studies have shown that oli d'oliva ad alto contenuto fenolico può offrire protezione contro l'ossidazione dei lipidi nel sangue, oltre alle loro proprietà antinfiammatorie, antiossidanti, cardioprotettive e neuroprotettive.
Early-harvest extra virgin olive oils have an extremely high concentration of polyphenols compared to other olive oils, and Yanni’s Olive Grove was the first company in Greece to be certified to produce P.D.O. Chalkidiki early-harvest EVOO (Agoureleo in Greek), which is the only Greek early-harvest EVOO certified as P.D.O. in Greece. Chalkidiki is the earliest region in Greece to harvest olives each year, and all of Yanni’s harvest is done manually from around mid-September until mid-October.
Yanni’s donated a staggering four tons of their high-phenolic olive oil to this important study, which amounts to about one-fifth of their total olive oil production. "Il motivo principale è che volevamo aiutare. Mio padre è morto di Alzheimer ”, ha riferito Evi. "We all lived through this awful illness. So we wanted to do whatever we could to help prevent this disease.” The two-year clinical trial, named MICOIL, is currently under way in Thessaloniki, with preliminary results expected by the end of the year.
Mentre concludevamo la nostra intervista durante un fantastico pranzo di mezze nella loro taverna preferita, Evi ha riassunto il viaggio della loro azienda con un pizzico della sua filosofia: "Non smettere di credere in te stesso e nei tuoi prodotti. Continua sempre a provare, indipendentemente dagli ostacoli. "
For those living in the U.S. and Canada, Yanni’s Grove extra virgin olive oil and sun-dried olive snacks are imported and distributed via Krinos Foods. And Yanni’s early harvest extra virgin olive oil is also available for purchase on Amazon.