Small-Scale Farmers Celebrate Big-Time Success in Central California

Richard and Myrna Meisler have turned a passion project into one of California’s most-awarded extra virgin olive oils.

San Miguel Olive Farm in the hills of San Luis Obispo County (Photo: San Miguel Olive Farm)
By Thomas Sechehaye
Dec. 11, 2023 20:08 UTC
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San Miguel Olive Farm in the hills of San Luis Obispo County (Photo: San Miguel Olive Farm)

In the hills west of San Miguel, on California’s Central Coast, sits the pic­turesque four-hectare farm of the epony­mous San Miguel Olive Farm.

Over the years, the hus­band and wife team of Richard and Myrna Meisler have achieved a legacy of high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­tion by care­fully con­trol­ling every aspect of the process, from the man­ual har­vest to the milling con­di­tions.

We don’t have high tech to help us, but a good eye to know when to water, when to pick and how to blend.- Richard Meisler, co-owner, San Miguel Olive Farm

The cou­ple say their award-win­ning olive pro­duc­tion is more than a farm­ing oper­a­tion; it is a pas­sion project.

Thirty-four years ago, we bought a prop­erty in Central California, three hours from where we lived,” co-owner Richard Meisler said. Seventeen years ago, we planted ten olive trees on that prop­erty, just down from where we have lived for 24 years. That was the begin­ning of quite the adven­ture.”

See Also:Producer Profiles

Eventually, we ended up with 1,200 Tuscan olive trees on our farm,” he added. The first oil we pro­duced in 2012 gave us seven gal­lons (26.5 liters).”

The Meislers entered that oil in local qual­ity con­tests and received sev­eral awards. We sold out imme­di­ately and had to turn away many prospec­tive buy­ers,” Meisler said.

With this suc­cess in hand, they started look­ing at how to expand. With the help of friends and local pro­duc­ers, the Meislers real­ized they could plant many more olive trees on their land.

Myrna had an uncle who kept send­ing arti­cles about olive trees, encour­ag­ing her to plant them on our land,” Meisler said. She read an arti­cle in our news­pa­per about two local olive grow­ers and con­tacted them. Soon, we dis­cov­ered a whole net­work of help­ful peo­ple.”

The Mesilers explored local resources to achieve their goals, look­ing for olive vari­eties best suited to the grow­ing con­di­tions of their prop­erty.

It was excit­ing to learn as we went,” Meisler said. Finding a rep­utable olive tree nurs­ery north of us, we met the owner, who advised us on choos­ing the best vari­eties for our cli­mate, and we ended up with five Tuscan olive vari­eties,” includ­ing Frantoio, Leccino, Maurino, Pendolino and Taggiasca.

Neither of them had a farm­ing back­ground, which did not stop them. They became pas­sion­ate about grow­ing, learn­ing and pro­duc­ing extra vir­gin olive oil.

Having never farmed, we just jumped in with­out look­ing back,” Myrna Meisler said. Digging the holes for the small trees took imag­i­na­tion. But we both worked many days all day, get­ting the job done.”

Networking with local pro­duc­ers was an ongo­ing part of suc­cess. We joined an infor­mal gath­er­ing of other grow­ers. In this group, we learned about irri­ga­tion and the olive fruit fly, prun­ing, har­vest­ing and so much more,” Richard Meisler added.

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-north-america-smallscale-farmers-celebrate-bigtime-success--in-central-california-olive-oil-times

Myrna and Richard Meisler at the 2019 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition (Photo: NYIOOC)

The cou­ple takes pride in every aspect of their work. They offer olive farm­ing expe­ri­ences and edu­ca­tional tours, includ­ing tast­ings. Guided by enthu­si­asm, they made what they believed was a crit­i­cal deci­sion to hand har­vest with care.

We made deci­sions which dif­fered from oth­ers but ones we have kept all these years,” Meisler said. We only hand-har­vest, are pes­ti­cide-free, farm nat­u­rally, and all is done with care. A lot of love has gone into what we do.”

We don’t have high tech to help us, but a good eye to know when to water, when to pick and how to blend,” he added.

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The cou­ple is opti­mistic about the 2023/34 crop year in San Luis Obispo County, home to many of the country’s most-awarded olive oil pro­duc­ers. The early har­vest has already been com­pleted, with the first Olio Nuovo bot­tled and ready to sell.

Richard was busy select­ing the rows and trees to har­vest, and we had peo­ple wait­ing for the Olio Nuovo for almost a year,” Myrna Meisler said. The 2022 extra vir­gin olive oil is sold out, and we are pro­duc­ing only 75 bot­tles of our Olio Nuovo 2023.”

With the early har­vest com­plete, the cou­ple expects to fin­ish off the sea­son at the end of November with two more days of pick­ing before tak­ing the olives to a care­fully selected mill for trans­for­ma­tion.

After a chal­leng­ing sea­son in 2023, the Meislers feel much bet­ter about their yield this year.

Last year was not good at all,” Richard Meisler said. We had a very small crop, yet were still happy to pro­duce excep­tional high phe­nol deli­cious olive oils.”

Producing olive oil in California is not for the faint at heart. With cli­mate change, eco­nomic impacts, and unpre­dictable con­di­tions, the Meislers con­tinue to take changes in stride.

The chal­lenges are not bad,” Meisler said with a smile. The prod­ucts we need have dou­bled in price. The eas­i­ness has dis­ap­peared, and the qual­ity is not the same. Freight has dou­bled, and the good old tak­ing care of busi­ness’ seems unim­por­tant.”

profiles-the-best-olive-oils-production-north-america-smallscale-farmers-celebrate-bigtime-success--in-central-california-olive-oil-times

The Meislers take their carefully-selected olives to a local mill. (Photo: San Miguel Olive Farm)

While olive farm­ing was new to the Meislers, enter­ing the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition marked another mile­stone on their olive oil-pro­duc­ing jour­ney.

They have won 19 awards at the NYIOOC since 2018, includ­ing three Gold Awards in the 2023 edi­tion of the con­test.

Winning Gold Awards was our goal, espe­cially in this com­pe­ti­tion. Silver is fine, but it makes you think, how can we win a Gold next year?” Meisler said. We did and won big time.”

Along with the sat­is­fac­tion of know­ing that they are keep­ing qual­ity con­sis­tent, Myrna Mesiler said the awards pro­vide unique com­mer­cial value, espe­cially for small pro­duc­ers com­pet­ing in a crowded mar­ket.

The gold stick­ers on our bot­tles have been a sell­ing point, and they are very impor­tant for high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil,” she added.

The Meislers have placed all of their qual­ity awards – about 160 in total – along the walls of their tast­ing room. The acco­lades serve as a reminder to keep improv­ing and work­ing hard. They are also mem­o­ries of great moments and all the new peo­ple they have met along the way.

Each award is a step­ping stone for our busi­ness. Success takes time and per­se­ver­ance,” Meisler con­cluded. We like to say, Steady Eddie.’ And it reminds us to keep on going.”


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