Sustainable Farming is Key to Quality as California Becomes Hotter and Drier

Investing in renewable energy, drip irrigation and organic practices helps the producers behind Spanish Oaks Ranch achieve award-winning quality.
Spanish Oaks Ranch near Templeton, San Luis Obispo County
By Wasim Shahzad
Aug. 2, 2023 14:09 UTC

Once pro­fes­sion­als in dis­parate fields, Sam and Lynn Israelit ven­tured into olive farm­ing, found­ing Spanish Oaks Ranch in 2013.

Along with tend­ing his olive groves in the prodi­gious San Luis Obispo County, Sam Israelit is the chief sus­tain­abil­ity offi­cer at man­age­ment con­sul­tancy Bain & Company, where he has worked since 2000.

One of our biggest chal­lenges is leav­ing the fruit on the trees long enough to develop the best fruiti­ness while avoid­ing the freez­ing tem­per­a­tures that occur at the end of our grow­ing sea­son.- Sam Israelit, co-owner, Spanish Oaks Ranch

My wife and I have both had active careers in the [San Francisco] Bay Area, but we were look­ing for a qui­eter, more peace­ful place to relax and spend time with fam­ily and friends,” he told Olive Oil Times about their deci­sion to pur­chase the farm, located about 240 kilo­me­ters south of the Bay Area.

We were lucky to find a ranch in Templeton that had an exist­ing olive orchard, but it was def­i­nitely in need of some work,” he added. Both Lynn and I wanted to cre­ate some truly out­stand­ing estate olive oils that we could enjoy our­selves and share with oth­ers.”

See Also:Producer Profiles

Within three years, what started as a pas­sion project for the cou­ple became an award-win­ning enter­prise.

Lynn and I own and man­age the ranch, and we work hard to pro­duce some of the best arti­sanal olive oils on the mar­ket today,” Israelit said. We empha­size qual­ity, fla­vor and fresh­ness in mak­ing our oils and are involved in every step of the process from har­vest to the bot­tle.”

While no one would claim that olive farm­ing is easy, Israelit believes there are even more chal­lenges for small pro­duc­ers focus­ing on qual­ity instead of quan­tity.


Sam and Lynn Israelit

One of the biggest chal­lenges we face is increas­ing our expo­sure as small pro­duc­ers and edu­cat­ing con­sumers on the ben­e­fits of great olive oil,” he said. The mar­ket is crowded, and it can be dif­fi­cult to com­pete with those who sac­ri­fice qual­ity to lower costs or mar­ket­ing com­pa­nies who buy lower-qual­ity bulk olive oil from grow­ers and then mar­ket it as their own.”

Despite the chal­lenges, the Israelits have devel­oped a loyal cus­tomer base for their extra vir­gin olive oil. However, this is not their only chal­lenge while grow­ing olives on California’s Central Coast.

The increas­ingly hot and dry cli­mate of cen­tral California has caused the Israelits to work tire­lessly to cre­ate favor­able con­di­tions for their olive groves.

The drought over the past sev­eral years has required us to closely mon­i­tor the amount of water we sup­ply to our trees so we can avoid exces­sive bit­ter­ness or wood­i­ness in the oils,” he said.

In addi­tion, one of our biggest chal­lenges is leav­ing the fruit on the trees long enough to develop the best fruiti­ness while avoid­ing the freez­ing tem­per­a­tures that occur at the end of our grow­ing sea­son,” Israelit added. It requires care­ful atten­tion to ensure the qual­ity of the fruit while min­i­miz­ing the risk of los­ing the crop to an early freeze.”


Waiting for just the right moment to harvest is one of many keys to success for Spanish Oaks Ranch.

The cou­ple strives to make their farm sus­tain­able to main­tain the qual­ity of their olive oil and be more mind­ful of how their activ­i­ties impact the envi­ron­ment, depend­ing on the land to pro­vide the resources they need to pro­duce excel­lent fruit.

We use drip irri­ga­tion to con­serve water in our basin and apply the right amount based on the micro­cli­mate of our orchard,” Israelit said. We also con­verted to organic prac­tices, so we do not use syn­thetic fer­til­iz­ers or pes­ti­cides, min­i­miz­ing our impact on ground­wa­ter and local bio­di­ver­sity.”

When we use cover crops, we include vari­eties that sup­port pol­li­na­tors and wildlife, and we have invested in sup­port­ing habi­tats for rap­tors,” he added. In addi­tion, we rely on solar energy for 100 per­cent of our elec­tric­ity and invest in refor­esta­tion projects to off­set our resid­ual car­bon emis­sions. Last, we ensure our work­ers receive a fair wage and expe­ri­ence safe work­ing con­di­tions.”

They focus on enhanc­ing the qual­ity of olive oil and grow dif­fer­ent vari­etals to pro­duce an array of olive oils.

We raise eight dif­fer­ent vari­eties of olives to pro­duce four dif­fer­ent oils. We selected these vari­eties to ensure a diverse range of oils to meet our cus­tomers’ needs,” Israelit said. They result in oils that range from hav­ing milder, green fla­vors to those that are robust, fruity, and pep­pery. A few of the vari­eties were selected to act as pol­li­na­tors for our pri­mary vari­etals. This results in a healthy, pro­duc­tive orchard.”


Improving biodviersity through native crop cover help Spanish Oaks Ranch preserve its soil from the negative impacts of climate change.

Their pas­sion and unwa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to pro­duc­ing high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil bore fruits in the form of mul­ti­ple inter­na­tional awards for Spanish Oaks Ranch, includ­ing three Gold Awards at the 2023 NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition.

We are incred­i­bly excited by the recog­ni­tion we’ve received for our oils on the inter­na­tional stage,” Israelit said. These awards are the best way for us to ascer­tain that we are pro­duc­ing the high­est qual­ity oils pos­si­ble.”


An award at the NYIOOC demon­strates to con­sumers that they can trust the prod­uct they’re buy­ing is one of the best avail­able on the mar­ket,” he added. In addi­tion, the expert feed­back we’ve received from these com­pe­ti­tions has helped us to pro­duce the high­est qual­ity olive oils pos­si­ble.”

Israelit attrib­uted the company’s con­sis­tent suc­cess at pro­duc­ing high-qual­ity – borne out by the 19 NYIOOC awards the com­pany has won since 2016 – to its efforts to time their har­vest to ensure the fruit is at the opti­mal level of ripeness, pro­vid­ing the fla­vors and char­ac­ter­is­tics our cus­tomers expect.

We part­ner with one of the best millers in the area and run con­tin­u­ous deliv­ery of our fruit through­out the har­vest day,” he said. It’s a lot of effort, but we feel it’s worth it. And all of our oils are stored in stain­less steel drums in a tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled envi­ron­ment to main­tain their qual­ity.”

Looking ahead to the 2023/24 crop year, Lynn Israelit told Olive Oil Times that much-needed rain­fall in the state had turned the hills around her olive groves green with­out neg­a­tively impact­ing fruit set. Overall, she is antic­i­pat­ing an aver­age har­vest.


Much-needed spring rain turned the hills around Spanish Oaks Ranch green for the first time in years. (Photo: Lynn Israelit)

We will start check­ing the olives closely in mid-November to judge the best har­vest time per vari­ety,” she said. Often, that ends up being around Thanksgiving week or early December. We’d like to keep the fruit on the trees until it’s per­fectly ripe, despite the risk of poten­tial early frost.”

We had an extra­or­di­nary amount of rain­fall in the Central Coast region this year,” Israelit added. The hills were green and cov­ered with spec­tac­u­lar wild­flow­ers, the likes of which we haven’t seen in more than a decade. The rainy sea­son was over well before fruit set, so the weather did not affect our crop in a neg­a­tive way.”

While the cou­ple enjoyed California’s wet win­ter, Israelit said she is still brac­ing for the state to con­tinue to become hot­ter and drier.

Although we were blessed with abun­dant rain in 2023, California is never far away from the next drought – it seems to be the new nor­mal dur­ing these times of cli­mate change,” she con­cluded.


Related Articles